Higher ed: Branding your campus

Recently, my family and I traveled across two states to the Gulf Coast to visit the beach. My daughter is still at that wonderful age of resisting the notion of “potty breaks.” Half an hour after a pit stop, she insisted on stopping again–immediately. We passed two exits, no buildings or signs indicating businesses in sight. As we neared the third exit near Goodman, Mississippi, I encouraged my husband to take the exit. We were in luck. Three miles after exiting, we came across Holmes Community College. We’d hit the jackpot.

I’ve worked at four colleges/universities as a director of career services, academic advisor, and English faculty member. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about institutions of higher education–or any educational institution, for that matter–it’s this: you can form a pretty accurate first impression within five minutes of walking on campus. How? By paying attention to the way people treat you. Let’s extend this to any place of business. How many times have you walked into a restaurant, physician’s office, or boutique and been almost immediately turned off by the lack of warmth? How many times have you walked in for a job interview and felt immediately welcomed and at ease because of the way people treated you in the parking lot, the lobby, and hallways? If this isn’t proof that interpersonal skills–soft skills–make or break an organization’s ability to earn business, I don’t know what is.

32736559_670392302152_1795969454182498304_nCampus brand = people

Immediately after driving onto campus at Holmes Community College, people–faculty, staff, and students–waved, nodded, and verbally greeted us. When we entered the student center to find a restroom, the security guard smiled and asked if we needed help, a student opened the door for me and greeted me, and a woman walked out of an office to ask if we needed assistance all within a matter of 30 seconds. The women who worked in the bookstore were equally as friendly and helpful (and I insisted on purchasing a Holmes Bulldogs t-shirt to represent their excellent soft skills and campus brand).

Losing sight of people

Too often in higher education, we’re obsessed with keeping up with the Joneses. Bigger state-of-the-art buildings. Rad new programming ideas. Next, newer, tech. More students. I get it. It’s a business, right? We’re obsessed with the bottom line. We’re bean counting, as one of my former VP’s used to say as he shook his head sadly. We’re counting beans–and I understand why–but we ought to be careful that we don’t become obsessed with numbers. If we lose sight of people, our ability to attract and retain quality employees and students wains. If we sacrifice the quality of our human resources in order to boost the quantity of our student population, our students will ultimately suffer, too. 

And remember that first impression I was talking about, the one you feel when you walk on campus, the reflection of your campus brand? That’s not something you can fake. Students are smart. If your employees are content thanks to a positive workplace culture, your students (and potential students, their family members, potential donors, and alumni) will sense it. That becomes part of your brand. The opposite is true. If your employees are disgruntled, frustrated, and showing up simply out of obligation (or worse, to continue earning a paycheck), that is your brand.

The solution

The bottom line is this: the soft skills your employees possess translate into the vibe they emanate. That vibe becomes your campus brand.

If you want to improve your campus brand, improve your workplace culture. If you want to improve your culture, take a look at your employees’ soft skills. If you’re a higher education administrator, and you want to improve your employees’ soft skills, start by taking a look at your own. 

Ready and willing to take action to improve your campus brand by seeking soft skills solutions? Reach out to me for help.

 

 

Writing your resume for the first time?

pexels-photoThere’s a lot of information available for working professionals who are revising their resumes for the hundredth time. But what about working professionals who have never created a resume? Can someone make it through the world of work without a resume? Absolutely. There are such fortunates. I recently helped a client in his 60s create his very first resume.

Shut the front door, you say. I kid you not–this client’s work history was way more interesting than anything on television at this very moment, but he had never written any of it down. I got to hear about it over coffee. He has managed incredibly swanky establishments across the United States (the stories, the scandal, the excitement…). He’s led large teams of employees to staggering success. CEOs have sought him and begged him and paid him handsomely to relocate.

So why is he creating a resume NOW? He’s reinventing himself (he’s not the only one–why do you think so many retirees are pursuing new career paths or considering gigs and part-time jobs?). He decided he wants to pursue a slightly different career path with a large corporation, and that corporation utilizes an applicant tracking system, requiring all candidates to apply online. Even though he’d already made a name for himself within the organization, he knew he would eventually need to formally apply online. He would have to upload a resume. And he didn’t have one because in the past, he earned jobs strictly based on who he is–his reputation spoke for itself.

