How to Remain Professional in Your Job Search—Without Boring the Hiring Manager to Death
My absolute favorite boss (who was one of the best marketing strategists I’ve ever known) used to hammer the following into the heads of us junior marketing associates: “You will never bore anyone into buying something from you. Not ever.”
(Which was interesting when you consider that we sold truck parts.)
My job was to create marketing campaigns and materials that would engage and influence people to the point that they wanted to race right out and buy our truck parts.
And my favorite boss knew that, no matter how professional it may sound, this was not going to be accomplished by tossing out stuff like this, “Here is our transmission. It is full of great features and has a proven track record of performance.”
Why are we talking about truck parts? Because this exact same principle applies to every job seeker. When you’re looking for a new job, you’re a marketer. The truck parts in this equation? They’re you. You’re the product and you need to use your resume, LinkedIn profile, cover letter, and any other materials to engage and influence people to the point they want to race right out and buy you.
Certainly, you need to be professional, but professional is not code for: “Play it safe, chief” or “Bore their pants off.” The art to all of this lies in captivating your audience in creative, engaging, and original ways—without going over the top or coming off as an amateur.
How do you pull this off? Here are three examples that will show you the critical difference:
1. Your Cover Letter
To Whom it May Concern,
I am writing in response to your August 12 advertisement for a Senior Analyst. I believe I am very uniquely qualified for this role.
This opening is bland, looks like it came out of a college “Business Writing” textbook, and implies you are the only human on earth qualified for a role in which there are likely thousands of qualified candidates. Not to mention, “very uniquely” is redundant.
My love of problem solving dates back to age eight. Like a lot of kids, I had a paper route. Unlike my counterparts, however, I wasn’t content to simply toss the papers on porches and call it done. Instead, I’d spend hours figuring out how to optimize my route, my throw, my paper folding. I had no idea at the time, but it was these quirks that would lead me to right to a career in analysis. I believe my talents could serve XYZ Company very well. Here’s how…
Starting that same cover letter in a way that draws the reader into your story makes it instantly clear that you’re both interesting and qualified.
2. Your Interview
Memorizing the answers to every question you think could possibly be asked in your interview and spouting them out on command during the meeting will make the interviewer yawn, even if what you’re saying is perfect.
When you rehearse all the answers over and over again, you will likely sound disengaged, robotic and—wait for it—boring in the interview. This is not your goal.
Consider some of the questions that may be asked, and then think about specific situations in your career that you could weave into a story to demonstrate the point. It’s so important to understand the difference between memorizing and being ready with relevant stories; it will help you be interesting and engaged in the conversation, instead of terse or staged.
Here’s an example: Say you’re asked how you handle pressure. You might reference a recent stressful situation and answer like this:
My teammates appreciate how even-keeled I am through even the most intense situations. For instance, last year we had a major client issue that resulted from a missed delivery date. Our challenge stemmed from delays from one of our offshore suppliers, so it was somewhat out of our control, but our client was furious and wanted immediate answers from my team, which I completely understood. So, here’s what I did to ease the situation and revitalize the relationship with this customer…”
You’ve just pulled out a story that you feel is relevant and demonstrative of your capabilities, without sounding like you’re spouting out a word-for-word memorized response.
Using the generic LinkedIn message when seeking to connect with others (not sure what I mean? Here’s the exact verbiage: “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn”) makes you faceless to the person receiving it.
You look professional alright, but you also look lazy and careless. You’re also completely squandering an opportunity to make a great first impression by being genuine, interesting, and specific about why the heck you’re seeking the connection in the first place.
Personalize that same message in a way that makes it instantly clear to the person that you’re awesome (and not just shooting these to everyone) and someone they want to know—and maybe even hire.
Karen—the best part about your presentation at the Packaging Show last week (and there were many great moments) was when you asked everyone why on Earth they chose careers in packaging. It not only made me laugh out loud; it compelled me to introduce myself. I’d love to share my answer (and learn yours!). Great job, and thank you!
Digest this down to your core: Boring does not sell. Professional without personality also rarely sells. Take advantage of every single opportunity to engage your audience and make it immediately clear that you’re not just accurate and polite—you’re downright incredible.
Photo of bored woman courtesy of Shutterstock.
Jenny Foss is a career strategist, recruiter, and the voice of the popular career blog JobJenny.com. Based in Portland, OR, Jenny is the author of the Ridiculously Awesome Resume Kit and the Ridiculously Awesome Career Pivot Kit. Also check out the recently-launched Weekend Resume Makeover Course, find Jenny on Twitter @JobJenny, and book one-on-one coaching sessions with her on The Muse's Coach Connect.More from this Author