Here's the challenge: Job seekers need to come up with creative and innovative ways to stand out from the competition, while at the same time adhering the tried and true "rules" of self-promotion and personal branding in today's job market. And with the wealth of technology and networking resources at our fingertips, we've set a modern standard of generating immediate results that doesn't necessarily translate well to the job search environment.
Common sense tells us to focus on our own personal and professional objectives to determine and find the right opportunity that jibes well with our skills, experience, and interests. But really, if you want to stay one step ahead of the competition, you need to be focusing less inwardly and more on the interests of the people with whom you are engaging at every step of the process.
"Etiquette" is a stuffy, formalized word. But being strategic about how you approach others, leverage your relationships, and design your communications can make all the difference. I have a few basic and not-so-basic etiquette rules for job seekers at different steps of the search. Omit them, and you're in good company with many other folks who are similarly overlooked by HR. Follow them closely, and I guarantee you will increase your chances of getting noticed, and getting hired.
Play Nicely on LinkedIn
The other day I received 10 auto-generated emails from someone in my LinkedIn network recommending that I connect with a particular person in his network. You've seen those before, though ideally not in bulk. The same gentleman followed up the next day with an email requesting to enlist my consulting services… in Spanish. I don't speak a word of Spanish outside of "No hablo espagnol.” Regardless of the fact that this person was willing to pay me for my consulting services, I immediately turned down his request, as it would be incredibly difficult for me to work with someone who so obviously doesn't respect my time as a professional.
The same holds true for connecting with new contacts on LinkedIn, or anywhere for that matter. Behind the keystrokes there still needs to exist a genuine human connection, built upon shared interests, good rapport, and an interest in creating positive experiences for both parties. I see many people reaching out to folks they presume to be the hiring managers or decision makers at an organization, and immediately jumping in and asking favors — whether it's to connect, to look at their resume, or to provide them with a name. If you don't know the person, there is little incentive for them to connect with you and help you out. LinkedIn is about building relationships, and good relationship building creates trust and rapport. If you don’t have trust and rapport, think about how you might create some. My favorite approach is to give someone an opportunity to talk about themselves by asking for their insight or advice on an industry-specific topic. The difference between a connection and a contact is your ability to leverage that relationship.
Nobody Wants to Donate Their Time, Unless You Give them a Reason
This is one of my least favorite networking and job search strategies, and I quite honestly find the idea to be antiquated to a degree. This goes back to the above notion around asking someone whom you don't know to connect on LinkedIn — what incentive are you providing for this person to donate their time to your cause? This isn't to say people aren't open to coffee meetings, lunch dates, or even mentoring. But the truth is that many hiring managers and decisions managers simply don't have the time and bandwidth to grant such requests.
That said, effective job searching still heavily revolves around the network component, and you shouldn’t shy away from trying to make new strategic connections and building relationships. Instead of jumping to a request for a 30-minute in-person meeting, get creative with your proposal by suggesting multiple options that accommodate both your schedules more efficiently. Suggest a brief phone conversation or Skype exchange, citing your interest in asking their advice on breaking into the industry, or perhaps insight around their own professional experience in getting to where they are. Suggest an opportunity to show your skills and help them out in the process by volunteering on a project, or shadowing someone for the day. Finally, if there is an opportunity to take an in-person meeting, be respectful of their time and suggest having it at their office, keeping it brief, and having a loose agenda in mind. You bring the coffee.
Be Respectful (and Realistic) in Your Post-Interview Follow Up
Few things are more frustrating for job seekers than wrapping up what seemed like a perfect interview, complete with the praises of the hiring manager and follow up actions for next steps. And then… nothing. You should always follow up within 24 hours of the interview regardless, as the goal is to thank the relevant team members for their time, and also to reiterate your interest and qualifications by making reference back to key points in your conversation. But what happens when you've done your post-interview due diligence and several days have passed with no follow-up response from the company?
I've seen folks experience this silence in all scenarios, even up to the point where salary negotiations were in place and the candidate was waiting on what sounded like a definitive offer. In any case, it's important to remain professional and continue to be respectful of the hiring manager's time. A follow-up communication within a week after your thank-you letter is perfectly fine, again, to reiterate your interest and follow up on potential next steps. It's even acceptable to instill a sense of urgency, letting the company know that you are looking at other opportunities, but that they are still your first choice, and as such you want to keep them in the loop about your availability. But following up every 3–4 days to "check in" is too much. Reaching out on a weekly basis in the 3–4 weeks following the interview is a safe bet, but do put a limit in place. If you've shot out four emails or voicemails and still haven't heard back, it might be time to focus your energy and efforts elsewhere.
Practice Impeccable Communication
Nothing bothers me more than when I receive an email from a candidate applying to a job with nothing more than a generic subject line, a few characters of body text (if that), and an attachment entitled "Resume.doc.” Hiring managers often recruit for dozens of different open positions, and it's imperative that you indicate in both the subject line and the email itself which opportunity you are applying to. On top of that, they receive hundreds of submissions for every role they recruit for, and your email needs to function as a miniature selling tool of its own. While the body of your email shouldn't be a replica of your cover letter, it should introduce who you are, what position you're applying to, and provide a few additional details around your relevant experience or skills that suggests why you are a potential fit for the role. The goal is to provide a sneak peek that compels your reader to want to open up your resume or cover letter and continue reading more about you.
And while on the topic of good communication, you also want to be wary of using antiquated language in your outreach such as "Dear Sir/Madam," or "Dear Sirs.” If you don't have a contact name, you can always go with the standard "Dear/Attention Hiring Manager" or if there's room to be less formal, simply "Hello—". With a first name like Dana, I've been addressed as "Mr. Leavy" on a number of occasions, and while I'm not personally offended by the mistake, it does illustrate a lack of effort in say…looking me up on LinkedIn to cross-reference. Makes me wonder if you're going to treat clients with the same level of disregard. Next!
The idea of "etiquette" conjures up the notion of teeny tiny details that assumedly no one pays attention to, when you have things like "transferrable skills" and "quantifiable achievements" to pay attention to. But details do speak loudly, and execution is just as important as the tools you employ to market yourself. The deciding factors aren’t always apparent on the resume. Plenty of candidates will possess the same level of experience, skill, and knowledge as you, and it's those “teeny tiny details” that can make the difference between "We'll call you," and "Welcome aboard."
Dana Leavy-Detrick is founder, chief creative scribe and resume writer at Brooklyn Resume Studio, www.bklynresumestudio.com.