EditorialsBy Matt Bud, Chairman, The FENG

Square pegs and round holes

It is important to understand that all job leads are not created equal. In fact, the very idea of a job lead is that something very specific is being sought. Often times the primary issues are repeated in a lead in paragraph and referred to as “must haves.” The question is often how seriously to take them?

From a job seekers perspective (the one I always try to take) a specific job lead can attract your interest for reasons of location, industry, skill set or compensation. The fact that a job lead has caught your attention, however, doesn’t mean that your background as presented in your resume will be viewed as a reasonable fit.

To use a legal analogy, this is one of those situations where the burden of proof is on you. And, the only documents you get to present during your 10-15 second trial are your resume (90% of the decision) and your email cover letter (10%). If you are questioning the percentages, the rationale is that those who screen candidates for clients almost never send your cover letter. The reason they don’t is that in many cases everyone under consideration didn’t write one, and in any case, the quality varies so widely that they really can’t.

In the old days when recruiters ruled the world and the Internet hadn’t been invented, job leads were called to your attention by phone calls. For those who have been reading my missives for some time, you are well aware that “speech is the slowest form of communication.” (Smoke signals are a little slower, but I digress.) If you figure that each phone call is 15 minutes, you can only call 32 folks in any 8 hour day. The point here is that there was no time to read an entire position description to you over the phone. The solution was to ask questions that would eliminate candidates as quickly as possible and get them off the phone.

In The FENG model, recruiters of all stripes provide you with a target against which you need to take careful aim. If I am to assume that you are not the type to waste the time of others, then there must have been a reason you submitted your credentials. If you know why you are a fit, but didn’t bother to tell the person on the receiving end, shame on you. The truth is that most individuals screening resumes don’t rank high on the “reading between the lines” scale. They respond much better to the “2×4 upside the head” approach.

If you are a fit for a posted position and want to be seriously considered you need to take the time to make it as they say “as plain as the nose on the recipient’s face” why you are a fit. I know that as talented and senior level financial folks you can do anything, but when it comes to a posted job there are always those who “on paper” are a perfect fit. Your goal if you are a square peg trying to fit yourself in a round hole is to take the time to make your square edges not seem as severe.

While you can make the case that it “should be obvious” why you are such a good candidate, a few modifications to your resume or at a minimum some carefully chosen words in your cover letter can really make the difference and get you into that pile to be reviewed later.

Let me take two examples of easy “must haves” that you can impact with very little effort.

Local candidates only: If you live in Chicago and the job is in Boston, you might want to mention that you grew up in Boston and that both of your children are currently attending college there. Furthermore, your parents still reside there in your ancestral home and you are planning to move closer to them to be able to take care of them in their old age. My friend, you are now a “local” candidate.

The job requires knowledge of a particular system unique to one industry: In your efforts to generalize your resume to make it more appealing to a wider audience you have taken out all references to industry information. The solution is to put the specifics back in. Yes, I know it will involve a little work on your part and you will have to check that your resume is still well formatted, but don’t expect that someone scanning at 100 mph will KNOW that you have this required feature if you don’t tell them. There is a job at stake here, and if you want it you will need to make the effort.

The shapes of pegs and the holes into which they might fit, when it comes to job search, can be very subjective. While I have always been a big fan of “don’t force it, get a bigger hammer,” you don’t get to do that with a job posting. You have to let your words do the work for you.

Take the time to shape your resume and cover letter. The target is right in front of you. Study it carefully before you click and “shoot.”

Regards, Matt

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