What If You’re Both Underqualified AND Overqualified? (Part II)

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The first post of “What If You’re Both Underqualified AND Overqualified?” was by FAR the most popular post of this blog’s one-year history. Although I think the writing was very good, I can’t help but admit that the real reason for its popularity is the sole reason that it’s a topic to which all too many people can relate. In this sequel, I hope to delve into how far we’ve come in 2013, what new things we’ve learned, and hopefully, shed light and optimism on those qualified individuals still searching for a job.

Since my first post, I finally landed a well-paying job in my field that is not only a good match for my employer, but it is also a good match for me and my goals for the future. I could not be more grateful—But, I have to say, I landed this job after the fight of my life! In July 2012, I resigned from a cushy, corporate position at a big bank. I had no way of moving from my current line of business to my field of interest (marketing), so I had to leave. Remembering my success and joy in retail, I went back to retail and found that the company culture just didn’t match my strengths.

I can’t begin to count how many job interviews I went on from October 2012 to May 2013. I had a minimum wage full-time paid marketing internship that turned into a hourly wage raise and having my hours cut by half after a few months. I was a barista on the weekends. I was also working on my MBA. I had a handful of freelance (savior) jobs, too. I left the big bank, general operations position to break into the marketing world. With each interview I got stronger and more confident, and I also found new strategies to set myself apart from the rest. Ultimately, I received many “thanks, but no thanks” and outright rejection letters. I heard “Wow, this is really impressive,” when I’d present a one-page job proposal along with my resume and cover letter. I was complimented for my Power Point presentations, portfolios, posters and red lipstick. But, none of it worked. I started to really wonder if my major career move was a major career killer.

After many, many trials and test-runs, I mastered the art of pitching my abilities to business professionals of all levels of management. But, when I finally landed this dream job, I wondered: “What about the rest of them out there?”

Friend, what about you?

If you spent the holidays without a job, without enough in your bank account to pay for gifts, let alone groceries, and rang in the New Year worried more about your own electricity, rather than that of Times Square…I’d like to share my secrets with you. Your list of needs is a lot longer than your list of wants at this point. I know how you feel — I was there just last year! Let’s take a look at this list of job landing tips and hopefully revive some hope for you.

1. Show them your qualifying results, not your qualifications. Before you even land the interview, you need to get the interview. If you’re having trouble with that step, update your resume and personalize your cover letter. For years, I used a generic fill-in-the-blank cover letter template as a formality. It’s no longer a formality — It’s the one hint of personality you can show a prospective employer before they even consider you as a candidate. Your cover letter should include specific qualifications applicable to the job in question. For example: Instead of saying you have experience using Microsoft Excel, you should say you created a spreadsheet in your college internship that helped increase productivity by 8% by saving management a few points of contact for each project. For each qualification or ability you list in your cover letter, you should add an example of how it contributed to the workflow of any given position. Qualifications tell what you can do, but results sell your abilities as an employee.

2. Make a good first impression. Once you get the interview, spare no expense to make a good impression. Although you may be broke or close to maxing out your credit cards, figure out a way to get that suit dry cleaned or get a new haircut. Appearance is very important. As recent studies have shown, attractive people tend to get hired more and promoted more often than less attractive, similarly qualified candidates. The same has been said for tall candidates; however, as I am a hair below five-feet tall, there is nothing I can do to change that statistic toward my favor. But, I can clean up my trusty, old black suit. I can get a nice blow-out on my hair and splurge on a new tube of lipstick. And I can be sure to put my best possible foot forward. Most likely, this is my only shot.

3. Know who you’re talking to. Prior to your interview, do some research on the organization. It doesn’t have to be anything too involved—Just get a basic idea of the corporate culture and an overview of the business model. Arming yourself with this information can create more advanced answers to some interview questions and you can have great follow-up questions to set yourself apart from other applicants. There is nothing more disappointing to a hiring manager than to hear crickets when they ask “Do you have any questions about us?” In this economy, employment is a two-way street, and the hiring manager wants to see “what’s in it for them” too. See what makes their company different from its competitors. You can use that to make correlations between yourself and the company. Maybe the company is the same as everyone else—Like, a soda can manufacturer or oil company? That’s okay. In a tasteful way, you can acknowledge that fact and emphasize your customer service or people skills to add value to the company. Follow them on Twitter or ‘like’ them on Facebook and mention it in the interview. Have suggestions? Maybe save that for the second interview, unless social media is part of the job description…

4. Send a “Thank You” card in the mail the morning of your interview. This is just a personal favorite of mine. It adds that personalized touch, and it shows you plan ahead. This isn’t a requirement, but it is a nice gesture that gets noticed. Each time I’ve done it, the manager that hired me had it on display in their office or cube. Also, make sure you get the correct name on the card!

5. Sell your candidacy just like a company would sell a new product. OK – So you’ve sold yourself in a thoughtful, personalized and professional way. You thanked them for their time. You get the call for the second interview. This means you made it to the final decision with 2-6 other candidates, depending on how competitive the position is. In today’s economy, it’s likely these candidates are nearly identical to you and have already done some of the things listed above. Now you really need to sell yourself, as if you’re selling newspaper subscriptions by City Hall or Mary Kay makeup to your Bible Study girlfriends. Just like a company has a vision statement of how the company wants the world to see it, you need to have the same statement for yourself as a professional. Define yourself. Are you efficient? Creative? Thrive in a stressful position? A born leader? Tell your story behind your statement. There are few questions in this last and final part of the process. The manager(s) is/are looking for a person, just like a customer is looking for a brand or product. You need to be that product! Think about Pepsi and Coke. These products are made of fundamentally the same raw materials with the same recipe and processes to create the end product. But, the sweet story of the Christmas Polar Bears tear at the heart strings of Coke lovers all over the world. And, who can forget the year Britney Spears danced and sang the Pepsi jingle? Use your story to close the sale.

Job hunting and interviews aren’t what they used to be. Some hiring managers recruit their employees via social media alone. Others follow the old-school rules, but still look for that “extra” to make the decision worthwhile. Most of these managers have upper management squeezing them to make efficient decisions and do more work with less resources. Everyone is in a tough spot. Once you keep that in mind, you can relate to any panel of managers. Employers are looking for much more for much less, so until the economy turns around completely, we need to set ourselves apart from the rest beyond what would be considered “going the extra mile”.

I didn’t say this would be easy. I also cannot guarantee this will create a dream job for you this year. But, I have put these to practice for myself and in colleagues looking to advance their careers with success. It is possible. This year, resolve to try these tips if you’re looking for a (new) job.

Maybe you’ll impress someone. Maybe you’ll impress yourself.

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