by Teri Fritsma
If you’re job hunting right now, let’s face it: you’ve got lots of company. Jobseekers need to find ways stand out. There’s a lot of talk about ‘personal branding’ and similar techniques that emphasize selling yourself. While there’s a lot to be said for representing your skills and qualifications well, it seems to me that some of these marketing-based techniques miss a crucial ingredient of a successful job search: good listening.
You may not have a chance to literally listen to an employer until you sit down for an interview, but there are plenty of ways to “listen” (broadly defined) before that. “Listen” by reading up on the employer, researching the position, learning all you can about the organization’s market, mission, and culture, and how the position you’re applying for fits in with all these things. If you’re able to do this, you’ll be better able to (1) decide if you’re truly a good match for the position; and (2) make your case to the employer when the time comes.
- Treat each job you apply for like a mini research project (or a first date). Plan to spend a few hours reading up on the employer. Visit their web site. Read their “About Us” page or find their mission statement. If you can, talk to people who have had dealings with the employer (either customers or current or past employees) to see if their experiences are consistent with what the employer says about themselves.
- Read the job ad carefully. If the ad uses certain phrases or terms to describe the skills the position requires, that that’s the way the employer thinks about those skills and you need to describe yourself using those same terms. Also, there may be hints in the job ad about the type of position and organization. Is the ad no-nonsense? Humorous? If you’re paying attention, the job ad can give you clues about how to present yourself.
- Carefully read the employer’s required qualifications. Many ads include both “required” and “preferred” qualifications. Hint: if you don’t even come close to meeting the required qualifications, move on. Applying for the job won’t get you anywhere because it’ll show the employer that you didn’t even pay attention to what they’re looking for.
- Use the interview as a way to listen and learn further. As much as you sell yourself to the employer, you should be asking the employer to “sell” the organization and position to you. Since you’ve researched the organization, you should have plenty of good, informed questions to ask. Don’t waste the employer’s time with “Google questions” (questions you can find the answer to by conducting a Google search). Instead, ask questions that show you’ve done your research and are interested in learning more. This demonstrates that you’re prepared and enthusiastic, and a good listener—something every employer wants.
Looking for more job hunting tips? Check out Minnesota’s Creative Job Search guide, which covers everything from identifying your skills to thank-you letters and everything in between. Or check out these job search tips on ISEEK.org.