It used to be that you could apply to a job and parrot the requirements listed in the job ad. But simply saying, "You want organizational and communication skills? I've got 'em!" won't cut it now. Every job seeker says the exact same thing in his cover letter. These days, you've got to do more. You've got to figure out -- by reading the job ad and researching the employer -- what sort of business pain lurks behind the job opening.
What are your choices? There's growth-related pain, and there's consolidation-related pain. There's pain associated with customers fleeing, with competitors outsourcing the work and cutting costs, and with a shortage of talent in an industry. When you know or can guess at the pain behind the job ad, you have something of substance to say to a hiring manager. Until then, you're just another banana in a very crowded bunch.
"I have a strong work ethic and get along with all kinds of people" is about as compelling as "I had cereal for breakfast" -- but, worse, it's not even believable. Anyone can claim these characteristics, and nearly everyone does. To get a hiring manager's attention, tell a brief and powerful story that demonstrates what you get done when you work: "When our big Q4 product release was delayed a month, I put together an outbound-calling campaign that kept our accounts from bailing and got us $450,000 in preorders" will let a hiring manager know some of the good things that happen when you showed up, saw and conquered.
Using a Human Voice
The old "results-oriented professional with a bottom-line orientation" style of resume is as out of date as high-fructose corn syrup. A human voice in your resume and your other outreach to employers will separate you from the boilerplate-spouting legions of typical job seekers. Replace tired corporate-speak like "Met or exceeded expectations" with a concrete, visual bullet point like "I sold our sales VP on a matrix territory structure that boosted sales 14 percent." Don't be afraid of the word "I" in your resume, or of using vernacular. Real people -- such as your next boss -- use slang every day.
The typical job seeker has a one-size-fits-all resume that gets pressed into service whether the open position is for a purchasing coordinator, a marketing assistant or a human resources analyst. That's no good. Your background won't be relevant to the hiring manager unless you highlight the accomplishments from each past job that have the most in common with the role you're pursuing. For a purchasing job, spell out your negotiating milestones. For the marketing role, tell the reader how you created or maintained a database and about your writing and creative skills. For the HR opportunity, describe the times when you untangled thorny human problems. Update your resume as often as necessary to make sure your most relevant stories come to the fore.
Knowing Your Value
No one will pay you more than you're worth, so know your value before you begin an active job search. Start with Monster's Salary Wizard so you know your market value and don't get lowballed in the hiring process. If you and an employer have wildly different ideas about what your background is worth, keep looking. Even in a tough economy -- maybe even because of if -- your ability to solve expensive employer problems is worth a lot more than peanuts. Arm yourself with information, and then get out there and tell your story.
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