Want to Land a Job? Don’t Talk About You
Employers want to know how you’ll do the job
Guess what recruiters and interviewers don’t want to hear about this year? You. Or your recent struggles. Or your pandemic experience. Or your favorite masks. “They don’t care, and they don’t want to know,” says Seattle career counselor Robin Ryan, author of “60 Seconds & You’re Hired,” who suggests that all communications with recruiters or interviewers include “nothing about you personally, and nothing about what’s going on in your life.”
Staying mum about yourself is challenging in this era of loosened workplace heartstrings, where everyone, including your interviewers, will likely overshare about vulnerabilities and personal lives. Ignore this trend. Ryan says that interviewers will inevitably ask how you are faring, and that a reply with brief levity is best, such as, “What day is it again?” or “Yes, I’m thriving through this extended period of unemployment and global trauma.” Any further disclosure risks the interviewer perceiving you as distracted (which you likely are, but shhhhhh).
Instead, use the interview to present yourself as someone eager to do the job ASAP. Do not mention your involvement in any political campaigns, protests or movements, nor your thoughts on anything related. “That’s a major mistake. That could be a career ruiner,” she says.
The purpose of all interactions with prospective employers is to illustrate why you are the 100% best do-er for the job. This is quite different from demonstrating pleasantness or geniality or even competence. As much as you can, discuss the results that you will bring to the employer, and how and why you would be an asset to that particular employer, says Ariel Schur, chief executive officer of ABS Staffing Solutions, a recruiting company in New York. Customize your answers to the job. Save your dog anecdotes for your friends.
How, then, can you come across as emotionally fluent and globally aware, yet not discuss either? Schur suggests sliding in smart inquiries about how health guidelines are affecting the employer or customers, or how staff are getting by emotionally. “You want to demonstrate that you’re mindful of current circumstances, but don’t dwell on it — overall be present and optimistic,” she says.
If you must address your recent hard times, do so within anecdotes that present you as qualified, resilient and adaptable. For example, do not announce that you were laid off and badly need a job, says Jeannie Kim, vice president of content at job search site The Muse.
Rather, discuss what you did right after your layoff — OK, a week later — such as quickly landing a temp gig, or spending your idle months obtaining credentials to prepare for this job. “One of the silver linings of this global catastrophe is that it’s not shameful to have lost your job. Literally everybody knows somebody who has gone through that. But show how you’ve turned it into an opportunity,” she says.
Resumes and cover letters should follow the same rule of thumb: They’re not about you. “They can’t be if you want to have a competitive edge,” says Donna Cornell, author of “Job Searching in Pandemic Times.” “They should be a commercial of why a company should hire you.”
Start your resume with a summary paragraph that describes how your skills have fueled positive results for past employers. Example: “I am highly organized and detail oriented, and in 2018 found an accounting error that saved ABC Company $2 million.”
She recommends asking former co-workers and bosses to articulate your skills and work traits for you. Then fill out the rest of your resume with blurbs about your accomplishments at each former employer, or how you brought positive results to your department. Your knitting habit or masters rowing team membership do not need mention.
To whip up a flawless cover letter, Ryan suggests highlighting the skills listed in the job ad, and addressing each in the opening paragraph (My 10 years of data analytics…), followed by bullet points of results you’ve achieved. This both moves you into the “deserves interview” pile, and triggers hiring software that traces keywords. And remember, your job hunt is about the job, not you. Good luck out there.