Whether you’re a recent grad, a seasoned communications professional or someone looking to transition to PR from another industry, it’s a tough job market out there. With slowed job growth in June and the national unemployment rate reaching 9.2 percent, competition for the very few open positions is fierce. But there are ways for candidates to set themselves apart from the herd of applicants racing towards recruiter inboxes. Here are a few of my favorite tips for job seekers:
1. Identify a clear career objective. The last thing a recruiter or hiring manager wants to hear is that you’re pursuing opportunities in advertising, PR, sales and project management. This may sound obvious, but I read too many generic cover letters from candidates casting a wide net hoping to catch something, anything. When you narrow the scope of your job search you not only appear more focused to the recruiter, but you give yourself time for my second favorite tip.
2. Research, research, research. Knowledge is power during a job search. You’re not expected to know everything about the job you’re applying for, but a little goes a long way.
First and foremost, research the companies you’re applying to. There is something very telling about a candidate who asks me where we’re located or who our clients are during the initial phone interview. Read the website or blog for the company you’re applying to and find a way to reference something you read. This demonstrates that you’ve done your homework and that you’re genuinely interested in working for that company, and not just any company. Remember, the interview process isn’t a one-way street. While they’re getting to know you, you should be getting to know them equally as well.
3. Put your research to use and connect the dots. Your cover letter is the next best thing to an in-person introduction, so use it wisely. Demonstrate your experience with a story, something you can’t do with a resume. If you’re changing industries or professions, explain how your experience is transferrable. In other words, be able to demonstrate that your IT help desk experience has prepared you for the training and development position you’re hoping to land. If you’re looking for a position within a public relations or advertising agency, have an understanding of how agencies are structured and how they generally approach client work. Oh, and recruiters lack telepathic capabilities, so if you’re applying for a position that isn’t local, share your relocation plans. Incorporating this type of information requires a little more effort, but it won’t go unnoticed.
4. Please ask questions. Questions are a vital part of the interview process, even if it’s a short phone interview. This is a great opportunity to learn more about the position and to express your level of interest. Too few questions may indicate that you haven’t done your homework or that you’re not excited about the opportunity.
Aim for a deeper understanding of the organization and position. What are the organizations top priorities and how will this position contribute to achieving them? How do the various teams within the organization work together? What qualities does the organization (or manager) value the most in employees?
While it’s appropriate to ask for a copy of the job description during the first interview, other topics such as compensation, time off and benefits are better left for future discussions with the hiring manager or HR.
5. Follow up is about relationship building, so make it count. Not only will a follow up email solidify your interest in the position, it’s a way to deepen new relationships. Personalize each email by referring to something in your conversation or better yet, follow up with a link or recommendation relevant to your discussion. Recently, a senior level candidate followed up an interview with one of our account directors by forwarding a link to a newly published industry report on the solar industry and the name of a media contact he thought was appropriate for one our newest clients. This demonstrated his understanding of our industry, his resourcefulness and his ability to follow through.
One of my favorite follow up emails was from a recent college graduate who, after being impressed by the volunteer guide she read on our blog, thanked me for the interview and sent me a link to a nonprofit organization she thought would be a good fit for our program. What this candidate lacked in work experience, she made up for in enthusiasm.
At the end of the day, recruiters are looking for dynamic candidates who are focused, driven and engaged every step of the way. Those who do the research, connect the dots, ask smart questions and follow up are demonstrating qualities valued by most, if not all, employers.