This isn't about you. It's about them.
Most employers are looking for a person who wants exactly the kind of job they're offering. Why? Because that person will be a better fit -- more motivated, harder-working and probably more likely to stay in the job longer.
So how do you convey to a prospective employer that you are the perfect candidate for their particular position? Start by following these tips.
1. Do your research.
Before you fire off that resume, do some homework: Find out about the company. Get in touch with someone who works at the organization (though probably not the hiring manager!). Use LinkedIn, your alumni network or professional-social connections to find someone who can provide insight into what issues are top-of-mind in the organization. What are the current challenges? What are the latest initiatives? With that information in hand, brainstorm what you personally might do to further those endeavors.
2. Translate your skills.
Sometimes we can't see how our skills can be put to wider use. Or even if we can, we can't articulate those abilities in anything but the jargon of our particular industry. If you have access to the career center staff at your alma mater, take them your resume and ask them to help you reframe your skills in light of the position you're hoping to land. Having another perspective is immensely useful in figuring out how you might apply your skills to a different job. The key, of course, is then translating these skills on your resume, cover letter or during the interview in ways the employer will easily relate.
3. Tailor your resume.
A resume should be more than just a list of all the greatest things about you: your prior jobs, your fabulous education, and your awards and certifications. Employers want to see things that are meaningful and relevant to their workplace: Have you managed people? Have you cold-called prospects? Have you solved problems or developed strategies? Consider highlighting what's most relevant at the top of your resume in a section marked "Related Work Experience," rather than forcing hiring managers to pull the details from the varied job descriptions that follow. Make it is easy for them to find that which they care most about -- meaningful, relevant experience.
4. Explain your degree.
You know what you studied to get your degree, but an employer may not. What's more, they may not grasp how your music or chemistry degree is different than the educational experiences touted by other applicants. And the fact that you're a history major may not directly communicate to an employer that you have problem-solving skills and writing and researching abilities. If you can highlight how earning your degree gave you practical experience that's applicable to the workplace, it will be illuminating to your future employer. Be ready to do that work for the employer rather than assuming he or she will interpret the relevance of your education.
5. Personalize your cover letter.
Write a cover letter you'd want to read. It should convey passion, energy, personality and attention to detail. The best cover letters convey a story or two that supports and aligns with the traits and talents the employer is looking for. Good cover letters make an employer confident that bringing you in for an interview will be a good investment of time -- as well as being engaging and interesting.
6. Follow the instructions.
If an employer wants you to apply for a position in a certain way or using a particular process -- addressing certain issues in your cover letter, submitting materials via their website or providing references with your resume -- then do exactly that. You may think what they've proposed is inefficient or gimmicky, but now isn't the time to question the process. Show that you're easy to work with. Demonstrate that you can follow directions. Answer messages right away. Show that you're the type of person they want to work with.
Ray Rogers is the director of Career & Professional Development at St. Edward's University in Austin, Texas.