So we started from scratch. I listened (that part was easy), took notes, and created a pretty amazing resume for this man. And he landed the job he wanted.

Whether you’re in my client’s boat, and you’ve got years of experience under your belt with no resume to show for it, or you’re in high school or college and hope to avoid this predicament altogether, here are a few tips if you’re writing your first resume.

  • If you haven’t been keeping a running list of your work experience, community involvement, and accomplishments, start keeping one. Use Word or Google Docs or something similar. Save it in more than one place and preferably save it in “the cloud.”

    Record everything. You won’t use everything on each resume you create/send when applying for jobs, but you want all details stored in one place. It will save you so much time when you fill out lengthy job applications or try to recall information about a position you held 10 years ago. Names of employers/supervisors, phone numbers and addresses of employers, copies of job descriptions… yes. All of that.

    And after you have a resume, don’t ever delete it and just revise it, updating as you go. Save every single version. You never know when you’ll want to revert back to a previous version, pull information from an older resume, etc. Same with cover letters.

  • Learn how to write a great resume. Read articles from reputable websites like Forbes, Inc, The Muse, and College Recruiter (there are others, but these are a few). Watch informational videos and webinars. Follow folks like me on social media. Take online courses if you like. If you’re a college student or graduate, reach out to your career services office for assistance. Attend those free resume writing workshops. If you don’t like what you hear or aren’t sure it’s great advice, take it a step further and consider paying someone to help you. You can hire a professional resume writer or career coach, like me, to help you write it. Some resume writers will do all the work for you. I suggest you don’t hire someone like this. What you need is someone who will work WITH YOU to create a fabulous resume.

    It might save you time now to let someone do every single thing for you, but in the long run, you will be back in the same “I don’t know what to do” boat. You need someone to teach you how to write and revise your own work and someone who’s a wordsmith and expert in career development and talent acquisition. It’s okay to work TOGETHER to create your resume. If the professional you hire asks you very few questions and doesn’t really collaborate with you while working on your resume, you can guarantee the finished product will probably not be a great reflection of the real you. And this is a problem. When you start interviewing, your resume will portray you a certain way, and you may or may not match that portrayal. Employers want you to be transparent during the hiring process.

  • Avoid templates. Do you hear me? For the love of your career, do not use a template. Here are all the reasons why. 

This should help you get started. If you need additional help creating or revising your resume, let me know.

 

 

 

Why manners matter

Have you ever met someone who made a terrible first impression? Chances are, this person practiced manners poorly and lacked communication skills. He may not have had a firm handshake. Maybe he avoided eye contact with you (or worse yet, ignored you while interacting with others). Perhaps the person was attempting to sell you something yet failed because he was so over-the-top, aggressive, and obviously only interested in earning your business rather than getting to know you as an individual.

Manners matter. If you don’t think so, read up on the importance of soft skills. Manners matter to employers; they ought to matter to you, too, if you’re searching for a job or hope to earn a promotion at any point in your lifetime.

Here are five outcomes of practicing good manners. Consider these outcomes proof that manners matter.

If the video is not playing or displaying properly click here.

 

  • You make a great first impression.

We’re all prone to interpret others’ behavior and make a judgment call within the first 20-30 seconds of meeting people. It all goes back to the primacy effect and negativity bias. When you meet someone new, and the person makes a poor first impression, it sticks with you—often permanently, even if the person’s future behavior is completely different (and better) than the behavior he exhibited when you initially met.

This means you need to make a great first impression every single time you meet someone new. One tried and true way to do this is to practice great manners, proper etiquette, and strong communication skills.

  1. You stand out.

Let’s face it. People who go above and beyond to practice good manners are an endangered species. Many Gen Z students and recent grads have faced the conundrum of being kept on a tight leash as children while given unlimited virtual access to the world (and beyond). Under the thumb of ever watchful parents, afraid of tragedies, kidnappings, and accidents, many Gen Z children have been thrown electronic devices to keep them pacified since they were preschoolers. These devices introduced them to social media, video games, and false realities. Many Gen Z students and recent grads feel more comfortable communicating via devices than face-to-face as a result. The same students and grads express a desire to spend more time face-to-face with others, even though their communication skills are often lacking.

