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Make a Better Impression! Three Simple Job Seeker Tips That Set You Apart

Are you using these three simple tools in your job search? Don’t overlook these basic rules when seeking a new position. They sound obvious, but it's surprising how many folks fail to use them.

Successful job hunting is often about basic blocking and tackling - fundamental steps that job seekers sometimes forget to implement.  Don’t let these three easy-to-do job search actions derail your chances at landing that new position.  I still run into people who unfortunately miss the boat on some (or all) of these, and employers share with me that these stumbles are more common that they’d like.  Here goes:

Write a cover letter.  When applying for a job via e-mail, it’s incredulous to me that job seekers write not one word but send merely their resume as a lonely attachment.  No note, no greeting, nothing.  It’s about as professional as tying your resume around a rock and throwing it into the lobby.  This "I can't be bothered" approach is a great way to never get a phone call.  

A local marketing executive shared with me that she was astonished at how many applications she received for a recent job posting with no note, no cover letter, no info whatsoever – just a bare attachment.  Of nearly two dozen applicants, seven of them sent the absolute bare minimum:  a resume and not one sentence of explanation or greeting.  Not even a "good morning, attached is my resume for consideration."  Is this the sign of someone who is to be entrusted with critical customer and stakeholder relationships?  Is this a candidate who will go the extra mile to impress a client?  “No” is the answer to both of them, and “no” was the response from this hiring manager that I know.  Writing a brief cover letter when applying via e-mail will always help set you apart from the lazy loafers who can't be bothered, so use that to your advantage.

Have a business sounding e-mail.  I see hundreds of job seeker resumes and LinkedIn profiles with e-mails.  Friends, referencing your husband, kids, mom status and pets (lablover, judyandsam, FelberFoursome, hockeymom3) are delightful for your personal use – but business professionals know that a "proper name" e-mail is what HR and hiring managers want to see, and it’s always more sophisticated and polished for a job hunt.  A proper name e-mail says "I'm all about business," which is the message you want to send.

The same goes for any email with cute, boy or girl in it (beachwoodboy, artsygirl, darncute, dancediva).  These diminish your professionalism, and have to be retired for job search purposes – the message becomes “I’m kid stuff and please don’t think I’m serious and grown up” instead of “I’m a strong candidate who will move the needle for you.”   

Finally, an edgy or in-your-face email (gothchick, metalfan, beerman) sends the truly wrong message about the image you’ll present in the office.  Create an alternate e-mail with a variation of your first and last name for your job search, and save the fun (or funky) e-mail for your personal use.

Hand write your thank you notes – no excuses.  Taking the easy way out is not a great approach here, friends.  I am old school, and I firmly believe that everyone can take a few minutes to jot a hand-written thank you note.  E-mail thank yous are a no-no in my book.  Think about it - if you won't go the extra mile, for your one shot at landing a job, what does that say about how you'll approach customers and prospects?  This tells an employer that to you, shortcuts are acceptable and that clients aren’t worth the extra effort. 

Besides, you will ALWAYS set yourself apart from other candidates by sending a hand-written note to Every Single Person you interviewed with.  Who wouldn’t want to stand out after a round of interviews?  Folks, they give you a business card during the interviews for a reason – they’re wondering what you’ll do with it.  

Even when I've had a phone screen interview by the HR department, I've tracked down where that person works and written them a note.  In setting up a time for a phone call, you have their full name, often their e-mail, their phone number and you can ask where they are located, which is enough information to generate a postal address. 

You can find businesslike notecards at bookstores, greeting card stores, and museum shops.  Heck, even Target has good-quality plain notecards for your use.  No flowers or polka dots, nothing cute that you would use for personal notes to friends.  A white, cream or very muted paper color, plain or with a border, embossed with a raised pattern or smooth, sends the right business message.   Monogrammed notecards look nice as well.

These three simple tips can help you stand apart from the competition when you're applying for a job, and then after you've landed a first interview.

Kelly Blazek shares job search and work success tips from the corporate front lines in her blog, http://kellyblazek.wordpress.com.  She is available for presentations to groups on job searching techniques, and also one-on-one resume review consultations for job seekers - kblazek at nls dot net.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Valerie Middleton Winter December 20, 2011 at 07:05 PM
Thank you for the advice about these 3 very important tasks when applying for jobs via email. To my frustration, I do all of the things you have suggested only to be met without success. This electronic age of job seeking has caused me to become completely disheartened. In my "cover" email to potential employers, I ask for a confirmation from them that my email and resume was actually received. It's safe for me to say that about 1% actually confirm my submission. I also believe that most of the posting I respond to are not even legitimate and makes me feel that I have been sharing my information with potential identity thieves in my desperate attempt to find employment, like what recently happened with Craig's List. Nevertheless, thanks for the coaching for job searching. It will always be useful for me and I hope others who are actively seeking jobs.
Kelly Blazek December 21, 2011 at 02:20 PM
Hi Valerie - accept that employers will not acknowledge e-mails - you're driving yourself nuts by making this request. Besides, how is a notification receipt increasing your chances of getting hired? It isn't. The request may come across as needy or demanding, even though to you it seems like simple courtesy. Employers want to hire "easy-breezy" candidates, and you may create an impression that you call the shots - that's not the story you want to tell. Management level job seekers never ask for this, by the way. Unfortunately, it's not an employer's responsibility to make job seekers comfortable or respond to their requests. Focus your energies in ways you can see an impact, and that you control: ensure that a LinkedIn profile is powerful; attend networking/industry events to widen the circle of folks who can be an advocate for you; look into additional training (even free at the library) to learn new skills; and get a second opinion on your resume from someone that DOESN'T know you and brings a fresh set of eyes to the story you're telling. Are you in a job seeker club? They're a great help. One suggestion for those uneasy about the online application process - do not apply to Craigslist jobs, period, or blind ads. Always check out a company's website to verify its legitimacy; and applying to a paid ads on Careerboard and local newspapers (as well as employers' own career pages) will feel more safe. Good luck and keep it up; the job market continues to improve.
Brenda Winslow December 27, 2011 at 07:43 PM
I absolutely disagree with your recommendation to hand write a thank you note. As a business professional, I would much rather receive a typed letter that demonstrates the ability of the applicant to write a cohesive, well thought-out business letter using proper formatting and grammar. It's a skill that is remarkably absent in most of the people I have interviewed recently.
Michelle Simakis December 27, 2011 at 08:05 PM
Thanks for chiming in, Brenda. Before Patch, worked at a recruiting firm and in HR. My former bosses all appreciated handwritten thank you notes from candidates they interviewed because it took more time and thought than an email, and their cover letters demonstrated whether they could write clearly and concisely. But often the applicants would have spelling or grammar errors or terrible penmanship. I think it is a matter of preference, but a mailed letter, either handwritten or typed, is probably better than an email. Though again some employers want a thank you within 24 hours of the meeting, so the debate continues.

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