This is a new series I’m starting to answer YOUR burning career needs to help you think creatively about your toughest career challenges. Comment below and I’ll write you a blog post (and let me know your email so I can let you know when your personal answer is up!)
This week’s Tough Career Question is from Emily in New York, NY. Emily writes:
How do you get potential employers to think about your skills creatively as it applies to their needs? I’m trying to potentially transition into a different career and I’ve tweaked my resume and written excellent cover letters (I think at least) to outline my skills and how specifically they would transfer well to the position at hand but it’s still very difficult to get any traction or even an interview. It seems like companies think very literally and uncreatively about a person’s experience. If you don’t have 5 years (or whatever the requirement might be) in a particular industry, they just dismiss you and move on. Is there anything else I can be doing to really drill home the fact that I am worth interviewing? Should I be really up front about my lack of experience in the industry but then drill into all the ways it doesn’t matter?
This is one of those things that really grinds my gears. It’s a common occurrence and happens for a variety of reasons. One reason could be that the more corporate you go, the more rules-based and rigid they become to satisfy various quotas, rules, etc. Or, as I’ve seen first-hand, the hiring team is overworked and understaffed, so weeding out resumes that aren’t an exact fit on paper is a quick time saver. Sad, but true. Lastly, maybe the hiring team isn’t thinking creatively about the role for whatever reason.
I tell you all of these potential reasons, Emily, because this is one of those times where it’s time to get off paper and get in front of them physically. I know that sounds crazy- and I don’t mean to show up at his or her offices demanding to speak to someone, so let me explain.
You’ve done a bang up job on your resume. You’ve tied your experience and skillet in your cover letter to exactly why you’re a fit for these jobs and you’re still getting radio silence and/or a “no”. How about considering building your network up and networking your way into the company? Who of your first-degree connections on LinkedIn knows someone there? Can you ask for an introduction? Is a representative from the company speaking at an upcoming networking event? Sign up to attend and introduce yourself to the speaker while there and follow up via email. If this company is ‘the one’, talk about it with whomever you’re with- at a friend’s house for a dinner party, at events, at weddings- you name it. I truly believe this is not DOA until you’ve tried to network your way into the company.
Case in point: A client of mine worked in marketing for treasury services for JP Morgan. Not exactly the sexiest work in the land. She wanted to work in marketing for a higher end fashion brand. She was told “no” tens of times and got radio silence to her application the other dozens of times. So we got thinking creatively and started her on the networking circuit- setting up coffee chats, asking friends for intros- she spent a lot of her post-work weeknights meeting up with people in fashion. And once she got in with one, she was introduced to others. She was able to tell them exactly what she had been trying to get across in her cover letters and sure enough, she got a job within a couple of months working in fashion!
This approach has another added benefit. Maybe you’re reaching for that one top company (my client’s was Burberry in fashion), but you end up at another equally great company in the same field. She may not be working at Burberry yet, but she’s in the field at another well respected company in fashion. So as you build up your network in your field, maybe you get your next position at a similar organization. Thinking creatively, strikes again!
Remember, there’s so much at play here besides someone reading your cover letter the way you want them to. There’s timing- Burberry didn’t have any openings for my client, for example. There’s the email black hole. There’s those damn keyword portals that suck up your application and run it through an algorithm for Pete’s sake! So why not take yourself offline and network your way into the field? It may not be the EXACT company you want that bites, but it can get you in the door of that new field. You’re doing a great job, Emily- please know this is one of those ‘it’s not you, it’s them’ issues, but there ARE things you can do to get around it!
MISC Tips to think Creatively about your skills:
- The cover letter call out. I had a client call herself out in her cover letter to Anthropologie. She started the letter with something like, “I know it may seem strange to see a professional with 9 years of accounting experience applying for this merchandising position, so hear me out.” She was called back within minutes and got the position.
- Drop off the application in person. I know, old school and semi-stalkery right?! Well, it has to be the right context, but if it at all makes sense to walk your application over to a prospective employer, you never know what might happen. Most people don’t do it, so why not do something that makes you stand out?
- Multimedia: Why not put your cover letter together in a different way? The key here is to do it in a way that shows you CAN do the job. If you were going for a graphic design position, maybe the cover letter is done as some sort of graphic design project, for example.
- Do part of the job for free. If appropriate, take the part of the job that you don’t technically ‘have’ and show them you can do it. This is related to the multimedia tip above but if you don’t have a creative multimedia way to do this, why not just go out there and ‘do’ that part of the job? Maybe you’re going for a fundraising position but don’t have the formal experience. Is there a place you can volunteer for where you learn the ropes for free and put it on your resume? How can you SHOW you can do it? Fundraise for a cause you believe in for free? Think creatively and see what happens!