I'm a big fan of History's Top Shot. One of the competitors on this season of All-Stars is the husband of one of my favorite ex-bosses (and current friend) and he is doing great thus far! My husband and I were watching the show the other night and were amazed by the skill and precision that these competitors applied to making the shot. I saw one where the marksman hit an axe blade dead on (go to 24:54 in the video if you want to be amazed too) and was able to pop balloons on both sides to make his shot. Talk about customizing his shot to the particulars of that target!
In job search, I think people are always looking for the same kind of thing-the magic or silver bullet that will get them exactly the response they desire. I think it leads them down a lot of different paths trying to figure out what will work:
If I network more, will I get a job?
If I apply to more positions, will I get a job?
If I work with more recruiters, will I get a job?
If I redo my resume, will I get a job?
The reality is that there is no single silver bullet in job search. However, I think there are two primary silver bullets that should govern your entire strategy: diversification and customization. Customization seems to be the strategy that most people skip. Let's face it-customizing your resume, cover letter, email, networking approach for every single situation is time consuming! Trying to figure out what that person/company/position needs to hear from you can feel just slightly easier than trying to come up with the recipe for cold fusion in your kitchen. However, beyond diversification, I cannot think of a strategy that will faster make or break a job search. Think of it this way...if you were in a position to hire, which letter would you take more seriously?
Dear hiring manager:
I am writing to express my interest for the job you have posted on Monster.com. I feel that my skills and experience make me a strong fit for the role and I welcome the opportunity to talk with you more about the position.
Dear Mr. Smith:
I am writing to express my interest in the Quality Analyst (job ID 34675) that you posted on Monster.com on 6/3/2013. I have researched your firm and really appreciated that not only do you have a culture of learning, but many of your managers were hired from within.
In reviewing the job description, it looks like many of your requirements are a good fit for my skills including:
3 Years QA experience
Intermediate to Advanced MS Access skills
At least 2 years working in a Lean Manufacturing environment
I'm interested in learning more about how my experience and background may serve the issues facing XYZ company today. I will plan to follow up on 6/11/2013 to determine if there is mutual interest in continuing the conversation. If you would like to reach me prior to that time, you are welcome to call me at 305-555-1212.
Now, let's break down this intro/cover letter:
Hiring managers name: Sometimes this will be in the job posting, but sometimes it is not. In other times, you would be save addressing this to the Recruiter/HR professional who posted the job. If it's not in the posting, you could jump onto LinkedIn and try to ascertain the name of the hiring authority. It might mean a little detective work on your part, but rarely will you find that this research doesn't pay off.
Highlight of skills: This should come directly from the job posting where you align their desired skills and experience with specific and measurable answers about what skills and experience you have that matches this. Do not assume that people can extrapolate that you have this experience from your resume. If you ask a hiring authority to guess on your background too much, they are just going to put your resume in their special filing section (aka File 13) and move on to the next candidate who has been far more explicit in terms of skills they can deliver and problems they can solve.
Call to action: Sure, it can be tough to find a human to follow up with via phone to ask about the job, but if nothing else, you can always reach out to Recruiting to follow up on your resume submission. Give a specific date for your follow up and then do it! If you fail to follow up as promised, this could ruin your chances. Following up is never a bad thing UNLESS the job posting specifically says no calls. If it says that, they I would not recommend calling Recruiting-chances are, they will be frustrated by your inability to follow directions and there is a good chance that your resume will go in that File 13.
But does customization stop with the cover letter? Absolutely not. I cannot count how many times I have discounted a candidate simply because they sent a highly generic resume for a job posting that I took time to craft with specific information. It's not a broad jump to assume that if a job seeker is too lazy to take the time to send me something that speaks to my needs, they will probably do the same for my clients. Hiring manager after hiring manager tells me that customization is the single most important thing that you can do in submitting a resume. But, what exactly should you be looking at? Well, think of it in a couple of different parts:
Summary statement: This is where you want to make sure that it reads appropriate to the job you are targeting. If you are an Administrative Assistant but you want to make a change to Sales Management, you had better make sure that your resume summary reads Sales Management. Failure to do this is pretty much going to result in a rejection every time.
Technical/computer skills: In some roles, your soft skills are far more important than your ability to sling code. Let the job posting be your guide on where to put this information-front loaded after the summary or buried in the back.
Work history: I'm hoping by now that we all understand the value of including highlights of performance with metrics in your work history. In this case, you may want to reorder your bullet points to better correspond with how they are ordered in the job description. That is if you have a bullet that talks about a specific customer service issue that is buried on page 2, but the job description reads very heavily around the importance of customer service, you probably want to rework the order of your bullets. Also, if the job description lists skills that you have, but maybe didn't think were important enough to put on your resume, I would encourage you to include them on your resume. Again-don't assume that an employer can extrapolate your skills. It's not going to happen.
Beyond the resume and cover letter, you also need to remember customization in how you apply for jobs. Really want to get into a specific company? Well, applying for every single job opening from janitor to CFO isn't going to get it done. While it may get the recruiting staff talking about you, chances are it will be for all the wrong reasons. Trust me-this isn't going to make you top of mind as a candidate of choice-just merely an annoyance if at all. Most companies use an applicant tracking system to filter their candidate flow. These ATS are designed to screen candidates out based on keywords and filters tied to the specific job posting, so the reality is that if you haven't customized your resume to the job posting, you probably won't ever even have the chance to be reviewed by a hiring authority anyway.
While I recognize that this can add hours to your job search day, I promise you that it will make a difference in both the quantity and quality of your employer response rate. Good luck and happy hunting!