With unemployment up to 8.2%, vying for a steady gig can make a job seeker feel a bit like a contestant on "The Apprentice."
As you apply for jobs, it's easy to fixate on trying to stand out by, for instance, adding more action verbs to your CV or shopping for the right interview suit. While small details can be important, make sure you don't forget to do the one thing that will really make a great impression on potential employers, say career experts.
It's crucial, above all, to pinpoint your personal strengths and find a way to show a future employer how you will help the company grow and make money, says senior corporate trainer Mary Ann Anderson, author of "Laid Off: A Comprehensive Job Search Guide."
A lot of people forget that they are being hired to help the organization succeed," she says.
Tip No. 1: Think as if You're Doing the Hiring.
After several years of a tough economy, companies are looking for people who will help them find opportunities to attract new customers, find new markets, increase their profits and keep their budgets lean, say career experts. So, before you finalize your resume, think about situations where you helped past employers on these fronts.
Look for ways to quantify accomplishments in ways that matter to a potential boss on your resume, advises Silver Spring, Md., career coach Cheryl Palmer. Someone in sales might, for example, mention that she "signed six Fortune 500 companies as new accounts, generating an additional $3 million in revenue annually."
But even in departments where your contribution to the bottom line isn't so obvious, you can find ways to quantify what you achieved. For instance, say you're a marketing director who streamlined procedures in your current department in creative ways. You might mention that you introduced new project management practices that reduced the time spent on each report your team designed by 25% -- enabling the company to take on 100 additional projects per year.
"Emphasize time saved," advises Palmer. "Time translates into dollars."
If you just got out of college, you won't have the long list of professional accomplishments of someone who's in mid-career, so consider what you contributed to extracurricular and community activities and sports teams, if relevant to a hiring manager. Helping a community organization streamline expenses by 35% might suggest a talent for business operations, for instance.
Just make sure your contributions have a direct link to the work you'll be doing. "If a job is in sales, having been in competitive sports is viewed very positively," says Palmer. "It's the same kind of winner-take-all mentality you take into the sports arena. On the other hand, if you're going for a social-work job, I don't see the tie-in."
Tip No. 2: Know the Employer's Key Initiatives.
Beyond studying the job description -- if there is one -- you should familiarize yourself with the company's big-picture plans before you write your cover letter. Dig into research about your target employer -- using the company website, news articles and press releases and insights from trusted members of your professional network (including on LinkedIn), including folks who are vendors to particular companies or customers.
"Find out what new initiatives they are working on," says Palmer. Also study a company's competitors so you can bring ideas to the table on how a potential employer can gain an edge. In your cover letter, you'll want to emphasize how you can help with those specific initiatives or competitive challenges. "Try to match what they're looking for with what you bring to the table," says Palmer. That'll give you an edge in winning an interview.
Tip No. 3: Sell Yourself Effectively
Many interviewers rely on stock questions, such as "Tell me about yourself," says Palmer, so, before you walk in, think about how to steer your answers toward how you'll help the employer meet the goals for the specific position that's open. For instance, say you're applying for a job that entails running an art department that a potential employer wants to put into place. You might say, "At my last job, I launched an art department that grew to serve nine other departments in the five years I worked there. And that's why I'm so excited about bringing my experience to this position, and why I think it's a great match for both of us."
Remember, you want your potential boss to envision you walking into their office and doing the job -- with flying colors -- from day one.
The Investing Answer: Recognize that employers are looking for someone who can help them make money, above all -- and position yourself as someone who can do so without added training. Don't spread yourself too thin by applying for dozens of jobs. Instead, focus on the employers you really want to work for and do plenty of research on their problems and challenges. That'll help you make a case for yourself -- in both your online presence and in your cover letter, resume and interview -- as the person who can help them succeed.