For the rest of the series:
Part II: Before the Interview
Part III: During the Interview
Part IV: After the Interview
Note that this interview guide is not comprehensive, it’s just some tips and tricks to help you land that job!
As I mentioned in my last post, being offered a job or internship has less to do with your transcripts, and more to do with your “fit” with the company and your people skills.
The students at my b-school like to tell the old wives’ tale about the smartest MBA student who ever existed, who had a 4.0, a perfect GMAT score, and who was a member of every club under the MBA sun. This smartest student failed to land a job post graduation simply because he was a jerk with zero people skills. (OK, this isn’t really a wives’ tale, this was a 2014 grad that no one liked very much).
But this is good news for everyone. Those of you with mediocre test scores can still earn the job of your dreams, and those of you with high test scores can simply not be a jerk, and also earn the job of your dreams!
After locating this job of your dreams, the first step is (obviously) the resume and cover letter. Some day in the future I hope to write detailed blogs on each of these items separately, but for the sake of job-hunting, there are really two key points.
- Align your cover letter and resume with each other and with the company
- Don’t be boring
Read on for detailed descriptions of each point.
Step I: Align your cover letter and resume with each other and with the company
Do not, I repeat, do not use the same cover letter and resume for every company you apply to, unless you don’t really want to work for them. Hirers can spot a generic cover letter from a mile away, and they place it right in the “not a good fit” pile. If you really want this job, you will have to write a brand new cover letter, and it will be worth it.
The first step is researching the company thoroughly. For me this means reading its last annual report, scouring its website, and searching for recent news items regarding the company.
As I mentioned in the last post, I applied to two marketing summer internships. Each of these companies has a unique identity. What we will refer to as Company A (the CPG company that I selected) has a friendly and outgoing culture. Company B (the other offer I received) has a very humanistic culture – it is focused largely on improving the lives of people all around the world.
My Company A resume and cover letter were tailored as follows: My resume highlighted all of my career experience in marketing (I shrunk the sections of my resume that were about being a school teacher, and increased the sections about my business accomplishments). In my cover letter I opted to tell a humorous story about an experience I had with the brand as a child, then I went into my qualities/skills using real-life examples from my business experiences.
My Company B resume and cover letter were a bit different: My resume focused on my accomplishments as an educator (I fleshed out how much impact I had on students and the school). My cover letter told a story about the impact humanistic programming can have on students at all levels of education (even though this company was not education related – I tied the two concepts to show how my history was directly relevant to the company). The rest of my cover letter used my experiences as a teacher to highlight my qualities/skills.
I wasn’t kidding when I said you should not send out the same resume and cover letter to every company you apply for. Yes, it takes time to align them to a company and to each other, but in the end I was offered both internships and therefore only applied to two jobs, whereas many of my peers who did not take the time to align them are now nearing their 30th job application. It’s worth the effort!
Step 2: Don’t be boring
For whatever reason, everyone starts their cover letters with something generic, such as: I was excited to see an opening for…; I am very passionate about…; I believe I am the perfect fit for…
I am calling SHENANIGANS on the people who say this is how you should write a cover letter. As a former high school English teacher, I know that unless you hook your reader on the first sentence/paragraph, you are doomed.
I always start my cover letters with a story. As I mentioned, I told a silly story for Company A and a serious story for Company B (because I deemed these types of stories to be best aligned with the individual company cultures).
When I made it to the interview rounds I had a lovely conversation with the interviewer for Company B about how best to serve low-income communities (an off-shoot of my serious story). The interviewer for Company A actually told me that it was the funniest cover letter that she had ever read, and she instantly knew she had to meet me. She went on to complain about generic cover letters, and how it was a breath of fresh air to see something new.
In your quest to not be boring, make sure you are still appropriate and on-topic (a cover letter does needs to showcase what you can offer the company).
I hope this (lengthy) post has been helpful. Reach out for any clarification!
Does anyone have any other helpful resume and cover letter techniques?