So you give your resume one last thorough review. It looks good. You make a few minor tweaks to your standard cover letter, changing a phrase here and there to include the important keywords from the job description. Then you hit send. Just like 257 other candidates.
Maybe in booming economic times, when it’s a seller’s market, you can get away with this passive job-search process: find a great gig posted online, fire off a resume and wait for an interview or an outright offer. But not in a buyer’s market. Not today. If you’re looking for work today, in just about any industry, chances are you’re competing with many people who are at least as qualified as you are. Time to get creative.
1. Make your pitch stand out.
Everybody sends in a cover letter and resume. Do something more interesting, more relevant to the gig you’re applying for – something that gives you a chance to show off what’s unique about you.
I’ll illustrate with a personal example. I once posted a job for a marketing person whose primary function would be building PowerPoint presentations. We received many dozens of resumes (this was during boom times), and many of the candidates claimed proficiency with PowerPoint. But one candidate actually rebuilt her resume – beautifully – in PowerPoint. This candidate had the simple but brilliant idea to show us her proficiency with PowerPoint, rather than just tell us. She also showed creative thinking and made hers stand out among all of the resume emails that flooded our inbox.
2) Don’t limit yourself to jobs posted.
These days just about every posted job worth having receives dozens if not hundreds of applicants. What’s more, posted jobs represent just a small fraction of the opportunities that pop up all the time. According to a hiring expert quoted in the Wall Street Journal, in fact, 80% of jobs are never even advertised.
So why not work the other way around? Find the companies you want to work for, and pitch them.
This has two benefits. First, by focusing your search on organizations you’d be enthusiastic about working for, you can make your pitches much more genuine and positive. You can tailor each pitch, making a case for specifically what you like or admire about that company and why you want to join their team. That makes a difference. Second, the field is clear so your pitch will receive more attention. And you never know. You might send in an enthusiastic inquiry about working in the marketing department of a large videogame publisher – a place you’ve always wanted to work at – just when their VP decides it’s time to build out the team. Or yours might be such a perfect background for the company that that same VP might want to bring you in even though they hadn’t planned on adding new staff.
Don’t wait for the right fit for your talents. Find a fit yourself, and then go after it.
3. Offer to prove yourself for free.
Okay, this one is a bit controversial. Some people believe offering to provide some work for a potential employer for free to prove yourself makes you look desperate. Or that it devalues your work and puts you in a weakened position when it’s time to negotiate for the job. And they might be right.
But I also know that almost nobody thinks to make this suggestion, even if they’re interviewing for their dream job. Doing so will make you stand out. I also know several professionals who have used this tactic to great success. In some cases, they’ve performed a small task, impressed the company and got the job. In other cases, merely offering a free project as proof of their skill – and positioning it that way – has given the company the confidence that they’re the right candidate. And those professionals also got the jobs.
Note: If you’re going to make this offer to a possible employer, how you position the offer is key. You’re offering to do a small task for free because you consider it a minor upfront investment in a long-term relationship. You know that after the company has seen your work, they’ll want more of it. That’s confidence. Not desperation.
By the way, this tactic can work for just about any type of job – not only for designers or web developers. If you’re a corporate trainer, for example, you might suggest crafting a very short training session for a specific department in the company. Sales rep? Perhaps you could offer to craft a very short introductory phone script based on the information you can glean from the company’s website and literature.
The point here – as with all of these tips – is to be creative. Everyone has a resume, and a cover letter with job-description-matching keywords, and references. What do you have that sets you apart? Don’t be afraid to share it.
Featured photo credit: Captain Kimo via flickr.com