If you lack knowledge of how to practice good manners, and you know your communication skills aren’t up to par, seek help to improve these soft skills. Your ability to gain and maintain employment may depend on your willingness to develop better manners!

  1. You brand yourself well.

If you want to stand out to employers, college faculty and staff, alumni, and peers, you’ll attempt to practice great manners. When you interact positively and politely with others, you brand yourself as the kind of person people want to hire and work with.

As I discuss in the video accompanying this blog post, when you practice good manners, you brand yourself as courteous, thoughtful, attentive, kind, generous, helpful, and grateful. The people you meet will remember these great character traits and assets when they think of you. And maybe the next time they learn of a fabulous job opening, you’ll be one of the first people to come to mind.

  1. You build a strong network.

When you’re polite, courteous, thoughtful, attentive, and grateful, who wouldn’t want to hire you? Who wouldn’t want to keep in touch, connect with you on social media, interact with you in discussions, or meet with you for an informational interview? All great employers want to hire candidates who exhibit good manners and strong communication skills.

If you treat others well and make a positive first impression, you build strong, lasting relationships with other professionals, your peers, and your supervisors. Networking is all about relationships. When you practice good manners, connecting with others, building those relationships, and maintaining them is natural.

  1. You improve your self-esteem.

When you take esteemable actions, you gain self-esteem.

When you possess a sense of self-esteem and self-respect, you behave differently in the workplace, particularly in times of conflict. You can carry your head high because you know you’re doing the best job possible. When people gossip, you brush it off because no one else’s opinions define your sense of value or worth. This sort of self-esteem is a direct result of your actions. If you’re doing the next right thing each day at work, and you treat everyone politely and courteously, you can feel calm, comfortable, and proud of the work you’re doing.

At the end of the day, the way you treat others speaks volumes about how you feel about yourself.

If you recognize that practicing good manners and interacting with others positively is a challenge for you, reach out to me for help with soft skills coaching.

How to own your career journey and keep peace with your helicopter parents, too

I spoke to an incredibly bright, hard-working, promising senior in college yesterday. She told me about her summer internship with a major corporation in northwest Arkansas. She seemed excited about the possibilities of applying for graduate school and working full-time after graduation, too. With a solid GPA, plenty of leadership experience in athletics and extracurricular activities, and excellent soft skills, this girl will not have difficulty landing jobs. She’s top talent.

graduation-2276495_1280Whether you’re a college student who has it all together or not, senior year is still an exciting time full of promise if you’re completing graduation requirements and embarking on the next steps in your career journey.

One thing can really slow you down, generate drama and confusion, and inhibit your ability to make clear, strong decisions about your career, whether you’re top talent or not. And that’s a helicopter parent who refuses to stop hovering and insists on interfering in your career process.

Many helicopter parents recognize their children’s lack of soft skills—communication skills included–and inability to make decisions quickly, clearly, or easily. They want to help their children (soon-to-be adults), particularly when it’s time to choose a career path. Our world is evolving, in large part due to the role of technology, and many parents understand this and feel antsy about it. They want to help their children select a career path which provides stability, great earning potential, and solid benefits.

If you have a helicopter parent, it might not make you feel better to hear that your parents have your best intentions in mind. You probably don’t want your parents’ input regarding your career choices, the job application process, or your resume. Even if you love your parents, you may not love your parents’ opinions and steady stream of advice. You just want to own your own career process, whether you make perfect decisions or not.

Brandi Britton OfficeTeam District President
Brandi Britton, District President for OfficeTeam

Brandi Britton, OfficeTeam District President, advises college students to strike a balance when dealing with parents and to avoid shutting them out of the process completely. “It’s perfectly fine to talk through potential job opportunities with your parents. Since they have more experience, they may bring up factors you hadn’t considered.”

