I'm often asked what changes I've seen in effective job search strategies from several years ago versus now.
There certainly are differences, many of them. However, some basics remain the same. Regardless how you get to an interview, employers are still looking for people with positive attitudes, passion, solid skills, and the ability to communicate effectively.
What has changed, is how to get noticed and how to get to an interview in the first place. What are some of those changes? Here are some observations…
Resumes. One of the biggest changes, in my opinion, is what's expected from an effective resume. Some changes are simple, or even trivial. While other changes are more profound. Some examples are…
- No more "Objectives". Rather, it's better to have a headline of what you do, and a brief "Summary" section of what you bring. The focus must be on filling their requirements and solving their problems rather than stating what you want in a new position.
- No more lengthy dissertations of your experience. Rather, it's better to limit your resume to 1 or 2 pages, and provide short, substantive, statements of your related background, accomplishments, and quantified results. Each resume gets less attention than ever due to the volume and speed of evaluation. If relevant information isn't easily spotted, the resume will be easily rejected. Brevity is a virtue!
- Keywords are critical. These days most any Applicant Tracking System (ATS), or means for a recruiter to search for someone is based on key words they use for the search. If your resume doesn't include the words that the recruiter uses to find someone like you, you won't be found. Including all applicable keywords is essential to get noticed.
- Typos and errors are inexcusable. Years ago, when job applicants had to actually type a resume, then take them to a printer or copy shop to have them run off, there was more, although not much more understanding of mistakes on a resume. In today's world, with spellcheck, and the ability to easily edit a resume before each time it's sent out, there is little to no tolerance for mistakes. If a resume is to represent the very best work someone can offer, errors indicate a lot about the quality of someone's work.
- Metrics are king! Specific, quantified results of your previous experience gives credibility to everything you say about yourself. Stating you are "a results oriented sales producer" doesn't carry nearly as much credibility as stating "a sales producer with 20% year over year improvement in sales". In an age when so many applicants have a tendency to embellish their abilities… hard, verifiable facts provide a refreshing contrast.
- Fonts. Traditionally, Times New Roman had been the recommended font for resumes. Today, a more modern and cleaner look tends to be more desirable. Arial, Verdana, or Calibri are generally viewed more favorably and will typically make your resume more readable.
Cover letters. Generally no longer necessary! People pour enormous sweat and agony into crafting the "perfect" cover letter, while the reality is that they almost never are read… or even looked at. Furthermore, a qualified resume or application is never rejected because there is no cover letter included… even if the ad asked for one. The resume is really the only document that matters. Generally, recruiters and HR staff don't have the time to read them, and don't bother to even open the document in most cases. So don't waste your time creating one. Certainly never rely on your cover letter to make your case for a job when it should be presented in your resume.
The exception may be if you are able to find and present your information directly to the appropriate hiring manager rather than to an HR department. Usually, the hiring manager doesn't sift through the high volume of resume submittals themselves, and sometimes will take the time to read a cover letter in addition to the resume. Never count on it though! Never use your cover letter to include key information about your fit for a position that isn't already apparent in your resume. The resume is the only document that you know will be considered.
Move it online! Newspapers and magazines typically have very few "Help Wanted" ads anymore. That's especially true when it comes to professional, white collar positions. The overwhelming majority of ads are now online, whether on broad job boards, company websites, or display ads. Similarly, the application process is typically online as well.
Additionally, there are countless other resources available for a job search. Resources that can help in creating resumes, prepare for interviews, manage all your information flow, connect with new contacts, research people, companies, and opportunities, as well as many other aspects of the process. The internet has clearly revolutionized the way someone does a job search over the past 15 years.
Competition is fiercer! Because it's easier for people to find and apply to opportunities online, it also means that companies receive far more applicants for each job than ever before. The internet has made it easy for people to point-and-click to apply to many more jobs than they ever have. As a result, there are more applicants, both qualified and unqualified for each job out there. It becomes more important than ever to find ways to distinguish yourself from the crowd. Even if you're a "perfect" fit, it can be difficult to get noticed among dozens, or hundreds of other applicants.
Networking and personal contact still reign supreme. A statistic that hasn't changed much over the years, is that the vast majority of hiring still occurs because of various forms of networking. Connections, old or new, now as always, still dominate how people get jobs. Resumes, online applications, recruiters, and other forms of finding a job haven't changed the fact that employers still feel most confident in hiring someone that comes to them through other people they know. Even hiring the next door neighbor of a friend of a golf buddy sometimes seems like a better bet than hiring an anonymous resume that shows up in their email box.
Now, as much as ever, networking and proactive personal contact with potential employers is an essential part of distinguishing yourself from the "masses". Most job seekers don't do it, and so the ones that do, get noticed. Who are all the people you know, and who are all the people they know, and who are all the people they know? The power of connecting and gaining further referrals makes all the difference in finding and gaining a new job in today's world.
Is today's job market different? You bet! However, the "personal touch" that made the difference in your parents generation, still has the greatest influence in landing that next job today. Adapt to the changes, while clinging to the things that work as well!