Career Development

The Gift of a Well-Tailored Job Application

This holiday season and beyond, let’s give hiring managers the gift of a thoughtful job application.

Give yourself the gift of a few positive steps to create the best chance for success.

We must prepare for job applications the same way we prepare gifts for loved ones.

Many people assume that all industries slow down around the holidays and therefore it is a good time for job-seekers to slow down as well. Logically, if “everyone” is saying this, people tend to assume there is at least some legitimacy to the idea. Data show that job postings do decrease during the holidays, however a gentle reminder that job searching still happens may be enough to rethink this. If you need a job or advancement in your career, that is even more of a reason why you should be doing things to get closer to this outcome.

A positive mindset makes us more likely to also observe that although fewer employers are seeking candidates during the holidays, there are also fewer people actively pursuing work during this period. They may be apathetic or using the holidays as an excuse to avoid doing the hard work that it takes to get a job. If you tell yourself only half of the story, you may be wasting an opportunity to get noticed, or to at least get organized. 

Are you Christmas Scrooge or a Christmas Angel?

As a job-seeker, it is tempting to view recruiters and hiring managers with scorn, or animosity, especially when they reject or “ghost” us. Since recruiters are the gatekeepers to our future success, viewing them contemptuously has obvious downside. Even though the holiday season is over, hopefully the spirit of giving will stick around (humanity could certainly benefit this). If we can make the Christmas spirit linger a little longer this year, why not apply the spirit of giving and generosity to interactions with hiring managers? 

Recruiters are People Too

Despite the routine use of Applicant Tracking Systems by companies to screen candidates, in the end, a person will be making the decision to pick up the phone and it will be a human being on the other end of the conversation. These human beings play various roles within the company and are keenly aware of their business needs. They also have individual biases, interest, quirks, and imperfections. We all know we should think of humans differently than we think of machines but the stress of the job search tends to demoralize us. When we feel discouraged, we forget the basics and lose our positive spark.

We must stay positive to maximize our chances of success, but positivity doesn’t just drop in on us out of thin air. In order to generate and maintain positivity, we must form our attitudes, our perspectives, and remain open-minded. When it comes to determining how to interact with the humans that determine your fate in a job search, humanity and gratitude go a long way. Doing the grunt-work of written preparation and research also helps us enter and maintain the right mindset.

The High-Stakes and Demanding Nature of Recruiting

Let’s have an out-of-body experience to humanize the difficult tasks that recruiters routinely face by considering an example. Suppose an HR Assistant named Melissa has been working under an HR Manager who is out on maternity leave. The company specializes in making medical supplies such as personal protective equipment (PPE). Demand is off the charts due to the Coronavirus pandemic and Melissa has been tasked with finding a replacement for Lucinda, an Administrative Assistant who has been with the company for nearly 10 years.

In her time with the company Lucinda has routinely taken on extra tasks and has been invaluable to the daily functions of the company. She has decided to retire earlier than expected, due to concerns about an elderly relative who she has been caring for in her home. Many of Lucinda’s tasks could not be done remotely so the owner will not grant her permission to work from home indefinitely. She has just 4 weeks left to help train her replacement remotely. It is also open enrollment season and Melissa has struggled to keep up with the in-office administrative tasks, let alone the benefit administration, and now, replacing their star admin – Lucinda.

The pressure of finding the right candidate takes its toll on companies. Recruiters are people too.

Can You See the “Big Picture?”

There are no easy answers when it comes to hiring in most corporate environments and the interests of stakeholders in various roles must all be taken into consideration when making these important decisions. The hiring choice has a major impact on the future direction of any company. Job descriptions are often thrown together or written by people with their own biases. When deciding on a candidate in the later interview stages, the different interests of stakeholders involved in the process lead to an imperfect power dynamic.

If it seems like companies are disorganized, that is because they are.

To make any decision, it helps to have gathered an appropriate amount of data first. We accept this broadly and in academic circles, however people are not generally great at applying this concept to their own life experience. As job candidates, we should go in unassuming, and open-minded. We should wait to form opinions and judgments until after we have made enough observations during the hiring process. The candidate needs to make sure this is a healthy work environment, and it meets their interests too.

To get interviewed, and ultimately hired, it helps to have empathy. Ask yourself what you would be looking for if you were in the recruiter’s shoes? Ask them questions about what they have been going through from a staffing standpoint. What is the hiring manager’s favorite topic of conversation? If they are anything like the rest of humanity, their favorite topic is likely themselves, specifically, their life and experiences.

Before we get to talk to them, we can, and must prepare. Below are a few ways you can set yourself up for success as a job candidate using empathy and spirit of the generosity that hopefully was present this holiday season.

You Have to Win the Job Offer

Just because Christmas is over, doesn’t mean we don’t need an ongoing attitude of gratitude and generosity in the way we treat people. If you feel you are qualified for a role and wish to apply, give the gift of a well-tailored job application through preparation and thoughtfulness.

Put First Things First 

Much like giving a good gift, the things that you think would matter most to the hiring manager should come first in your resume and they should be addressed in your cover letter. In order to determine what these are, it helps to do some reflecting. It is up to each individual job seeker to craft a process that works best for them but I highly recommend taking a structured deep-dive. To do this, we must reflect and write things down. Self-reflection allows us to better understand ourselves. When we understand ourselves, we can communicate better when the stakes are high.

We first need to analyze the requirements of a job. After we decide whether to apply, we use the spirit of giving, to put the interests and needs of others first – always.

“What will the hiring manager want to hear?”

You may say, “great… I got it, put their interests first, but how?” We have one obvious clue and a few less obvious clues that we can analyze. The job description is the obvious clue. The less obvious clues would be the company website, insight from anyone we know who works at the company, anyone who has worked there in the past, our industry knowledge, the size of the company, size of the department, who the manager is, and market trends. Write down what you think THEY want to see. Writing is essential to unpacking and recording what is in your mind.

How Are You Qualified?

After you have put your audience first, we now can start thinking about ourselves. Society has gone through a paradigm shift when it comes to determining whether a human being is “smart.” In the old days, people would analyze others and ask, “are you smart?” This was usually done in a judgmental way until prominent human behavior Psychologist, Howard Gardner and other thinkers have changed the way we think of being “smart.” Increasingly people believe that a more appropriate question to ask is, “how are you smart?”

It is not, “are you qualified?” The question is, “how are you qualified?” When we ask this, we can reflect on our ability to convince hiring managers to consider us further. There is usually more beneath the surface to any job and it is up to YOU to unpack how your skills relate. You must win the job against other candidates. How can you take your best shot at convincing the hiring manager that you are the most viable candidate? We had better dive in.

My Dark Horse Candidate

In my recruiting days, I worked for a company that specialized in entry-level to executive-level Administrative and Human Resources staffing. We had a job opening come in that was unusual, but it was a long-time client in the logistics industry so we did our best. The client needed someone who could coordinate lots of delivery routes, work in a company culture with strong personalities, and was comfortable handling many aspects of daily operations. I was an inexperienced recruiter and had recently “interviewed” my friend who had worked for a sitting US Senator’s office.  

It turns out that when you work for a sitting US Senator, you work on coordinating various aspects of events, meeting with several stakeholders, handling complaints from constituents, and lots of other important, unexpected events and situations. After my friend got the job, the other recruiters who had recommended candidates for the job with much more industry experience and were asking themselves, “how was he qualified?” Well, not to over-simplify, but my friend clearly was able to tell his story in a way that convinced the hiring manager to give him a chance. You can do the same with the right mindset and the right opportunity – you just have to find both.

Prepare, Prepare, & Prepare

What can you say about yourself that is interesting, relevant, and valuable? The ability to make these connections is what separates great job-seekers from the ones who do not get ahead. Most individuals that I come across stay at the surface level. Deep career-diving takes work because it requires that we make structure and organization out of unstructured “job searching time.” If you do not find a way to do this, your job applications will be less thoughtful, more self-serving, and less effective.

There are productivity hacks and thought patterns that you can control but there are no shortcuts when it comes to the hard work of designing your life. Just like a baseball player who steps up to the plate, we must dig in. However, if we dig in without doing the work to feel as prepared as possible, when it’s showtime, will we be ready? Any athlete, military general, or sports coach will tell you that planning and preparation is essential. They will also tell you that adaptability and flexibility are equally important. Take your pick of the metaphor that is most inspiring, but recognize that preparation and doing the hard work that it takes to do it well, is a lever that shifts us toward career success.

“Plans are useless but planning is indispensable.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower

Plans change constantly but planning allows us to see the big picture and prepare for the inevitable surprises that arise. Take shortcuts if you would like, but don’t be surprised when you progress slower, or meet setbacks. Even the most well-prepared face these setbacks. When you are prepared you give yourself a far better chance.

Planning Equals Confidence

In the early stages of the application process, the job description is front and center in how you strategize your application. As you learn more information, we can, and must adjust our approaches. The preparation described above is how we get there.

Once it is showtime, the preparation you do is what will be the greatest predictor of eventual success. NBA legend Kobe Bryant had spoken about the connection between his preparation and confidence. He explained that he did not feel nervous about his ability to perform certain moves, shots, and other basketball plays in games because he had practiced them so many times that he knew he would be able to perform. He also knew that he practiced far more than his competitors and that meant he had no reason to doubt himself. Why wouldn’t he have sky-high confidence?

We do not need to be as great as Kobe Bryant, however the positivity that Kobe approached games with is a by-product of the time and energy he put into repetition. He earned his confidence and we must do the same.

Many people start with a deep-dive, but get distracted, or they fail to envision how their current preparations will lead to success. If we prepare in private by doing the right things, using our best judgment, we will be ready when the lights turn on and we actually tell our story. 

Although it may not always seem like we are making progress, patience and faith in the importance of growth over time will go a long way. When we make things happen by considering the needs of our target audience first we give the gift to the hiring manager of hope, that we may be “the one” to fill the role. When the lights come on, preparation makes us ready. When you don’t see results from your preparation, don’t assume “it doesn’t pay to try” like many do. Endless examples prove otherwise. Instead, ask yourself how you can better use your time and target what you really want. Keep trying and eventually you will land in a better place than you are today if you look at things objectively. If you never try, it is truly the only way you can fail.

The holiday season teaches us that life is bigger than ourselves. Advancing in our personal and professional lives requires thoughtfulness, preparation, and ultimately, execution. Many of us spend endless time preparing gifts for loved ones during Christmas season. Now let’s do the same for the strangers who hold the keys to our future success.

Happy 2021. Cheers to a prosperous and happier New Year.

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