Britton also points out the importance of utilizing parents as valuable points of contact when networking. “Family members and others in your network can alert you to job opportunities and help set up introductory meetings with employers through connections. After all, networking still can’t be beat as a top way to get a job,” Britton notes.

Mike Caldwell, Director of Business Careers and Employer Development at William & Mary, suggests keeping parents informed but retaining ownership of the job search process. He offers three tips for college students.

Mike Caldwell
Mike Caldwell, Director of Business Careers and Employer Development at William & Mary

“1.  Inform your parents of the progress in your job search and what you’ve done to prepare. E.g. ‘I recently met with a career coach/advisor who helped me update my resume and structure my search process.’  Parents may assume you need help getting started if you don’t let them know!

2.  Ask your parents to help in specific areas which may be beneficial to your search. E.g. ‘I could really use additional networking contacts in XYZ field. Do you happen to know anyone who might be able to help?’ Your parents may have not written a resume in several years, but they may have great networking leads.

3.  For company selection, ask for input, but realize that your parents may focus on employers who are familiar or have existing name recognition. When discussing your selection process, it may be helpful to let them know a bit about the company or organization.”

Britton also reminds college students that asking parents for assistance on interviews and resumes is fine but cautions students about allowing parents to become overly involved. “Your parents can help you practice for interviews by posing questions that’ll likely be asked. Get their constructive feedback after mock interviews – how were your responses and delivery? Any parental involvement in the job search should be behind the scenes, such as using them as a second set of eyes for materials. Have your parents review your resume and cover letter for typos and to ensure you’ve highlighted key information.”

Ultimately, college students, particularly seniors, must strike out on their own and forge their own career paths. Not all career decisions will please your parents. That’s okay. We all make our own choices since we’re the ones living with the outcomes and consequences of those choices. Today’s college students have a wealth of resources available to them via career services, too. There’s no excuse for making uninformed career decisions, for not having a resume upon graduation, or for being unprepared for a job interview. Students should take full advantage of the career services office on campus, which ought to provide assistance with all this and more.

With the help of career services, faculty members, advisors, and yes—even parents and other family members—you’ll find that landing your first entry-level job after graduation and making career decisions probably isn’t as overwhelming as you thought it would be.

If you reach out to career services and don’t receive the help you were hoping to find, feel free to contact me for resume writing assistance, career development coaching, interview preparation tips, and more.

 

Helping, not hovering: Career assistance advice for parents of Gen Z students & recent grads

mom and sonDo you cringe when hearing the term “helicopter parents?” Nobody wants to be that parent—hovering over her child, offering unsolicited advice, attempting to thwart minor failures or skinned knees, and purchasing countless expensive gadgets and devices (because saying no is really hard!). But let’s face it. We’re all guilty of this occasionally–hovering, enabling, and causing  problematic behavior so prevalent in Generation Z students and recent grads.

Many experts in academics, career services, career coaching, and talent acquisition agree that by the time many Gen Z students graduate from college, they are simply not equipped with a strong set of soft skills. They’re often not confident about entering the workforce of today and contributing strongly to employers. Or worse, they’re overly confident.

Rather than spend time pointing the finger at our co-parents, blaming our school systems or higher education programs, or shaking our heads while gazing hopelessly at our own children and shrugging our shoulders, it makes more sense to ask ourselves that age-old question: “What’s my part in this problem? And how can I help ensure that my child is well-prepared for the world of work so that she finds a great job (and retains it) after graduating?”

cindy folmerCindy Folmer, Senior Human Resources Manager at L’Oréal USA, manages, coaches, and trains interns and entry-level employees daily. L’Oréal USA hires over 100 interns each summer. The company offers many of them the opportunity to join the Management Development Program. The program cultivates managers in distribution centers, manufacturing facilities, corporate headquarters, and other locations.

Folmer understands firsthand the challenges facing employers today in working with Gen Z college students and recent grads. “Proper manners, etiquette, ability to engage, and patience are all areas I see as challenges facing recent grads in the workplace. There are attitudes and behaviors, at times, that indicate those just entering the workforce believe they don’t have to put in the effort their parents did to move ahead as quickly. The challenge for employers is to engage this group so they are willing to learn and stay where they are in order to bring value to an organization. We’re committed to meeting this challenge at L’Oréal.” Folmer asserts.

