What can a candidate do to affect the outcome of the screening process? Not much. You can’t set the search criteria for an employer. You can’t make screeners meticulously follow the criteria they have. And you can’t eliminate bias.
You can only present a coherent argument, and make sure that it highlights what you have to offer in relation to the position and the needs of an employer.
How can you describe, explain, or imply a high degree of fit between you/your skills and the needs of your potential employer?
It will not be through the use of buzzwords. It will be through the use of keywords. And the best way to discover the most relevant keywords are to study the employer, read the position description or advertisement carefully, and pull out those elements that seem most important. This introduces the value of “word-farming.” There are some great tools out there that can help you distill a job description down to the most important keywords. We’ll delve into them in a later post. For now, let’s start at the beginning. If you are going to make a coherent argument, you have to do one thing first…
Know Your Goal
Have you ever heard the term “He couldn’t hit the side of a barn?”
It implies a lack of precision and lack of focus.
How about “shooting from the hip?”
It implies that a person engages in hasty, gut-level reactions, rather than taking carefully-considered and well-planned actions in an attempt reach a goal.
Let’s consider these metaphors and attempt to apply them to our thinking about the job search process.
How specific is your job target? Is it the side of a barn, or the barn window?
You see, shooting at the side of a barn is a really aimless activity. It doesn’t take much talent. You could almost do so by accident. Bored teenagers shoot paintballs at the side of a barn for something to do. A serious marksman wouldn’t bother. A marksman would shoot out the windows (or maybe the lights!)
If you ever shot from the hip, it was probably during a moment of reaction, when you had your guard down, felt attacked or confronted, and responded immediately, in a way designed to help you deflect the arguments of your attacker, or to escape from an unpleasant situation. Is that really any way to approach your job search? Some job seekers browse job postings without specific job titles, employers, roles, or responsibilities in mind, taking an “I’ll know the right job when I see it” sort of attitude. If you aren’t imagining an ideal job, or ideal roles, you’ll be less able to coherently present your arguments, and when interview time comes (if you are that lucky), you’ll be responding to questions in the same way. Shooting from the hip is a terrible way to interview.
Aimless is as Aimless Does.
I have a piece of paper tacked to the bulletin board above my desk that reads “Aimless is as aimless does.” It reminds me to set specific goals to hold myself accountable for reaching them.
Notice that the key point is that your goal must be specific.
Aim for a bullseye, not a barn.
Would you really be happy just having any random job? Probably not.
You might get by. You might pay your bills. You might even be able to do so for quite a while. But don’t you deserve more?
Know Yourself First
You are a unique person. No one else has seen the world through your eyes. No one else can bring the exact same mix of qualities to the table.
There is a job out there that you are a perfect match for. And you aren’t going to find it if you view every opportunity equally.
If you are going to have a great résumé, you need to have a goal in mind. My belief is that your goal should be to find an ideal job. Not just any job, but a job that is a good match for your education, skills, interests and motivation.
When I talk to clients who have been looking for an extended period of time, I usually see a common thread: lack of focus. They are shooting at the side of a barn, and wondering why no one’s giving out marksmanship trophies!
So set a good goal. Make it as specific as possible (we’ll talk more about how to do this in a later post). And understand that you may not reach it.
But, as Benjamin May once said:
“The tragedy in life does not lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy lies in having no goal to reach.”