Five tips for job seekers

Whenever we post an available job at Collegewise, it’s humbling how many smart, likeable people take the time to apply.  We never take it for granted how lucky we are in that way. But we also see a surprising number of applicants who make the same mistakes. Looking for a job is never easy or fun. You deserve to give yourself the best chance of getting hired.  So here are a few tips I hope will help, whether you’re looking for a job here at Collegewise or someplace else.

1. Get the details right. 

It doesn’t matter how qualified you are—if your resume has typos, or you misspell the name of the company, or you forget to switch out the company name from the last cover letter you sent, you just look careless. Details matter, especially when people are sizing you up. Kevin Costner explains this well to his pitcher played by Tim Robbins in Bull Durham:

Your shower shoes have fungus on them. You’ll never make it to the bigs with fungus on your shower shoes. Think classy, you’ll be classy. If you win 20 in the show, you can let the fungus grow back and the press will think you’re colorful. Until you win 20 in the show, however, it means you are a slob.”

It’s OK to be funny, to be irreverent, and maybe even to take some liberties with your language (at least for us). But you’ve got to get the basics right. Proofread everything. Make sure you spell the company name right. Grammar and punctuation are important even if you personally couldn’t care less whether someone uses “your” or “you’re.”  And read aloud what you’ve written to make sure it makes sense.

2. Follow instructions. 

Good companies want people who show initiative. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore instructions, especially when looking for a job. This is one of the basic attention-to-detail things you’ve got to get right. Read the instructions before you fire off your resume, call, or just show up unannounced to inquire. What are they asking you to do? What materials are they requesting? Don’t decide that you’ve got a better or more impressive way to take the first step. Show them first that you can follow instructions. There are other places you can dazzle them with initiative.  Which brings me to #3…

3.  Don’t play the numbers—play matchmaker.

I understand why applying for jobs can feel like a numbers game where the more resumes you send out, the better your chances of getting hired. But that’s like going on and sending an identical email to 100 different people hoping to find your soul mate. Sure, you might get a great match that way if you’re lucky. But your odds improve if you narrow the field and become more personal.

Instead of sending the same generic cover letter and resume to 50 companies, why not be a matchmaker? Pick the 5 or 10 jobs or organizations that you’re most interested in and focus your efforts there. Take the initiative to learn everything you can about the organization and the position. Learn about their mission, products and what they do.  Learn about the people who work there. Make your cover letter personal, one that the company knows you wrote just for them. Spend your time communicating the match, not just playing the numbers. Sure, it might take more time. But applying generically will get you a generic job. You deserve better than that.

4. Get rid of “resume-speak.”

Too many resumes are loaded with resume-speak like “Initiated and cultivated relationships with various product teams.” Resume-speak tries to make something sound impressive.  But it doesn’t say anything. It takes what might have been interesting and hides it behind jargon and buzzwords. So don’t use it.  Instead, be clear and direct. Tell them what you did, how you did it and what impact you made by doing it (here’s some advice on how to do just that). I don’t care if the job doesn’t sound classically impressive. There are no insignificant roles. If you worked hard and did a good job, be proud of what you did and don’t hide behind resume-speak.

5. Don’t ignore the cover letter.

This is an extension of the matchmaking tip, but it’s important enough to mention here. Cover letters are important.  Don’t relegate yours to a bland introduction you re-use over and over. Nobody in the history of job-searching stood out by writing, “I seek a challenging position such as this one where I can utilize my various talents” in their cover letter. A great cover has a voice. It’s got some oomph. So put some personality behind your writing. Don’t write the same bland lines everybody else is writing. Make yours stand out.  I’m not saying you should necessarily write a haiku or anything.  But there’s no reason an interesting person should submit a boring cover letter.