What can parents do to prevent their children from developing attitudes like this to begin with? How can parents help their children develop strong soft skills?

  • Help children develop soft skills by encouraging the soft skill itself rather than by scolding the child for exhibiting its negative opposite. For example, if your child constantly procrastinates and never turns in homework on time, praise him when he turns it in on time. Visit with his teachers to open lines of communication; if you know when he’s submitting work on time, you can more easily encourage him. When he saunters downstairs one minute before it’s time to leave, express gratitude that he’s dressed and ready to go rather than making a snide comment about the way he fixed his hair (or didn’t brush his teeth).
  • Consider a technology-free zone in your home, a tech-free vacation, or a tech-free hour as a family. Model this behavior as a parent. If your child sees you with your nose in your phone, she’s not going to be inclined to put hers away. When you eat dinner—whether at a restaurant or at home—why not toss all your cell phones in a basket and engage in face-to-face conversation? This is a great way to encourage communication skills.
  • Teach children the art of waiting. Although we definitely need to stay ahead in the area of technology, we’ve made it easy for our children to get what they want when they want it. For instance, if they want to watch a specific television show they missed, we can jump onto In Demand,” suggests Folmer.
  • Encourage your children to find suitable career mentors and to explore their career goals early in life. This doesn’t require an extensive, formal assessment. Even elementary students can create vision boards and enjoy job shadowing and site visits. Most professionals absolutely love sharing about what they do, and chances are, your own friends and family members work in various career fields. Supervise this process to ensure your child’s safety, but don’t dictate which career fields your child chooses to explore, or you’ll take the fun out of it.
  • “Encourage them to absorb the pleasure of finishing something instead of jumping to the next activity. Give them something to do that will take time, such as learning a new sport, one they don’t really want to do. On the job, there will be tasks we don’t want to do; we have to do them, though. Then take a look back and talk through lessons learned, challenges overcome, and the excitement of success of each of these,” Folmer notes.

There are countless ways to help children learn soft skills and become confident in themselves. This confidence helps students, upon graduation, become candidates who are sought after by employers.

What if your child is struggling in his job search? How can you help? And should you help?

6950093_orig“College is a time for exploration, to learn, and to show that an individual can do things on their own,” said Matt Krumrie, a professional resume writer and career adviser who works with entry-level job seekers seeking that first job out of college. “Recent college grads should ask their parents for advice – but that’s it. They shouldn’t ask them to come to interviews – that really has happened – or expect them to lead their job search, or mention what they tell them in an interview.”

“Employers want to hire people who can think on their own, make decisions, and show they can get a job done without relying on someone else to always guide them,” Krumrie goes on to say. “When parents hover, or overstep boundaries in the job search, employers notice, and that hurts the job seeker. They wonder how much this will continue if hired, and in reality, it impacts hiring decisions. Once students graduates, it’s time to spread their wings, and show they are their own person ready to make an impact – without relying on mom and dad to lead them.”

Folmer agrees. “It’s very important at the stage of applications for parents to give their kids the opportunity to go it alone. I’ve seen too many kids come into the workplace with no idea how to complete an application. They also struggle with completing paperwork or making decisions. Be supportive, talk things out, and give them the tools necessary to go to the next level of their life.”

Each parent needs to decide the appropriate level of involvement with her own child. Whether you pay for career coaching for your child, encourage your child’s educational institution to offer soft skills training, send a career-related article to her, or offer no career advice and simply love her, the fact you took time to read this article means you’re a loving parent trying to do your best to help her—and she will be just fine in the end, no matter which path she chooses.

Contact me to discuss soft skills training programs, presentations, and opportunities for partnership with your child’s educational institution.

Part 2: What are your strengths and weaknesses?

If you’ve been interviewed more than once, chances are, you’ve been asked this common interview question every single time: “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” Trust me; you’ll hear it again. Recruiters, talent acquisition leaders, human resources professionals, and hiring managers will keep asking this common interview question during interviews.

