Streamline Your Job Search

Looking for a job can be an overwhelming, lonely, and humbling experience. It can also, however, provide you with an opportunity to clarify where you want to work and what you actually want to do. Given how daunting searching for a job can be, many job seekers do not realize that they are making some common mistakes that may prevent their candidacy from being advanced. Lately, I have been speaking with several candidates who are so excited about a particular position that they forget to make the case for why they are right for the job, and instead, focus on why they think that job is right for them. From the perspective of the hiring manager, that is not the strongest way to approach the process for securing the position you want.

Imagine for a moment, that you are an interviewer (not a job seeker), and you have been asked to fill a position. There is urgency to fill it with a whip-smart superstar who has charisma, depth of experience in a particular niche, and the capacity to unicycle well. Okay, perhaps no need to unicycle, but you get the idea. After working on a position description and an in-depth outreach plan, good resumes start coming in and you begin to interview candidates. Then, you're on the phone with someone who appears to have all of the attributes you're seeking (how exciting!) and she starts to wax poetic about why the job is right for her. She tells you how she has spent her entire career looking for exactly this opportunity and how it will fulfill all of her professional hopes, dreams, and aspirations. You ask her questions about her proudest accomplishments, and she enthusiastically tells you how much she wants this job. As the interviewer, you realize that none of this enthusiasm is answering any of your questions about what she has done in the past that equips her to meet your needs. Remember this example as a job seeker, and think about selling your candidacy, rather than talking about why the job is right for you.

In addition to this paradigm shift, here are a few practical tips for how to present yourself in the best possible way when approaching the job search.

Expand Your Network and Outreach: There are lots of ways to find jobs-of course you know about the job boards (and just in case you don't know, has a growing database of jobs in both the non-profit and the for profit sectors). But searching for a job is also a great opportunity to connect with folks in your network (and the folks in their networks as well). Think about the number of people two or three degrees removed from you that may be able to put you in touch with someone who can make a key introduction for you in your search. People often find it flattering to be asked for help, and the worst case scenario is they say no. Think about people in companies that may be of particular interest to you and request an informational interview.

Be Specific in Your Resume: A resume that merely lists past job responsibilities without including specifics will raise skeptical eyebrows. The lack of specifics leads the reader to assume that you don't have that much to brag about. If you changed the trajectory of a project, exceeded set goals, or accomplished quantifiable outcomes, then brag about them! This is not the time for modesty, and specifying outcomes enables the reader to envision how you can help the organization to accomplish their goals. Use numbers when you can, and write specifically about what you enabled, changed, produced, or influenced.

Personalize Your Cover Letter: When people write "I'd like a job with your company" it's no secret that the letter will be used to apply to multiple positions. Think about the cover letter as an opportunity to link what you've done specifically with what the position calls for. Take the time to write a cover letter that connects your experiences with the unique needs of the position. Each cover letter should reflect a thorough understanding of the position and make a specific case for why your background meets the needs outlined in the position description. It may take longer to write this kind of letter, but the response is likely to be more positive.

Prepare for Interviews: If you are offered an interview, spend time preparing for it! It may seem like a no-brainer to do so, but I'm always amazed at how many people do not take the time to thoroughly read up on an organization or a company before arriving at an interview.

  • Read the website (and for non-profits, take a look at the 990 as well). Look up strategic partners, growth plans, executive leadership, recent grants, etc. By learning more about the opportunity, you will be able to speak more specifically about your interest and your candidacy than if you just quickly glance things over.
  • Come prepared with questions: Be aware that the questions that you ask tell the interviewer a great deal about your professionalism and specific draw to this position.
  • Practice that speech about yourself: In addition, while it might sound silly, practicing your "30 second elevator speech" about yourself can make a big difference. It's better to realize that you don't have your career history summarized succinctly before the interview than during it.
  • Prepare answers to some basic questions, including examples of times that you have succeeded in achieving certain goals, how you incorporated suggestions and changes into projects, and summaries of the sort of successes you've enabled. When an interviewer asks these kinds of questions, they're not intended to be trick questions, but you'd be surprised at how often they trip people up. Arriving for the interview (even if it's on the phone) with all of the jitters and nerves in check, and with some basic answers prepared will allow you to present yourself as strongly as possible.

While this might be a competitive time to be looking for a job, your dream job is out there. Spending time preparing in the right way and with the right tools can help you to move to the top of the pile, get in the door and land the job.

Deb Berman coaches candidates looking for positions in the social sector (both for profit and non-profit), by working closely with them throughout their entire job search. Appointments can be set up for telephone or in-person consultation by e-mailing Deb at: