What You Must Do Before Applying to Jobs, with Connel Valentine

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Find Your Dream Job, Episode 198:

What You Must Do Before Applying to Jobs, with Connel Valentine

Airdate: July 3, 2019

Mac Prichard:

This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life.

I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps people find fulfilling careers. Every Wednesday on this show, I interview a career expert. We discuss the tools you need to find the work you want.

This week, I’m talking to Connel Valentine about what you must do before applying to jobs.

Connel Valentine helps people find the job that’s right for them. He’s a career coach and online course instructor at Zero2Hired.

Connel joins us today from Brampton, Ontario in Canada.

Welcome to the show, Connel.

Connel Valentine:

Thanks Mac. It’s great to be here.

Mac Prichard:

Well, it’s a pleasure to have you.

Now, Connel, why shouldn’t people send in a resume right away when they see a job that interests them? Don’t you have a better chance if you’re among the first to apply?

Connel Valentine:

Well, the thing is, Mac, is, what happens is when you send that resume out, there are a whole bunch of other folks that are sending it as well, so it’s not like it’s a first come, first serve basis.

So, you’d want to put in that effort and really apply the quality to your application before it goes in because it’s all about the competition. It could be hundreds, maybe even thousands of applicants for that single job and it’s really about the effort that you put in for every application that’ll help you stand out and get the call for that interview.

Mac Prichard:

Well, what do you recommend listeners do before hitting the send button on an application?

Connel Valentine:

Right, well, there is a 10 step process that I follow. But at a high level, it’s broken down into 3 areas and the first one is, where you actually understand the job description completely, end to end.

Read between the lines, and look at things that the employer is looking for and customize your resume according to that. And that will help your application hit the top of the list. And the second piece is doing your research about the company, and even about the job itself, and the people who are the hiring executives. And the final piece is using that research to then directly reach out to the hiring executives. That’s how you sort of, cut in line in front of your competition to really stand out and get them to see your personality.

Mac Prichard:

Well, let’s break that down, Connel. Let’s start with the resume and customizing it. What kind of customization are you talking about here? Is this a question of, say, picking out keywords and dropping them into the text? Is it a complete rewrite for every job? What do you generally recommend?

Connel Valentine:

I’d recommend 2 things.

The first one is prioritization. So, every job, even if it’s for the same project title, the same job title, different companies prioritize different things. So say, for example, a project manager, (a very common job title); you’ve got one company that’s advertising for a project manager and a different company that has the same title that they want to advertise.

However, you might find that the job descriptions prioritize responsibilities differently. Perhaps in one company, they’re looking for someone who does documentation a lot and stakeholder management, whereas, in another company, the project manager needs to do vendor management a lot. So looking at that, it’s important for the candidate to understand what it is the organization is looking for and reprioritize their responsibilities and tasks list in that order.

Then, of course, you’ve got keywords as well, so certain language that employers use is different, even for the same kind of job title so you’d want to use tools like JobScan to really automate what those keywords are and make sure that they are injected into your resume.

Mac Prichard:

In your experience, Connel, when people do this kind of revision to a resume after completing the research you recommend, looking at the job posting, seeing what the priorities are, what is emphasized by the company, how much of a resume is actually revised? Are we talking about rewriting 5%? 50%?

Connel Valentine:

It depends on how well the generic resume has been written in the first place. So, if the candidate has gone through an exercise where they’ve actually gone through 10, maybe even, I’d recommend up to 15 or 20 job descriptions, and make sure that you’re speaking for the specific job title and making sure that they’ve got the most common responsibilities in there, then we’re looking at maybe a 10 to 15% revision. But if they’ve not done that exercise, and they’re sort of creating just a generic resume based on their past experience with their existing company, that’s when they’d find they might need to revise it 50 to 60% because they’ve only got content in that resume that’s applicable for that one organization that they worked for.

Mac Prichard:

I’m hearing you imply here, it’s important to know the position you’re most interested in, so you can create a resume that best addresses those positions, and when you do that, you’re looking at some revisions, but perhaps on the scale of 10 to 15%.

Connel Valentine:

Right.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, now talk about the importance of keywords, Connel, when revising and customizing a resume for an application. Why does this matter and what’s your best advice about how to use tools like JobScan, and I know there are others out there that people can use, to automate this process?

Connel Valentine:

The two reasons why keywords are important, and I know our audience has heard it many times before, the importance of keywords, but the reality is that when you’re applying for a job online, it’s a machine, Mac, the application tracking system that’s following a predesigned logic to score your resume and bring it in front of the screen to the recruiter or a hiring manager.

So in order to please the ATS, so to speak, you’ve got to speak its language through these keywords. So, it’s processing your resume, looking at some of the important keywords in the job description, and it’s scoring your resume based on these keywords, so that’s why it’s important that every candidate make sure that they’ve got these keywords in there or else their resume is not going to make it to the top of the list.

Then, finally, when you’ve been successful and it’s in front of human eyes then the reason it’s important is because, you know, the language that the hiring executives speak, it’s good to have the same language read to them from your resume. That way they can resonate with your application and really relate to it.

Mac Prichard:

Do you have a favorite online tool that you recommend, Connel, that people can use both to find and incorporate keywords into a resume?

Connel Valentine:

I’ve only used JobScan, Mac, and I’ve found it works really well and beautifully and I’ve personally not found anything that holds a candle next to it. It really does a great job of trimming down the time it takes. You know, some folks do prefer the highlighting option but for me, it’s all about the online tools that make your life easier and I find that JobScan really does a great job of segregating responsibilities, and hard skills, and soft skills.

Mac Prichard:

I do remember the highlighting option that was very popular in the 90s and the 00s before the online tools came along and for many listeners, I’m sure they can remember doing this but if they don’t, you would actually take the job posting, highlight words you saw appear again and again, and then you would look for opportunities to incorporate that language into your resume, cover letter, and other application materials.

Connel Valentine:

Absolutely, yeah.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, those were the old days.

Well, we’ve talked about resumes and customizing them and I think the benefits are obvious; it’s going to help raise your score with employers who use these online automated application systems. Let’s talk about research and what kind of research do you typically recommend people do?

Connel Valentine:

They need to research 2 areas. One, it’s about the company, right? It’s about the organization because it’s just as important to hiring executives to know why you want to work for this current organization because they don’t want to go through this hiring process again.

They want that peace of mind that you’re going to be joining this company and you’re going to love this company and you’re going to stick around for some time, so the way you can show that to them is by researching the company, looking at the values of the organization, to firstly, see if it resonates with you as well, and secondly, to expand your knowledge about the organization.

What are their values? What are their key products? What’s their competition like? Where are they geographically located?

These are some of the things that may even come up in the interview as well so it’s important to research the organization. And the second piece that you’d want to research is the hiring executives themselves. You know, go onto their LinkedIn profiles and look at what past career expertise they’ve got, what have they done? Perhaps you went to the same school together, perhaps you worked for the same organization, anything in common that you find with this person that you’re reaching out to helps with your likeability with them. If you bring it up during your direct connection with them or during an interview, it suddenly will increase the likeability between you, in the discussion and the relationship.

Mac Prichard:

How much time do you find candidates typically should spend on this kind of research for every application, Connel?

Connel Valentine:

In my experience, candidates will spend anywhere between 15 to 30 minutes on the scan of research but I would never tell someone…hold them back, and the more research they do, I find, it helps fuel their knowledge a lot better during the interview as well.

Mac Prichard:

The kinds of steps you’re recommending, are there some that you always suggest that candidates take, during this research?

Connel Valentine:

Yes, it’s, you always research about the organization, its values, and its key products and services and you always at least give the hiring executive’s LinkedIn profile at least one scan through.

Mac Prichard:

Well, terrific. I want to talk more about research. We’re going to take a quick break and when we come back, Connel Valentine will continue to share his advice on what you must do before applying for any job.

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Based on what you see, you make a choice.

Employers do the same thing when hiring. After managers review resumes, they check out the most promising candidates online.

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Now, let’s get back to the show!

Mac Prichard:

We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Connel Valentine. He’s a career coach and online course instructor at Zero2Hired. Connel joins us today from Brampton, Ontario in Canada.

Connel, before our break, we were talking about what applicants should do before applying for a job and you talked about the benefits of customizing resumes and doing research about both the employer, and members of the interview team, and the hiring managers you might meet.

Are there other steps you recommend that people take when doing that research?

Connel Valentine:

Absolutely, Mac. So, once the research is done, you’re then going to use that research to actually reach out directly to the hiring executives and this is where it’s going to be a game changer for applicants.

Like I said from the beginning, every job application, it’s a competition and you, candidates reaching out directly to hiring executives is what’s going to get them ahead, in front of everyone else. So, once you have that research, you can actually use that in your communication directly to hiring executives and that’s really going to put forward your application and it’s going to quadruple your chances of getting the job interview.

Mac Prichard:

Tell us what that looks like, because I can imagine listeners thinking to themselves, “It says on the job posting, ‘No calls please.’” How do you recommend people reach out to members of an interview team?

Connel Valentine:

You could use LinkedIn to research who’s most likely going to be the hiring executives. And I know that you mentioned some job descriptions that they say, you know, “No calls please,” but personally, I’m not exactly sure where that really has applied for in reality because my clients, they’ve always reached out directly to hiring managers and executives, and they’ve reached out either through LinkedIn, through email, and some have even made a direct call as well, and it’s never backfired on them. So, you could use LinkedIn to actually do a filtered search by the company, by the job title that you’re looking for, and even by location, and then you’d get a list of people who would most likely…is going to be your hiring manager.

You want to find people who are at the same level as you, possibly one step above you, the person is most likely going to be a hiring manager, and even a senior person as well; the person who is probably going to be the person approving the budget for your position and who’s going to be there at the interview as well.

Mac Prichard:

When you find these people, Connel, what happens next? Do you send an email? Do you make a phone call? And what do you say in these messages? What’s your ask?

Connel Valentine:

In these messages, it would be either email or a direct LinkedIn message, for those who invest in the inmail feature, and in the ask you could mention that you’re interested in this role, that you found it online, but before you do that, this is where your research is really going to benefit you.

If you’ve, for example, looked through LinkedIn and found that one of the directors has written an amazing article on leadership, I’d open with that. I’d say, “Great article on LinkedIn, you know, about leadership. This is what I loved about it, and by the way, there’s a role in this organization that I’m interested in applying for and here’s why I’d be interested in the role. Here are my skills and this is some results of how I achieved an accomplishment.” And sign off that contact by saying, “Looking forward to getting in touch with you if you’re up for a call.”

You’re really applying the research that you’ve done and you’re personalizing that messaging to them and letting your personality shine out.

Mac Prichard:

There are really 3 parts to that communication. One, you’re demonstrating that you’ve done your homework; you’re showing the recipient of the email that you’ve read an article and you understand it and you’re sharing why you like it. The second thing you’re doing is introducing yourself, your skills, and your accomplishments and the third is asking for a conversation. Is that it?

Connel Valentine:

Absolutely.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, so, I can imagine listeners thinking, “Why would somebody agree to meet with me? Particularly if a job has been advertised, wouldn’t they just tell me to apply online or talk to HR?”

Connel Valentine:

Absolutely, Mac, and that’s the beauty and the benefit of this is that you’re reaching out to them because there is a current need and when they do that, and this is the irony of reaching out to a senior person, it’s very likely that that senior person is not directly involved with the specific hiring position, but they’re more than happy to reply by saying, “You know, that’s great but I’m not responsible for this position, but here’s somebody that you can speak to instead.”

And all of a sudden, that person that they’re referring to, it’s a referral contact and you can reach out to this person and say, “I was referred to you by so and so person, and they asked me to reach out to you with regards to the position that’s being opened.”

