Friday, April 12, 2013

Confessions of a Hiring Manager

The cover letter ends like many others: “I am confident that my background, skills and abilities make me the perfect match for this position and your organization.” It is not that this statement is necessarily wrong, or that projecting confidence in an application and interview is not important. The problem, in so many cases, is that the applicant has either not fully understood the nature of the job they are applying for when making this statement, or has not documented in his or her resume and application materials how, specifically, he or she is uniquely suited for the position. An assertion without evidence falls flat.

In the course of my job, I have served on many hiring committees, and have learned more about applying for jobs through the lens of a hiring officer, than I ever did through application processes. Today, I will share some of the most common issues I see to help you in your own job search. Most of the issues are easily corrected with some effort and attention to detail, and will help you to find a position that is the right match.

The first step to a successful application is to step into the shoes of a hiring official. Competitive organizations must find employees who have unique talents that complement the skills of the existing workforce, believe in the mission of the organization and, and are committed to its success. Failure to match candidates on these three levels wastes time and money for both the organization and the employee. As you prepare your application, think about how the position creates a positive synergy between your goals and those of the organization, and then take the time to make this explicit. The first place to do this is in the cover letter.

Hiring officials are taking time out of very busy days to review the materials you submit, and you have a very short amount of time to convince the official that your application deserves more thorough consideration. There is no easier place to do this than in the cover letter. The cover letter should be professionally formatted, with attention to spelling and grammar. As basic as this seems, many cover letters lack this attention to detail, and hiring officials do notice this as a symptom of the level of professionalism they can expect when you are hired into the position.

In terms of content, make the letter is relevant to the position, showcase your strengths, and project your enthusiasm for the position and the company. Be sincere! Officials can tell if your enthusiasm is more about having a job than having the job that is posted, and will favor individuals that seem like they will be committed to the organization. This takes more time and effort than submission of a generic cover letter, but the effort is worth it if the position is important to you. In today’s job climate, hiring officials have multiple qualified candidates to choose from. Anything that gives you an edge is worth doing.

Over the years, I have seen letters that focus on experience that is irrelevant to the posted position, are addressed to the wrong hiring official or department, or state ambitions that will not be satisfied with the posted position. For example, a cover letter or resume that has a stated objective of obtaining a position in marketing is not attractive to the official looking for a candidate to fill a technical support job. Hiring officials are giving you their time when they review your application. Make them want to learn more about you by showing that you understand that, appreciate it, and have taken the time to research and respond to their needs.

In the process, do not forget the job search process is one of mutual evaluation. While companies are evaluating you for how your involvement may benefit them, you should also be making the same evaluation. How would this job, or involvement with this organization, fit into your long-term strategic plan? Does the position leverage your competitive advantages? Provide for the kind of lifestyle flexibility you are looking for? Offer you an opportunity for aspirational growth? Taking the time to define these for yourself will help you define which opportunities are important to you and clarify to prospective employers how you are a fit for the position and the organization.

Elisha Allen is currently pursuing her executive MBA at the Robert O. Anderson Graduate School of Management.

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