In my eagerness to land a particular gig last year I forgot the cardinal rule every smart careerist follows: Research the client before you apply for the job. Foolishly believing that my resume would speak for itself, I did not specify my unique qualifications to meet the needs of the company, nor did I include a sample of my work that would illustrate my ability to fit in with their standards and style.
I made the mistake of assuming the hiring manager would read between the lines and see what they were looking for. When I received a polite note stating I just didn't reflect the company's style and direction, I was enormously frustrated. But I can do any style! I argued with the piece of paper. I can easily give you what you want if you just gave me a shot!
But you see, they had already given me my shot. My application was my one chance, and I blew it.
Your initial application, no matter what the job, is your shot - and it may be your only chance to let them know why you are the right person for job. So, it's vital that you show a prospective client right off the bat that you are exactly what they are looking for.
In order to do this, you have to take the time to look into the company as much as possible. We're not talking about hours of research, but we are talking about a concerted effort. A company website is the easiest way to do this, but if the company name is not yet available, research the field. Learn about many of the players in the field - you'll likely pick up some info on the one looking to hire you. Already know the company name? Look the company up on Hoovers.com. Use whatever resources you can to find answers to these questions:
- The company's mission statement or marketing tag line. How do they define what they do?
- The size and scope of their operation -- whatever it may be. Is the organization just starting out or is it a multi-million dollar company?
- Trends in their industry or field. What changes might the company be facing this year?
- What the previous hire did for them. Is the ad for a web designer? Study the current website. A marketing expert? Look at the last press release.
By researching these four areas and carefully reading (and re-reading) any job description they have made available, chances are that you have already put yourself miles ahead of your competition.
So, now the only question is, how do you demonstrate that you've done your research?
1. Show familiarity with the company and the job description in your cover letter. Show you are familiar with what they do and with the job description they've given, and point out the ways you fit the bill. Anish Majumdar has a great perspective on doing this without reinventing the wheel each time you apply for a job.
2. Indicate precisely why you want to work with the company. (No, answering "for the money" will not get you the job.) Give solid reasons why this job is a fit for you. Don't kiss up, but know that flattery done well, works well.
3. Re-edit your resume to highlight your relevant experience. Expound on relevant areas and downplay (or delete) the rest. CareerBuilder points out that you need to show that your experience dovetails to the client's needs.
4. Send samples of what you can do for them.If this means putting in half an hour coming up with something fitting to send, because nothing in your portfolio works, you should at least consider the benefits of doing so. Don't let your fear of being exploited keep you from going an extra mile to land the job.
5. Dialog intelligently during the interview. Parmelee Eastman at Job-Hunt.org tells job seekers that research is an important key to nailing the conversation during an interview.
Remember to present your knowledge of the company in a positive light. As career expert Cynthia Shapiro was quick to point out in her interview with the Wall Street Journal, you never want to use this researched information to question or criticize the company during the interview process or you aren't likely to get the job.
Remember in this process that by researching potential clients you are doing yourself a huge favor. Not only are you increasing your chances of impressing the client, but you might discover that you want nothing more to do with them after five minutes of research!
Never underestimate the power of knowledge.