Anyone active in a job search today is engaged in a highly competitive venture! Unfortunately, some candidates—even the most experienced and talented—fall prey to pitfalls that diminish their chances of success. As a transition consultant in TSNE MissionWorks’ Executive Transitions Program, my work entails supporting nonprofit boards in their search for executive leadership. I provide guidance and assistance in recruitment, selection, hiring and coaching successful new leaders.
My independent practice is also focused on career transitions, involving screening resumes and conducting interviews for multiple positions in multiple organizations. This combined experience convinces me that there are several intentional, strategic and important things a candidate can do to significantly increase their chances for serious attention in the hiring process.
These, in my view, are the top 10 tips for improving your job search results.
- Compose a focused, well-written cover letter.
Surprisingly, many applicants do not include a cover letter with their resume and believe an email statement (i.e., Attached is my resume, please contact me if you have questions or want to schedule an interview) is sufficient evidence of interest.
A good cover letter powerfully communicates your passion for the mission, your interest in this particular position, and the specific skills and experience that make you a good fit for the organization.
This kind of cover letter is important for all applicants and essential for anyone attempting to transition into a different field or industry sector. Search committees often add 1 or 2 candidates to the interview pool simply based on the strength of their cover letter.
A good cover letter doesn’t need to be lengthy. It needs to be specific, intriguing and designed to persuade the search committee that they want to meet you in person. It is always useful to obtain objective feedback from a trusted colleague, a mentor or a career/search consultant.
- Avoid applications on job board websites.
If possible, even if that is described as the preferred method, avoid applying for a job on generic websites. While convenient in some respects, the formatting of your resume may be distorted, and the ultimate presentation of your credentials to a potential employer may be fragmented and untidy. Some screeners may eliminate your application based solely on appearance. Impressions matter, and there are many other resumes to review. Research openings online, but apply directly via email.
- Don’t apply to large companies directly through their internal job board system.
Ever wonder why you don’t hear back, or you get a “no thanks” email when you know you’re a great fit for the position? It is likely that your resume lacked the “right” key words and never reached the light of day or came to the attention of the search committee. Again, better to find out whom to contact directly and do so.
However, be sure to check the policies of the organizations to which you’re applying before sending email.
Hint: 90% of job seekers search job boards and apply online, but fewer than 3% of job seekers are hired that way.
- Don’t participate in an unscheduled phone interview.
If you get a surprise call, reiterate your interest and enthusiasm for the position, and then indicate that the time isn’t right for a confidential conversation. Request a telephone appointment for a specific day in the immediate future.
Don’t interview while you’re driving. Pull over and park.
- When you have a phone interview appointment, be sure you won’t be interrupted.
Interview in private with a closed door, and use a landline. Turn off your cell phone, TV and music, and put a “do not disturb” sign on your doorbell. For some people, dressing up may create a more professional presentation on the telephone. Have your resume and the position description on hand.
Don’t chew gum, eat or drink during the interview.
- The phone interview is what stands between you and meeting face-to-face with the search/hiring committee.
The phone interview is a critical step in the hiring process. It determines whether you will be included in the pool of serious candidates. Make the most of it! Practice and get feedback.
Hint: Place a mirror at your desk and look at yourself while you are on the call. Talking into a mirror can help ensure your energy and personality come across positively.
In-Person Interview/Webcam Interview
Ask what the interview format will be and who will participate, and then be prepared.
Do your homework. Review the position profile carefully. Study the nonprofit’s website, history and leadership where possible, and practice your presentation skills.
An interview is not the forum for sharing your entire professional history – no matter how impressive. Despite the polite smiles and head nods, you may create the impression that you are long-winded or self-absorbed. Remember, hiring teams are attempting to figure out what you will be able to do for them.
Successful candidates develop contextual, succinct sound bites with stories that provide specific examples of leadership style, organizational and/or management skills and other important requirements of the job. Listen carefully to the question, seek clarification if you are not certain you understand it, and be clear and specific in your answer.
Consider the technology. Webcam (i.e. Skype) interviews are increasing in popularity.
The technology is inexpensive, accessible, and saves time and money on travel.
Key reminders: Dress for the interview (at least from head to waist). Eliminate audio and visual distractions and interruptions. Create an appropriate backdrop if your computer is in your bedroom or kitchen. Have notes on your desk you can glance at to avoid stammering, fidgeting or looking at the ceiling for answers. Test your Internet connection in advance. During the interview, if you sense you are not connecting with the audience, pause and ask if there are any questions.
Consider providing a “leave behind” for the search committee.
Create something that highlights your background. Don’t go overboard; one well-constructed page is fine.
Also, a handwritten thank you note sent directly to the search committee after the interview creates a positive reminder of your interaction and leaves a positive impression. This is an opportunity overlooked by many candidates.
Learn about the organization by attending an event or activity in advance of your interview.
If the setting allows, introduce yourself briefly to board or staff members present. It isn’t necessary and may not be wise to tell people that you hope to be a candidate for a current opening.
Bonus Hint: Increasingly social networks like LinkedIn and Facebook are resources in the recruitment and hiring process. Be sure that your online presence matches your professional intentions. Learn how to leverage these resources for research, online networking, marketing, and strengthening your personal and professional brand.
Be Patient and Careful
Despite current unemployment statistics and job loss across the nonprofit sector, recruiting and hiring the best talent is not a simple task for most organizations. The deluge of resumes and inquiries in response to most advertised positions result in a tendency to screen candidates out of the process at a very early stage often based on minor shortcomings.
Careful, thoughtful attention to the content of your cover letter and careful preparation for telephone, webcam and in-person interviews will strengthen your chance of success every step of the way.