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The 6 Most Important Words to a Hiring Employer: “What Can you Do For Me?”
When applying for a job, most of us come to battle armed with a veritable arsenal of wants and needs:
• We want to be engaged and challenged by our job.
• We want decent health benefits, a 401k, maybe a dental and vision plan too.
• We want a pay raise, over and above our last salary.
• We want a nice working environment, friendly co-workers and an honest boss.
It’s not wrong to want all these things and more. Many of us may have spent the last few years stuck in a job that has left us drained; maybe the pay and benefits were lacking, the culture was toxic, or the management was unsympathetic to your requests for a raise.
The trouble with carrying around this mental list when you get to the firing stage is twofold. First up, none of the items on your ‘Wants’ list benefit your employer. And secondly, if we write our resume and cover letter focused primarily on what we want, we're less likely to present ourselves in a way which convinces the employer that you have the company's needs first and foremost in mind.
Here's how to convince them.
How to Focus on the Company's Needs, and Get Hired
Meet Penny. Penny's been stuck in a menial temp job for the last six years. As a student, she excelled at English and had aspirations to be a writer. But a bad car accident in her final year lead to her missing exams and failing to graduate.
Since then, Penny's been stuck in a rut of low-paying jobs. Every single 'dream job' she applies for is apparently everyone else's dream job too; every Editorial Assistant or Magazine Publisher jobs she applies for, her application is buried under an avalanche of hundreds of competing applications. Her poor health and a slight limp caused by the car accident has hurt her self esteem too; deep down she feels she doesn't have the strength to compete against the deluge of fresh, healthy graduates who all want the same job that she does.
Eventually, Penny settles for a Data Entry Clerk job at a company which manufactures computer parts, just to pay the bills. It's not exactly glamorous, but she finds solidarity in the team of other temps, all in a similar position to her, and besides - the job is just two miles from her house. She blinks and suddenly half a decade has gone by, and although she has now been promoted to Senior Admin Assistant, she is no closer to her fantasy position as the beloved editor of children's books.
Then it happens: the miracle. A friend mentions in passing that her husband, who works for the famous publishing house Penguin Books, is hiring an Editorial Assistant. Penny badgers her friend into giving her husband a copy of her resume, which of course she stayed up all night custom-writing.
This is how her cover letter starts:
"Dear Hiring Manager, Ever since I was young I have had a dream to work in publishing. I was always told I had an inventive mind and a good grasp of the English language growing up. In fifth grade I was selected to be the play writer for my entire class, and I have always excelled at writing articles for my school newspaper. I am a hard worker and well liked by my boss. I would dearly love more than anything to work at a publishing house, and if you give me a chance, you won't regret it."
Penny goes on to talk about her Admin work experience, but unknown to her, her friend's husband has already gone on to reading the next application. Why? Because if you look again at the above paragraph, while well written and well intentioned, it is all about Penny, not the employer.
For instance, in just five lines, she uses the word "I' seven times. Without mentioning which job she is applying for or telling the recruiter about her actual writing skills, she has basically just started telling her life story to someone who has never met her, and is not in any way invested in helping her achieve her dreams.
"But I'm supposed to write about myself in the cover letter!" I hear you cry. And yes, this is true - but you must strive at all times to balance talking about yourself, with talking about the employer and addressing their needs as well as your own.
As a resume coach, this is something I always struggle to get people to understand. It can be heartbreaking when someone is genuinely passionate about a job and you have to rein them in from basically pouring verbal sunshine all over the page while jumping up and down and shouting, "Ooh, pick me!" While employers are indeed usually looking for a enthusiastic and passionate person to do the job, their application needs more substance than that. In some cases, it needs a lot more.This is the most simple way I can think of to put things: your cover letter and resume must be about the employer, not you.
Read that last line over again, and then when you are ready, I'll show you how to achieve this.
How to Get Into The Mind of a Hiring Manager
When the Hiring Manager or Recruiter reads your cover letter and resume, they have a 'check box' list of wants at the forefront of their mind. Although he or she (hopefully) is a friendly, sympathetic and compassionate person, they are looking to fill a concrete position, with a person who has the top attributes they think will make a good employee, such as being hardworking, good with people, creative and inventive, and driven to help the company achieve its goals and increase profits.
What they are not looking to do by hiring for this position is:
* Helping you fulfill a childhood dream.
* Giving you "a shot" or a chance to do something you've always wanted to do.
* Helping you out of a tough financial situation.
* Hearing your life story.
* Hearing what your best friend or co-workers think of you.
* Reading about events that happened when you were in high school.
* Hiring you because your mother/ brother/ sister/ old boss says they think you would be great at this job.
... and so on.
Remember - the Hiring Manager doesn't know you. Why should he or she take your word for it that you'd be so great at this job, if you don't back your statements up with concrete facts, such as years of experience or sales figures?
After all, anyone can say, "I'd make a great author!" An actual great author would simply include their latest sales figures in their cover letter, with no fanfare or hype needed. This is the fundamental difference between people who get hired, and people who are still checking their INBOX a month later, waiting in vain for a reply to their job application.
Many people react with anger, disbelief and a certain amount of hurt when told this, but I tell them this as 'tough love' so that they have a fire lit under them which will then truly allow them to get into a mental position where they can craft a cover letter and resume that really will help them get hired, and so fulfill their dreams.
Because after all, that is what we all want out of life.
Why You Should Show, Not Tell
Going back to Penny, here's her re-written cover letter introduction, focusing on concrete facts and her real skills rather than her dreams and wishes - which really did get her the job.
"Dear Hiring Manager, it was with great excitement that I learned of your Editorial Assistant position. I am currently working as Senior Administrative Assistant at a large, busy technology company, where I am in charge of a team of ten clerks. In my six year tenure here, I have increased department profits 35% by redesigning the record keeping system. I have also taken the initiative to start a weekly company newsletter, which has helped build company moral and provided a fun outlet for employees to bond and share their triumphs and achievements."
The above cover letter intro very cleverly incorporates everything a Hiring Manager could be looking for in an Editorial Assistant, without stating it outright:
* Cover letter starts out by confirming which job Penny is applying for, and expressing enthusiasm.
* Next up, she tells us that she is capable of supervising other people, meaning that she is responsible and that she has well-developed people skills.
* Mentioning her 6-year run at her current company shows she has a steady work history.
* She shows us that she is creative and proactive by telling us about a newsletter she started, and also that she has put in personal effort to increase company profits.
The moral of the story? Show, don't tell. If you're writing your cover letter or resume Summary and you find yourself telling your potential hiring company why they should pick you, throw out what you've written, start again... and show them.
You'll be glad that you did.