13 Ways to Impress a Potential Employer

Do the Right Things Right

You can win the job search competition by doing the right things right.
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Looking for ways to impress a potential employer? Want to make your resume or job application stand out from the pack? During one two-week time period, I reviewed 485 resumes and applications for 18 different positions. I interviewed 23 candidates and brought six back for a second, more intense round of interviews.

Believe me, I can tell you what rang my chimes. Some of this advice may surprise you.

Some may even make you angry because it doesn't seem fair or right to you. I can't guarantee that all employers will agree with me, but why take a chance in this employers' market?

1. Apply for jobs for which you qualify.​​ My no pile of applications is increasingly made up of people who don't even remotely qualify for the advertised position. These job applications frequently consist of a resume in an envelope. Why waste the paper, the stamp and the time? If you find yourself applying because it's an area of work you might want to get into, or think you'd like, don't bother.

Unless you can make the stretch and fit between your qualifications and background and the described opening, you are wasting your time. Each application or resume gets less than five minutes of my time. You need to quickly qualify yourself as a potential candidate because the employer doesn't have or take the time to do it for you.

2. Write a targeted cover letter that introduces your key qualifications and highlights your fit with the position for which you are applying. Address the letter to the person conducting the candidate search, when known. And, no, don't presume familiarity and write, "Dear Susan."​

Until I know you, my name is Ms. Heathfield.

Additionally, the cover letter needs to specifically address the available position. Spelling and correct grammar do count. So does the spacing of words on the page, an attractive overall appearance, and the feel of the paper. Online applications, which are the norm these days, must be targeted and formatted appropriately. Pay just as much attention to spelling, grammar, and appearance.

3. Target the resume to the job. Would you like to know how many people are looking for a "challenging opportunity to utilize my skills with a progressive employer who will provide opportunities for growth?" Don't even ask; the answer will break your heart if this is how you routinely describe the position you seek in your resume.

Even more importantly, in this day of instantaneous electronic publishing, no one needs to photocopy 100 resumes at an instant print store. Customization counts. Customization is everything when you are looking at substantially different opportunities, too. Say, you are looking for a training position or a marketing position. The identical resume won't sell your skills for either field.

4. Lead with your strengths. What makes you different from 40 other applicants? On your customized resume, start out with the background and experience most important for the position you seek.

The stage of your career is also highly relevant to the placement of information on your resume. If you are just graduating from college, lead off the first portion of the resume with your education and degree.

A seasoned veteran will start with an accomplishment summary and then list jobs, titles, companies and responsibilities chronologically. A network administration applicant should lead with his or her certifications (Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) and list software and hardware experience (Microsoft Exchange, SQL Server) before listing jobs and education.

The key is to make it easy for the resume reviewer to see that you are qualified for the position. You want your resume in the coveted yes pile awaiting an interview or phone screening.

Looking for more ideas about getting your foot in the door for the face-to-face interview? You're unlikely to obtain a job offer without a highly effective interview. You have a couple more hurdles to cross, however, before you get that coveted opportunity to impress a potential employer.

  • Not all employers may feel this way, but I hate fishing phone calls that have absolutely no purpose other than to make you notice an applicant. Wonder how many people call me each week to see if I have received their resume? Lots - and only the people I rarely call back. It's a wonderful opportunity for you to make a lasting bad impression.

    I said to one caller, "You are calling to ask me to look through this pile of 200 resumes to see if I have received yours? If you are that uncertain, why don't you just send it again?" Fishing-for-attention phone calls rarely help and usually brand you as a pain.

    They steal the company's time, irritate the resume screener and generally, accomplish nothing in your favor. In one of my client companies, callers, and especially repeat callers, are known as stalkers.
  • If you want a call from a recruiter or potential employer, give them a number at which you can be reached. The majority of resumes I receive list only a home phone. Big mistake. I gave up on ten candidates with whom I played phone tag for days. No, I'm not advocating you give a potential employer your number at your current job.

    But, in this day of inexpensive cell phones, you really need to honor the potential employer's time by giving them your cell phone number. I need to reach you to set up a time and date for the phone screening.
  • Yes, I said, "phone screening." Forward thinking employers don't waste their time or yours these days without an initial telephone interview. Be prepared to schedule a date and time, usually during the 8-5 p.m. work day. (Your potential employer is already working ten hour days.) The phone interview eliminates most of the yes pile resumes from contention.

    Be prepared for a mini-interview and to give the interviewer your salary expectations. People who play coy when I ask about salary are not invited to visit in person. Why would I waste our time interviewing an applicant who is making $70,000 or more, currently, for a $50,000 job?

    And no, you are not going to be such a wonderful candidate that I blow away the salary range. In nine out of ten situations, the salary range is set with a large number of variables in mind including the local job market and the salaries of coworkers.
  • Preparation counts for both the phone screening and the potential face-to-face interview. If I have set a time with you for a phone screening, research the company in advance. Visit the website to see what the employer does. Many organizations even describe their company ​culture on their websites these days. If you take just a few minutes to do your homework, the quality of the interview goes up exponentially.

    Think about my time, too, as your potential employer. Imagine the decisions I make about you when you ask me for directions to the company while driving your car and talking on the cell phone. "Wait a couple of minutes," one candidate said, "while I get somewhere so that I can write this all down." Research the company location online first; call the company for directions only as a last resort.

    You've done the right things right. Your materials and credentials made a good impression. You passed the interview phone screening and you've been invited to the company for that all important interview. How do you continue to build the relationship with the potential employer that will lead to an eventual job offer?

    • Take time off work for the interview.  Don't expect the potential employer to extend their day by several hours to accommodate your schedule. If you're currently working and looking for a new position, hopefully, you've chosen the most ethical path and your employer knows. If you are unable to inform your employer, for any reason, I hope that you've saved up your vacation time.

      A recruiting employer is often willing to interview a good candidate late in the afternoon, but rarely will the interview extend past 6 p.m. (Remember, most potential employers started work by 8 a.m.) You don't want your potential to contribute as an employee assessed at the end of a ten hour day either.
    • Make the right, positive impression at both the interview and with the company staff. Need I tell you to arrive early, dress up for the position for which you are applying and bring an additional resume with references? Remember to treat every person you encounter with dignity and respect.

      The receptionist is reporting his impressions of you to the HR Director. Count on it, especially in small- to mid-sized organizations. Be unfailingly polite throughout every interaction you have with the company. Each person is assessing your potential fit within their organization. Don't blow your chances by behaving boorishly to people you deem unimportant.
    • You will be asked to fill out an application, so bring your resume and other needed information to complete the document. And, no, "See attached resume," doesn't cut it. It is likely that your application information is entered into an employment database and used for company records, government reporting, and more.

      The filled out application makes the data entry easier. It also allows the company to obtain your written permission to check your references, employment history, do ​criminal background checks if you are hired, and more.
    • The actual interview is the subject of additional articles. For purposes of this one, remember that the purpose of the interview is to determine if you and the organization are a good fit.

      The real purpose of an interview, sorry to tell you, is not to gain you a job offer. Do you feel confident that you can do the job and grow with the company? Have you conveyed this to the potential employer? If so, you'll be asked back for a more intensive second round of interviews at most companies.
    • Follow up after the interview with a thank you letter, and perhaps a phone call. Good manners always count. I received three thank you letters and a couple of phone calls from the 23 people who participated in a first interview with us. Are thank you letters going the way of the dinosaurs? Not from candidates who count with me.

    Doing the right things right will result in more interviews, better job offers, and a more successful career. Take a little more time at each step and your application will rise above the pack. I promise.