I always ask clients who want help with “selling” themselves – whether in print/electronically (e.g. a resume) or in person (an interview) – to pay close attention to what the potential employer is seeking. As obvious and logical a principle as this may be, it is too often violated. A surprisingly large number of people concentrate on what they feel are their strengths without tailoring their resumes at all, and in interviews fail to shape their strengths narrative to the employers’ needs. They are too wrapped up in the presentation of their “brand.”*
How does one go about determining those needs? In many cases, they come from the job description that is posted for any job that is advertised** Unfortunately, in many cases that description is so broad and/or vague that it provides little guidance. For example, a large percentage of published job descriptions mention facility with multi-tasking. What exactly does that mean? Is it literally suggesting that a candidate be able to do two (or three) things simultaneously? Probably not, since that is essentially impossible. It may suggest that the employer is looking for someone who can handle a heavy workload, or short, high-pressure deadlines. Or someone who is going to be reporting to a couple of different bosses. That’s quite a range of possibilities.
Among other frequently listed requirements are: communication skills, interpersonal strengths, and high energy: other overly broad and vague descriptors. So how does a candidate determine what the employer is REALLY looking for? Through smart intelligence gathering.
By smart intelligence gathering, I mean identifying people who are in a position to have a good idea of what set of qualities is truly being sought and then finding ways to connect with them so as to be able to get the real “skinny”. That intelligence gathering, if done properly, will suss out information that may be even more vital than the qualities listed in the job posting, for example information about the organization’s culture (hierarchical? creative? democratic? informal?). Information about the financial health and growth prospects of the organization. And perhaps most important, information about the prospective boss. A micromanager? A tyrant? A perfectionist? A “snake”? Someone on the outs with Management, or a favorite? The more you can find out about your prospective employer and your prospective boss the better you will be able to tailor your “pitch.” And the better you will be able to determine both whether it’s a job you can compete for and, as significantly, whether it’s a job you will like and succeed in.
Perhaps the best tool for this information gathering (other than a close personal inside connection) is LinkedIn, which will allow you to identify current and past employees who will be able to shed light on the true nature of the job (see “A LinkedIn Primer,” my post of……. for a description of exactly how to go about this).
One other valuable source of information – your interviews for the job. Ask smart questions that can help you get a real feel for the organization. Questions like: “What kind of person / personal qualities tend to succeed here? Which lead to failure?” or “If you could change one thing about the organization, what would it be?” Also don’t overlook more quantifiable measures, like the typical workday hours or whether people actually use their vacation time.
In closing, let me say that in the absence of hard information to the contrary you should go with what the posted job description says in tailoring your approach. But understand that there may be a lot more to learn about your liking of, and success in, a job than what appears in the job description.
*A personal brand is of immense value in spreading general word about your availability, and in writing the what I call “generic” resume that you supply in all situations EXCEPT when applying for a specific job. Remember, however, that your brand is meant to have a very specific appeal which may not align closely enough with a desired position’s requirements relative to your competitors.
**Keep in mind that a large number of jobs do not have published descriptions. They may be “advertised” through word of mouth, or created to accommodate a particularly talented future employee.
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