Know Your Audience.
A few months after graduating college, I learned a valuable lesson that has stuck with me to this day. One of my roommates, who had landed a promising internship with a sustainability-focused nonprofit in Washington, DC, had just returned from an event at the United States Postal Service headquarters.
My roommate and his team were discussing simple ways to be more sustainable at home and in the workplace, and the presentation was well received… until they reached their slide on eliminating “junk mail,” and finding ways to eliminate paper mail altogether. At that point, my roommate recounted, the mood in the room suddenly changed. None of the presenters could immediately identify why the postal service workers who had been attentive now stared back with furrowed brows. But after they wrapped up their presentation, they realized that they did not properly tailor the presentation to their audience.
Imagine, it was simply not a good idea to discuss eliminating paper mail to the postal service! Not only was the mistake embarrassing for the presenters and the organization, but more importantly, it detracted from their overall message and the useful sustainability tips included in the presentation.
Thankfully, that was a lesson I learned secondhand. Whenever I have given presentations, I’ve always thought about the intended audience, the best ways to communicate information, and what information should be included (or what should be left out).
The same principle applies to creating and submitting resumes and cover letters as part of application packages. You are, after all, presenting yourself, your capabilities, and your work experience to prospective employers. While it can be easy to overlook mistakes like the junk mail slide, taking time to research and know your audience will help ensure you communicate your best skills and make the best impression.
And, it's perhaps most important in an interview setting, when we're likely to say a lot of unscripted things, especially if we're thrown curveball questions.
At blueprintgreen, we give the following advice to our coaching clients:
1) Address people directly.
If the hiring manager is listed in the position description, address your cover letter to their attention. This ensures it reaches the correct individual, but also shows that you have read the entire posting and have attention to detail. Hiring managers are often looking for any reason to exclude candidates so they can narrow down hundreds of applications to a few interview-worthy contenders. Knowing there's a very high bar for entry, this is a critical piece to get right.
2) Talk up your skills.
Stop. Before you just breeze past this and move to the next tip, understand that this isn’t a reference to the natural self-promotion opportunities that resumes, cover letters, and job interview bring.
To talk up your skills, you need to identify the most important duties you have performed in each position listed in the job history section of your resume. Place your most important duties in the first few bullets to ensure they have the best chance at being noticed by the person reading your resume. How do you know what’s most important? If they directly align with the position description, if they include measurable outcomes, and if they were your primary job function(s).
Second, you talk up your skills in a cover letter or interview by communicating how your experience will transfer to a position of increasing responsibility. For example, if you are applying for a managerial position, you would lead with your demonstrated leadership skills and prior performance managing teams, as opposed to completing administrative reports or other duties that aren’t as critical to the position. Always lead with your best skills!
3) Know your interviewers.
Ask who will be present for your interview, and study their social media and LinkedIn profiles. You can ask them questions about their role in the company or the projects they are leading, or other personalized (but professional!) questions to show you have done research on the company.
Have you ever had a professional moment you wish you could take back because you weren't thinking about your audience? Don't worry, it happens to the best of us!