By Carole Morris, Senior Executive and Director of HR for MDS
In Human Resources, we encounter so many people vying for the same jobs. As the process goes, it starts with an application or resume and ends with an in-person interview. When you get to this stage, there are countless ways you can present yourself. Below are some tips and tricks that could help you stand out in the crowd and land your dream job.
Do Your Research
Is the company in a growth phase, mature phase, or in a decline? Are they a revolving door or rapidly growing to keep up with the demand for their service or product? Just like you can’t judge a book by its cover (though we often do), you can’t judge a company based on their number of job openings. Read their news and blogs, follow them on social media, ask about them through your LinkedIn connections. A growing company will likely be landing new deals, developing new products, and bragging about it publicly. An employer in decline who can’t seem to hang onto their employees could be growing stale and likely won’t have much to say. Their website may be from the early 90’s. It’s your job to find out and assess the situation.
Interviewers will almost always ask, “Do you know what we do here?” and you better have an answer. It’s best not to just quote the website but to actually work at developing a real understanding of what the company does. If you can’t figure it out (maybe their website isn’t a priority), feel free to ask and explain why you had some trouble. You likely aren’t the only one and it could be an opportunity for them to work on their brand or awareness.
Research shows interest and will help you to stand out (see below).
Customization is King (or Queen)
Just like no job is alike, no job requirements are alike. So why would one standard cover letter and one resume do the trick? Your cover letter and resume should be tailored to the specific job you are applying for and highlight your relevant qualifications and experience. You may say, “But that’s so much work!”. You’re darn right it is! Finding your dream job, pursuing it, and landing it should be hard work.
Your best bet is to make it as easy as possible for the people reading your cover letter and resume to make the connection between the job requirements and your experience. You can even pick what you believe are some of the key requirements from the job posting and tailor your material directly to them. Explain how you meet those particular requirements and make it simple for someone to see the connection.
When they get to the end of your application, there should be no doubt that you are qualified based on their job description and experience requirements. If your concrete job experience is lacking, find something relevant in your life that may serve the purpose – experience can come from many different places and in many different forms!
Show that you aren’t just qualified for the job, but that you are actually interested in the job. Demonstrate that you find the company intriguing. Did they just land a big deal or win a big award? Congratulate them! Do you find one of their customers/projects/products particularly exciting? Ask about it!
Treat the interview more like a conversation, it’ll relieve some nerves and might make things more comfortable for everyone involved. It won’t go unnoticed.
Before you even get to the interview, your first impression is often a few sheets of paper. Talk about intimidating! When it really comes down to it, recruiters have no choice but to make a judgement based on your arrangement of words – because that’s all an application is. This is your first chance to stand out. Find a way to weave some personality into your documentation, try a different approach, maybe even add a pop of colour. Experience is key, but personality and your fit for the organization is usually just as important.
Believe it or not, an interview isn’t just a chance for the company to assess your capabilities and your fit, it’s a chance for you to determine if you even want to work there. It’s not often treated as a two-way street, but it most definitely is. You are both investing time into the process so it’s only fair that you both get what you need out of the conversation. When the interview inevitably ends with, “Do you have any questions for us?” your answer should almost always be “Yes!”.
Avoid yes or no questions by asking about the corporate culture, the career path, or the biggest opportunities or challenges facing the company or department now. You can even ask your interviewer what they like best about working for the company. If you’re feeling confident you could be bold and ask how you compare to other candidates and if there are any lingering concerns or questions about your experience. If you’re interested in a particular project they are involved with (see “Do Your Research” above), ask them about it!
As an HR practitioner, I am often disappointed that candidates don’t ask about the company’s turnover rate. I think this question would surprise the interviewer. By asking that question, you’re sending out a signal that you don’t want to work for a company whose employees are running for the hills. Having a sense of the employee turnover will tell you “what’s it like to work here”. The national average hovers at around 8% so if the turnover is significantly above that, then you should run for the hills too.
All these questions are completely valid and a good way to get a peek into your potential employer. This may be your only chance to find out more, so don’t let it slip away.
Call, email, connect. “But the website says they won’t accept calls!” – they will, they may even expect it. Stay on their radar but don’t annoy them. That is the only rule, but it’s a fine balance.
If the position is filled and it wasn’t you who got the call, this is a perfect opportunity to ask how you can improve for the next time. It’s like an exit interview for a job you never had and is extremely valuable.
Above all, it’s important to come across as your best and true self. Hopefully the employer will do the same. If you do your research, customize your resume, do your best to stand out, ask questions, and follow up – you may just land your dream job. Good luck!