Why? It works. It allows employers to see whether you know yourself well (or not), and it demonstrates your ability to respond to tough personal questions without including a lot of clichés which drive employers crazy. In Part 1 of this two-part series, I explained how to provide great examples of your strengths. Now let’s talk about how to provide examples of your weaknesses. This is often the part job seekers feel more nervous and uncomfortable about during mock interviews and interview prep sessions. A little preparation goes a long way; this article should help you work out the kinks and avoid stumbling over your words and thoughts during your next job interview.


If the video isn’t working properly, click here.

Before I share three primary tips with you for responding to this question, let me share one additional freebie. Do not, for the love of recruiters everywhere, attempt to spin a strength as a weakness. Don’t say something like, “Well, I’m such a perfectionist that it really ends up making it tough for me to stop working sometimes, and that can keep me from moving on to the next project.” No. That is a very 2007 way to respond to this question. I say this because a) I responded to this question in this exact manner in 2007, and b) I advised college students when I worked in career services at that time to respond in that manner. It was okay then. We know better now. So don’t do it.

Here are some general guidelines you can follow when preparing to respond to interviewers about your weaknesses.

  1. Share fewer weaknesses than strengths.

Unless the interviewer specifically asks you to list a certain number of strengths and weaknesses, list fewer weaknesses than strengths. A 3:2 ratio is fine. Don’t be self-deprecating by going on and on about areas of weakness, defects of character, or faults you’ve discovered about yourself. It’s not a sign of great self-awareness. It’s a flaming red flag to employers reading, “Do NOT hire this person.”

  1. Focus on weaknesses you can work on.

List hard skills/technical skills which can be trained or taught. Do not mention soft skills.

Soft skills are, by definition, a combination of talent and ability. If you share that you’re lacking a soft skill, employers start wondering how much you can possibly grow in the talent portion of that soft skill. Even though you can certainly take courses in communication skills, leadership, and problem-solving, employers understand that there will always be that zone of “talent” with every soft skill, and that some candidates will shine and bring more to the table in those areas than others. If public speaking simply isn’t your thing, do not—ever—point that out to an employer during a job interview.

Instead, before your interview think about three hard skills/technical skills in your career field you could share as weaknesses or areas of potential growth/improvement opportunities. Software programs, courses you’d like to take to improve your knowledge in a certain area, and joining professional organizations in order to connect with mentors are all areas of improvement for many of us. We could all do more to become better connected, more knowledgeable, etc.

When you share weaknesses like these, you’re expressing a desire to grow, and you’re admitting that you are not the end-all, be-all SME (subject matter expert). That’s refreshing to employers because no one wants to hire an egomaniac.

  1. Explain your plan for improvement.

Express your desire to take action to improve yourself and to grow. What’s your plan to improve in this areas of weakness? Share it as you wrap up your response to this common interview question.

“I am not the best at editing photos and just haven’t had much experience in previous positions with this task. Even though it’s not a primary task in this position, I’d like to take a course online in PhotoShop to improve my photo editing skills. Then I feel I’d be better suited to help edit photos when needed and be a better contributor to the design team.”

Providing interviewers with your plan for improvement eases their minds. It lets them know that if they hire you, you’ll be a proactive, self-motivated employee. Who wouldn’t want to hire someone like that?

Need more help with interview preparation? Reach out to me to schedule a mock interview/interview prep session.

5 smart ways to fit into corporate culture before you even land the job

Corporate culture is all the buzz these days. All companies and organizations, whether small business or non-profits or monstrous corporate giants, want to create a buzz about what it’s like to work there. You’re familiar with this, right? The Googleplex? The lists upon lists of top companies to work for in the United States?

teamwork-383939_1280
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Each company or organization has its own brand or identity. I like to think of these as personalities. I’ve worked for all types of companies and organizations, and I’m sure you have if you have much work experience. I worked for a small business owner whose over-the-top, charismatic personality oozed out into the workplace. He converted part of the second floor of the building into a workout facility and game room. This man was the king of fun, but we all knew there was work to be done, so we simply made work fun, too. I thrived in this environment and helped my sales team earn national recognition two quarters in a row.

