The Corporate Millennial Series - Part 1: Getting your foot in the door
"You never have a second chance to make a first impression."
Memorize those words. The first impression is important. Do you know what type of impression you are sending?
It used to be that this applied only to actual physical meetings, but now, your first impression extends far earlier than when you shake hands. So let's start at the beginning. For a millennial wanting a career in the corporate world, this usually starts with the job search and applications. Now, let's just briefly review the process to get your foot in the door at a big company.
First, is the application process. Today, this usually consists of uploading a resume and cover letter into an online system and waiting for someone to contact you. Once the resume is in the system, human resources teams match the capabilities with the openings in the company. If they see a potential match, the hiring managers are notified and the process continues.
Sometimes, in addition to submitting an application online, candidates also contact me directly, through linkedin, twitter, facebook or even in person. If it's an interesting pitch, I'll still forward it to HR, but at least I am aware of the candidate, and I know they are highly motivated. (I'll do a separate post on the importance of professional online profiles. Stay tuned!)
Then there is a vetting process. The HR team checks the candidates credentials, calls the references, and if everything looks good, an interview is arranged. This puts the ball in the hiring manager's court. Remember, this is not a popularity contest. Companies are looking to see if you have the skills they need. If you're the best at what you do, or at least highly skilled, that's your best bet for landing the internship. Nothing beats capabilities.
Now, capabilities alone are not enough. Working in a large organization means a certain level of social skills are needed to successfully collaborate. And the best way to show that you are capable in these soft skills is to demonstrate it in your cover letter and CV, and again during your interview. Invest time into developing excellent documents. The CV and cover letter is a reflection of you. Make it count. Show your attention to detail, precision, and focus.
Cover Letter & CV
Cover letters are intended to tell me why I should interview you. Don't tell me your life story. Tell me why you are a good fit for the role. Be succinct. I recently reviewed a cover letter for a colleague and it was like a mini-biography. She was trying to be thorough but hiring managers don't want to read your life story. They want to know if they should call you in for an interview or put your files in the rejection pile.
Your resume should follow the same rule as the cover letter. Tell me what is relevant to the position you are applying for. There's no need to include everything if it isn't directly relevant to the position you are seeking. Now if it is something that's exceptionally cool and demonstrates a unique side of you, it's ok to add it. But be selective. And don't forget your references. You'll get extra points for having current reference letters already prepared and printed to submit with your application.
If your cover letter and resume demonstrate that it's worth the time to interview you, then you'll get contacted for a meeting. Congratulations. It's time to prepare.
Before the interview, do your homework on both the company, and your interviewer. I remember when I interviewed an outstanding candidate with a medical degree from Peking and a Masters from Harvard. His replies were incredibly precise so I asked him how he knew the exact figures and statistics about our company. He smiled and said that he read our company's most recent annual report cover to cover and memorized the data. We not only hired him as an intern, but later as a full time employee.
Now let's contrast that with another candidate (that I will not name), who came in for an interview and couldn't name a single product from our company. Not a single one. And we have some pretty well known products. I ended her interview immediately.
Knowing the business you want to work for is important, but it also helps to put it in a personal context. During an interview of another candidate, she said why our company meant so much to her and her family, and shared personal experiences of how well respected our company brand is in their home country. It was genuine, and showed me just how much she valued the opportunity to have a career in the company. I knew she really wanted the job - and that matters.
I also need to know what you are good at - so be prepared to share some examples of your capabilities, your creativity, and your intrinsic motivation. Give solid examples from your previous positions and jobs. Be honest about what worked and what didn't. Show that you are capable of self-reflection and aware of opportunities for improvement.
Lastly, every interview ends with the same question - is there anything you would like to ask me? Most people stumble on this, and I don't know why. It's such a predictable question. So prepare for it! Have some intelligent questions prepared about the person, a potential career development path, or the company. Take this opportunity to demonstrate your critical thinking skills and ask smart questions. We know it's impossible to hire a candidate that knows everything. But we want to know you can ask smart questions to discover ways to improve or strengthen the company.
So you've now survived the interview. Way to go. You're not done yet.
Write a thank you letter to both the interviewing manager and the HR contact. This is important. Emails are fine, or use a professional stationary, but regardless, write something intelligent that shows you appreciated the opportunity to interview, share something you learned or discovered during the interview, and reiterate how much you want the position. If the card just says "thank you for the interview" or has poor grammar, then you've undone all your hard work with one quick move. You may have made a professional impression in the interview, and mess it up with a sloppy thank you. Attention to detail matters and reflects on what type of employee you will be. Use a proper address (Dear Mr/Ms/Dr. Last Name), avoid slang terms (Heyyyy!!), and if you are writing it by hand, ensure it's legible to someone other than yourself.
Next up in the Corporate Millennial Series is how to manage work emails.