Getting your foot in the door

A hand putting flags on a resume to highlight key points.

A step-by-step strategic map for the job hunt

The latest installment in the Job Series by UCSC Extension Dean P.K. Agarwal

Applying for a job can be a daunting task, but with the right strategies, you can increase your chances of landing an interview and, ultimately, the best job for you. Here are a few tips for ensuring you have the best chance for success.

  • Remember, it’s quality, not quantity.
  • Do your research. Learn about the company, its leaders, its customers, and the industry.
  • Customize your resume.
  • Pass through automated reader obstacles.
  • Craft a great cover letter.

Remember, it’s quality, not quantity.

The first thing I tell people is it’s all about quality, not quantity. You want to be strategic. If you’re applying to more than a few jobs a week, you are probably wasting your time. You want to be sure that the job is a good fit, that the company culture works for you, the industry has a positive outlook. This is going to take more than copying and pasting your resume. It’s going to require upfront research.

The other option is to apply for a hundred positions and bat less than 15. When you tailor your efforts you will be more successful. Here’s how you do it.

Start with the Job Description

The first step in applying for a job is to tailor your resume and cover letter to the specific job and company. This means highlighting the skills and experiences you have that align with the job requirements and demonstrating how you can add value to the company. 

Be tactical about where you include dates. Hiring bias can work both ways. Given the current shortage in many industries, however, most people coming out of retirement are able to get a job.

Read the job description carefully and repeatedly. Highlight keywords. Identify the desired job skills. You’re competing with applicants that have done this before. Ask yourself: Can I be successful in this job quickly? Does this really fit me?

Now, start to tailor your resume to highlight those job duties you’ve done in the past and start to amplify your focus around those keywords. Include metrics where you can. How often have you done this task? What does success look like when you’ve done this?

Passing Through Applicant Tracking Systems

Using keywords from the job description in your resume and cover letter also helps you pass through the initial review by applicant tracking systems (ATS) that many companies use to screen resumes. Here are some other great strategies to get through the ATS:

  • A professional format—Use a clean and professional format for your resume, and avoid any typos or errors. This will ensure that the ATS can easily read and understand your resume. Use a common file format such as .doc, .pdf, or .txt to help the ATS read.
  • Simplicity—Avoid using overly complex language.
  • Relevance—Highlight your relevant experience and skills that align with the job requirements. Use bullet points and action verbs to make it easy for the ATS to identify your qualifications.
  • Achievements—Include your education and any relevant certifications or training you have received.
  • Check the ATS requirements—Some companies have specific requirements for submitting resumes through their ATS, so be sure to check and follow them accordingly. If you’re a certificate alumnus at Extension, you can sign up for Jobscan to test your resume.
  • Be positive and show enthusiasm for the opportunity.

Writing the Cover Letter

The resume is about what you’ve done and the cover letter is about what you’re going to do for them. Even if they don’t ask for it, attach one. It provides an opportunity to introduce yourself, highlight your qualifications, and explain why you are the best candidate for the position. You want to show them that you can hit the ground running and do a really good job in this position. The job description says what they need. Propose strategies for how you might resolve their problems. Some cover letter tips:

  • Tailor it to the job. Customize your cover letter to the specific job and company you are applying to by using the same language as the job description and emphasizing how your qualifications align with the requirements of the position.
  • Start with a strong opening. Grab the reader’s attention and makes them want to read more about you.
  • Show your enthusiasm. Express your excitement for the opportunity to work with the company.
  • Qualify yourself. Use specific examples to demonstrate how your skills, experience, and achievements make you the best candidate for the job.
  • Be concise. Avoid repeating information from your resume. Focus on the most important qualifications.
  • Use a professional tone. Avoid using overly casual language or slang. A courteous tone supports your intention.
  • Close with a call to action. End your cover letter by requesting an interview or asking the hiring manager to contact you to discuss the position further.
  • Proofread. Proofread. Proofread. Read your letter out loud slowly several times. Start from the last line and read each sentence to catch errors or typos.

Company Research: Gather Intelligence

Now let’s start really getting to know the company like an insider. In a relatively short period of time, you can learn a lot, find out whether you really want to work somewhere and be a standout conversationalist in an interview. Here are some company research tips:

  • Examine the company website and social media. 
  • Learn about the key leadership by reading their profiles by googling them and looking them up on LinkedIn. See who works at the company and who has held the position by searching on LinkedIn. Once you have the names of people, look for videos, presentations, speeches, and webinars.
  • You can also see who no longer works for the company.
  • Read up on the industry news in trade journals or business and finance publications.
  • If it’s a publicly-owned company, review some of the SEQ documents or analyst articles.
  • What are their customers saying about them? You can explore this on Yelp, Twitter, SlideShare, Glassdoor.
  • Who is their top competition?
  • What changes have they made in recent years? Learn about where the company needs to grow.

This is probably a minimum of a half day’s work but it’s enjoyable. You’re starting to build a mental image of an organization and feel what it is like to work there. At the end of this step, you should feel comfortable with how they present themselves, company profitability, and the role you can play in the organization.

Reach Out to Your Network

This Is where your network comes in handy. Do you know someone in the company who is one degree of separation? Do you know someone related? Send them a cold invite to connect and chat with you about their job. Let them know you’re interested in working there and want to better understand the company.

With all this information, you can now go back and tailor your resume and cover letter, even more, to show your value to the company.

Since you’ve now set yourself up for an interview, we’ll talk next about how to have a great conversation with the hiring manager. Previous blogs in the Job Series by Dean Agarwal include: Laid off. Crisis or Opportunity? and Job Transition: Make Your Own Luck

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