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Your Secret Sauce to That Dream Job

Published on December 21, 2017, at 8:12 a.m.
by Grace Turner.

Forget dropping your application into the black hole that is the corporate job portal, and remember the secret sauce to getting your dream job: a referral and a powerful personal value proposition (PVP).

You know those people who seem to be swimming in job offers? I had a friend who graduated last year, and big-name companies were competing for her. What was she doing differently? She knew how to play the game. Playing the game is not being cunning or underhanded; it’s being strategic.

In my job search, I’ve discovered what’s actually happening in the hiring process is different from traditional advice you find online and hear in class. It’s often outdated and sometimes cringe-worthy. A career coach who recommends writing “Dear Madam” on a cover letter is a career coach I don’t trust.

After searching through forums and blogs about modern-day hiring practices from recruiters, career coaches and hired employees, I observed a trend among successful candidates: They mastered the following two tools in their quest for employment.

Sign With Words Giant Value on It
(Photo by Abe Bingham on Flickr)

The personal value proposition

Your PVP sets you apart from other candidates. It’s more than a list of strengths — your competitors are likely organized team players too. Think of a PVP like your personal mission, vision and value statements.

Harvard Business Review lists four steps to develop a powerful PVP:

1. Set a clear target. The PVP begins with a target, one that needs what you have to offer. You’ll prefer some directions, not others. Targeting will make you most effective.
2. Identify your strengths. It may sound obvious, but what you know and what you can do are the foundation of your PVP. Hone in on what those are.
3. Tie your strengths to your target position. Don’t leave it up to the employer to figure out how your strengths relate to what she needs. Let your PVP tightly connect you to the position. Connect the dots for her. Consider her perspective and know why she should hire you or promote you.
4. Provide evidence and success stories. Your strengths may be what an employer is “buying,” but your achievements are the evidence you have those strengths. They make your case convincing. Some people prepare a non-confidential portfolio to showcase that evidence in a vivid way. They collect reports they wrote that had impact. They pull together facts on measurable achievements such as sales growth or cost reduction.

Your cover letter is the perfect platform to make your case and drive the connection between you and the company. It connects your résumé to its job description. We all know to personalize our résumés, but a Google search for best cover-letter practices turns up conflicting advice. It seems we’re in a weird limbo between following traditional business formats and ditching archaic, pointless practices (e.g., “Dear Sir or Madam”). By now, you know whether your target company and industry lean more on the conservative or creative side, so you can make a judgment call.

If you aren’t sure, take a risk and be bold. The first sentence of a cover letter needs to make your reader want to learn more about you. So, be unconventional as you construct your argument.

Now, some hiring managers say they don’t read cover letters but check to see you did them. Others claim they’re not necessary. In any case, it doesn’t hurt to show your strong writing skills, and it can be enough to push you over the edge.

You know the saying, “It’s all in who you know.” I thought having internal connections were helpful but not vital to getting hired. It turns out some larger companies will overlook applications that haven’t been fast-tracked by a recruiter or employee who can vouch for you. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, more than 30 percent of all hires overall in 2016 came from employee referrals.

I’ve reached out to both recent graduates and seasoned professionals working at massive corporations with highly competitive hiring processes, and they all said you should start building relationships yesterday. Is the term “relationship building” synonymous with “networking”? Maybe. But when I hear networking, I think of handing out business cards at career fairs and striking up conversations at conferences. While those things don’t hurt, there are more efficient ways to make meaningful connections.

So what do you do if your dream company doesn’t recruit from your area and you have no internal contacts? Turn to the abundance of resources available at your fingertips online.

The first option is to contact a recruiter using LinkedIn. This tactic works if you found a specific job opening. If it’s for an internship, look for a university recruiter rather than a full-time recruiter (typically, the job title will read “university recruiter” or “campus recruiter”). You could use one of your precious InMail messages or reverse search their email address by following the organization’s format. For example, NASA’s employee email address is [email protected].

When contacting recruiters, remember to express interest in a specific job opening and attach your résumé. There’s no need to beat around the bush — recruiters work to source talent, and they will appreciate you keeping it brief.

Still, it’s better to work in advance and build relationships with influencers in your dream company. Using LinkedIn or the company’s website, you can find the names of upper management within the function that you’re interested. Read their interviews and publications to see if you relate to their ideas. If a specific influencer catches your eye, find their email by researching online in the same way you might find a recruiter’s email (if it’s not already listed on LinkedIn or the company website). Reach out, requesting to learn about their experiences in X and expressing your strong interest in the field.

Rather than referencing the job you’re applying to as you would with a recruiter, focus on getting a better feel for the position. Remember, we’re relationship building, not just networking, and a relationship takes time to build. If you don’t know where to begin, Career Contessa offers a few helpful approaches to LinkedIn and email messages based on the context.

The job application process requires us to apply interpersonal skills, strategy and high-impact writing in a concerted effort to achieve success. Sounds like a public relations campaign, right?

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