The Great Anomaly or A New Year’s Resolution for Job Seekers

Here’s the thing.  As a good job seeker you sit down and work very hard on your collaterals – your marketing materials.  Specifically, your cover letter and resume.  Some of you may even have paid someone to prepare them for you, albeit under your supervision.   They are important documents – the equivalent of the company brochure or website.  They have to be perfect.

If you are expecting an argument, you won’t get one from me.  They have to be perfect.  No typos, grammatical or spelling errors allowed.  But here’s the thing:

The average (and this is based on absolutely no scientific evidence at all, just personal/professional experience) job seeker will spend hours and days on their cover letter and days and weeks on their resume.  As a musician writing her score, the job seeker will tweak and tweak, refine and refine, until everything is perfect to eye and ear.  Now for the anomaly:

The average resume recipient will spend no more than 10 seconds on a cover letter, if any at all (I know recruiters and some HR managers who don’t even read them unless the job requires writing skills!), and even less time on the resume.  That’s why the cover letter has to be no more than an “elevator pitch” and the resume needs to begin with the equivalent of a Superbowl commercial – grabbing the reader’s attention and making them want more.

But the anomaly continues:

The job seeker will spend minutes, maybe a few hours, doing research on the company and – if she is smart – on the people who will be interviewing her.  The employer will spend the same amount of time researching the job seeker, or perhaps less, depending on the position.  The employer, like the job seeker, will Google the candidate (as the job seeker Googles the employer) to find out all they can about her.  However, and here’s the funny part, the employer will spend hours on the interview while the job seeker usually only spends a few minutes – normally on the way to the interview.

What happens, from the employer’s perspective, regarding interviews?  First, the candidate meets with someone from HR, usually for a good 20 minutes to half an hour.  Then the candidate may meet with a director for 45 minutes to an hour and then a quarter to half an hour with an executive.  That could be the first phase but, for sake of argument, that’s all there is to it.  So the employer had staff meet with the candidate for a total of about an hour and half to two hours.  Then, all the interviewers get together to discuss the candidates.  That takes another hour.  But let’s be minimalists.  Let’s agree that an employer spends a good two hours interviewing, including the debrief.  That’s a lot of time.  It’s a large investment.

What does the job candidate do?  On the way to the interview she does a mock interview in her head, answering questions that she thinks she is going to be asked.  What are your strengths?  What are your weaknesses?  Why do you want to work here?  Why did you leave your previous jobs?  What salary are you looking for?  Basic answers to basic questions.  Just like everybody else!

But the key to getting a job is differentiation.  So here’s your New Year’s Resolution:

In 2012 you will devote more time to preparing for an interview than writing the cover letter and resume.  You’ll research the employer digging as deep as possible.  You’ll research the interviewer(s).  You’ll not only prepare answers to the standard questions, you’ll prepare a list of questions that, when you ask them, will show the employer that you understand the importance of due diligence.

You see, the purpose of the cover letter is to get the recipient to read the resume, and the purpose of the resume is get an interview.  But it is the interview that leads to the offer and that’s your goal: to get the job offer.  So you are going to write a good cover letter and a great resume, but you’re going to spend most of your time preparing for the interview.  Why?  Because that’s what the employer is going to do!  Put differently, what’s most important to the employer should be what’s most important to you.