A Very Short Course On How To Respond To A Job Ad

Paper note pinned to a cork notice board with the phrase We Can Help typed onto it
It's easy to feel overwhelmed by all the advice out there on how to respond to a job ad.
So here, I try to distill the important but not obvious advice into one friendly blog post.

If you're well-qualified for the job, this approach should boost your chances of landing
an interview.

Getting past the screener
The same basic principles apply whether the screener is human or a computer. But let's assume it's a computer. Most mid-to-large employers use one--let's call it The Judge. Here's what makes The Judge smile.
  • Appropriate keywords in your resume and cover letter. How can you figure out which are appropriate? First pick important words from the job description: for example, "Excel expert," or "manage cross-functional teams." Another source: If you were hiring for this position, what words would you tell The Judge to look for? For example, if you were looking for a community college graduate with leadership potential, mightn't you tell The Judge to look for the words "A.A." or "A.S." and the word "president?"
  • The Judge likes resumes without gaps in employment. It figures that if you're continually working, you're more likely to be in good health, that employers like you, and that, if hired, you're unlikely to take a year-long vacation. So, fill in those gaps with any education or volunteer work you did.
  • The Judge also bets on resumes with job titles that show a consistent pattern of promotion: for example, coordinator, then analyst, then manager.
So, to the extent you can honestly put those things in your resume and cover letter, do it. The Judge will smile at you.

The point-by-point cover letter
Now let's assume The Judge has deemed your resume and cover letter worthy of more careful reading.

Key is to show that you meet most or all the requirements listed in the ad. The clearest way to do that is with a point-by-point cover letter. Here's the model:

Dear (Insert name if you have one. Otherwise "Sir or Madam" will have to do.)

I was pleased to see your ad for a program analyst on AOL because I believe I'd enjoy the job and that I'm well-suited to it.

Job requirement #1: Word-for-word, from the job ad, copy the job requirement you best meet. For example, "Expertise in social media marketing."

How I meet Job requirement #1: In a line or two, explain how you meet the requirement, ideally with an index of quality. For example, "Developed two successful social media marketing plans. (See resume.) "

Repeat the above for two or three more job requirements listed in the ad.

Then write something like, "Of course, there's more to me than can be summarized in a chart. People who work with me say I am (Insert a positive attribute or two about yourself that you would demonstrate if interviewed.) For example, you're enthusiastic, a quick problem solver, whatever.

I'm particularly interested in working for you because (Insert one or two short reasons.) For example, "I've looked at your products especially your X-10 and would be proud to be a part of the company that makes it. Besides, your office is a short commute from my apartment."

Hoping to hear from you,


The pruned master resume
You don't need to create a resume from scratch for every job you apply for. Have a master resume that includes all your duties and accomplishments and then delete those unlikely to impress that employer.

The meatball
Costco gives away free meatballs not because it's trying to feed the homeless. They're hoping that if you try one, you'll buy ten pounds worth. Similarly, when applying for a job, give them a "meatball," to increase the chances they'll buy all of you. What constitutes a meatball? Here are examples. Of course, pick the one that would most impress that employer:
  • A White Paper. That's a fancy term for "term paper." It's a few-page paper on a topic that demonstrates your knowledge of the field. For example, if you're applying for an administrative assistant position, an appropriate topic would be Five New Best Practices in Administrative Assisting. To create your white paper, you might simply start with a Google search and then peruse the index of a periodical or two written for administrative assistants, for example, OfficePro.
  • A business plan. Many manager positions demand intrapreneurialism. That's entrepreneurialism within an organization. If so, consider writing a mini business plan for some initiative you'd undertake if hired. To avoid putting your foot in your mouth, preface it by saying something like, "Of course, not yet working for your organization, I don't know if you've already tried this or have experience that indicates it's a poor idea. I provide this only as a window into the way I think."
  • A list of sales leads. For sales or business development positions, good leads are gold. Submit a partial list of leads you'd contact if hired. Make clear that it's only a sample. Otherwise you risk them thinking, "Why buy the cow if we already have its milk?"
There's no magic formula for landing an interview but this approach has levitated many an application to the top of the pile.

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