It's about what the company needs—not who you are.
The Entrepreneur Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in America’s startup scene contribute answers to timely questions about entrepreneurship and careers. Today’s answer to the question, “What are the top three things you look for on a resume?” is written by Mark Achler, lecturer at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management and managing director of MATH Venture Partners.
Job-hunting takes time, and can be tough when you’re trying to stand out in a competitive field. Next time you see the perfect opportunity come along, try following these tips to get noticed:
Don’t submit blindly
If at all possible, don’t send in your resume blind. Work your network. A warm introduction from a trusted source is always better than blindly submitting your resume over the transom. Find someone who is already at the company, or someone who can provide you a personal introduction to an executive there. It takes hard work and perseverance, but try researching through LinkedIn, or maybe through your college alumni association.
With a little ingenuity and sleuthing, you can always find someone who will be willing to make a warm introduction. Don’t leave it to chance that your resume will be the one that gets noticed on its own. You will absolutely improve the odds of success by finding a warm intro.
Include a cover letter
Amanda Lannert, my favorite CEO from one of my favorite companies, Jellyvision, always insists on a cover letter. She and her team take it to the extreme by not even looking at a resume if there’s no cover letter attached. A well-crafted cover letter allows you to both tell your story and make it personal, but more importantly, talk about your passion for the company, their products or services, and how your skills can help solve their needs. Use a cover letter to stand out from the crowd and display your passion and interest in the company.
Make your resume personal
A lot of resumes say the same thing and give a chronological work history—boring. Your resume should also tell a story about who you are—not just what you’ve done. What are your values? How do you show your tenacity and problem-solving skills? In addition to talking about your accomplishments, you should also talk about how your personality traits—such as being a positive, can-do force within a team, or how you effectively make decisions with a bias toward action—can make a significant contribution to a company.
I love people who can figure things out on their own, solve problems, take initiative, and persevere. When you’re talking about yourself during an interview, tell a real-world story of a difficult problem you faced, how you creatively solved it, and the grit it took to see it to a successful conclusion. Describing how you overcame adversity is a good way to demonstrate who you are and what it would be like to work with you.
Nail the interview
I know this is going to come as a shock to you: The interview is actually about what the company needs—not who you are.
A few years back, when Groupon was growing fast, the 22-year-old son of a friend named Sam got an interview there for a sales position. He met with me ahead of time to prepare for the interview. I told him to cold-call 10 local merchants and ask them if they had ever heard of Groupon. If they did, what did they like? What didn’t they like? I told him to see if he could get someone to buy.
Before the interview, he went out and cold-called 10 merchants. He found out that some were afraid of Groupon because they heard bad stories from friends about offers that were poorly constructed, so the merchant lost money and didn’t get repeat customers. He worked with the merchants to understand the power of the platform and what a good offer might look like. And he actually got one of them to buy.
Every other candidate went into the interview and said, “I’m a smart person; hire me. Here are my qualifications.”
Sam went into the interview completely prepared. He talked about why he loves the product and how he uses it on a regular basis. He then talks about how he cold-called 10 local merchants, what he learned from them, how he tried to help them to understand the power of the platform, how to construct a better deal, and oh yeah—here’s an order I took.
Of course Sam got the job. Who would you rather hire? The person who says, “Here I am,” or the person who loves the product, took the time to truly understand the customer, and who actually brought an order to the interview? He was hired on the spot. The moral of the story is: It’s not about you. It’s always about the company.
Yes, it takes hard work to find the right introduction into a company. Yes, it takes hard work to create a well-written and personalized cover letter and resume. Yes, it takes hard work to prepare prior to the interview to really get to know the company, its products, and maybe even its customers. But if you’re not willing to put the hard work in upfront, it’s a pretty good indicator that you won’t put the hard work in once hired.