I also worked for more than one organization with zero personality, or maybe the Debbie Downer personality type. These companies were characterized by low morale, boring meetings, quiet hallways and empty breakrooms, and embarrassing employee retention and attrition statistics. It wasn’t just that these organizations weren’t fun—they lacked passion, enthusiasm, and concern for the work being done. Nobody wants to show up to work each day in a negative, pessimistic, or stifling work environment. Can I get an amen?

I’m sure you’re like me, and you want to work for a company known for its great corporate culture. How do you learn more about a company’s culture and values? And once you determine you want to work for a particular company or organization, how do you go about convincing that employer to hire you?

I was recently interviewed by my former colleague, Matt Krumrie, for a FlexJobs.com article about cultural fit. In addition to the information I shared with Matt, these five tips will help you strategically research companies, determine if they’re a fit for you or not (remember, fit is a two-way street), and then convince your ideal employers to bring you on board during the job search and application process.

1) Do your research about the company before tailoring your resume or crafting your cover letter. If you don’t research the company prior to applying for openings, you don’t know the company well enough to apply for positions. Part of applying for job openings is selling yourself as a candidate. To sell yourself well, you need to convince the person reading your cover letter and reviewing your resume–most likely a hiring manager, recruiter, or human resources coordinator–that you are not only a great fit for the position, but that you are the only fit for the position. How do you do that? You display an understanding of what the company needs (and demonstrate that you’re the best person to give it to them).

2) When conducting research about the company, don’t just peruse the website randomly for 30 minutes. While this is better than nothing, it won’t cut it if you want to dig in and learn about corporate culture. Be strategic in your approach. Is there a media kit available online with quick, hard facts available? A FAQ page about the company? An “in the news” page? Become as familiar as possible not just with statistics but also with information about how the company is posturing itself in the community or world. How is the company selling itself? This helps you gain insight on the pulse of the company’s ethics and values–the corporate culture.

3) Ask yourself whether you are attracted to the interests of the company as well. Is the company endorsing civil rights publicly? That’s fantastic if you care deeply about civil rights. Did the company post several articles about its affiliation with a non-profit organization which promotes health and wellness? That might not be something you find interesting. While this isn’t often a deal breaker in helping you decide about applying for a job, it’s still something to consider. Are you an avid volunteer? If so, a company’s social or political interests might matter more to you than you think in the long run, so take it into account.

4) Don’t overlook opportunities to talk to real people who work for the company. Talking to employees is often the best way to learn about the company, even though you should take opinions with a grain of salt. Employees and former employees know the inner workings of a company or organization better than anyone else. Most people aren’t shy about divulging their experiences if you just ask (especially if you offer to pay for lunch or coffee!). If nothing else, you’ll build your professional network, and that’s never a bad thing.

5) After completing the research phase, tailor your resume. Polish it up in the traditional sense–with the help of career services employees (if you’re a college student) or with my help if you no longer have access to career services employees on your college campus–but keep your research in mind. Share what you learned to your career coach or career services expert, and explain why you want to work for the company. This helps me help you!

Did you learn that the company is a non-profit organization which tends to hire employees with strong backgrounds in the non-profit sector? Play up your volunteer experience and that one non-profit gig on your resume. Even if you don’t normally emphasize that position heavily, this might be the time to add more accomplishment statements to describe your work in that position. Consider discussing your own love for helping others in your cover letter, too. Perhaps you don’t have much non-profit experience, but you’ve always donated financially to two different organizations. Explain why in your cover letter, and if writing a cover letter makes your brain hurt, contact me for assistance.

Remember, your resume and cover letter are simply documents to help you land interviews. Think of them as door openers. You can’t afford to bypass the research phase, slap together a shoddy resume, and whip out a generic cover letter if you want the door to open. In today’s competitive job market, it’s important to use every tool available to ensure your future employer sees you as a great cultural fit before she emails you to invite you to interview.

Do you need help creating a basic resume, tailoring your existing resume, or crafting a cover letter? Reach out to me to schedule a free one-on-one consultation, and let’s get to work.