Once again, you know, you apply the same content as you did before, where you talk about why you think you’re a good fit for this role, an accomplishment, why you want to work for this organization, and then you’re trying and you get a much higher response rate, because this person has been referred to you by someone very senior in the organization.

Mac Prichard:

By doing this, you’re getting people inside the organization to talk about you. Perhaps they’re even googling you or looking at your LinkedIn page, and they’re beginning to say your name and think about you, and are your competitors doing that, Connel?

Connel Valentine:

Probably not, right? They’re the ones who are too afraid to make this kind of a bold step; they’re just comfortable with sending up the generic resume online, crossing their fingers, and hoping that they’re popping up on the screen and that a recruiter would look at their application and decide to give them a call.

But instead, what you’re doing is, you’re going after that application. You’re not just sitting and hoping, you’re actually making it happen for yourself and that’s always going to be a lot more powerful for you.

Mac Prichard:

You’re doing all of this before you send in your online application, aren’t you?

Connel Valentine:

Well, no, the online application would happen up front and that’s something else that you could add onto the messaging, because if you don’t, it’s very likely that they’re going to reply by just saying, “Go ahead and apply online.” But in the messaging, you could say, “I’ve already applied online but I wanted to reach out directly to you as well.”

Mac Prichard:

Okay, so when you have a conversation, you’ve followed these steps, and perhaps you’ve either met with that senior executive or that person has agreed to see you, or she or he has sent you to someone else and you’re having a conversation, what should you try to do in that meeting and what are the benefits to you as an applicant?

Connel Valentine:

Well, you know, if you’re having a conversation directly with someone from the hiring executive team, you’ve already got ahead of your competition, you’ve already served the purpose of having a great online application process that ultimately will lead to an interview.

The conversation that you have with them, it can be a form a phone screening interview if it turns out into a call, and during that conversation you obviously want to be prepared for, again, the research you did about the company should come up. The research that you did about the person who’s calling you may come up as well and then, you know, you’d want to focus on how you are a great candidate for this position.

You did the research on the job description right up front in the first step and that’s what you want to focus on; you want to focus on the responsibilities that are mentioned on the top of that job description because I always compare job descriptions to grocery lists. The stuff that you need the most is at the top, so if you can have those stories and your accomplishments prepared that speak to those specific responsibilities, that’s what you want to bring up in those conversations.

Mac Prichard:

It’s also a chance to share your personality isn’t it, Connel?

Connel Valentine:

Oh yeah, absolutely because a resume, as customized as it can be, even if it’s right up there at the top of the ATS on the recruiter’s screen, flashing in bright yellow lights, it’s still not going to help you portray your personality.

And at the end of the day, Mac, every single hiring executive hires for personality first and qualifications second. That’s why the direct contact really matters the most because that’s where your personality can shine through.

Mac Prichard:

In your experience, how much more work is it to do this? You talked about customizing resumes, perhaps if you’ve got a good foundational resume, you’re looking at revising perhaps 10, 15% of the content and then to do the research, perhaps 15, 30 minutes of time. To get these kinds of meetings, and scheduling them, and doing the follow-up, how much time is involved there?

Connel Valentine:

In my experience, Mac, it’s taken my clients anywhere between 1.5 to 3 hours per application and initially, people say, “Oh my gosh, that’s a long time and I’m not going to apply for as many jobs as I could but that’s the point. You’re not going for quantity here, you’re going for quality. I mean, would you rather apply for 100 jobs in a month and get 2 callbacks or would you rather apply for 20 jobs in a month and get 10 callbacks? It’s all in the math.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, and I’m glad you brought that up because sometimes I meet job seekers, and candidly I thought this way myself very early in my career, I treated it like a numbers game and I thought, “Well, if I’m not getting a good response, then I’ve got to increase the number of applications and the ratio will go up.”

In your experience, that’s not what happens, is it, Connel?

Connel Valentine:

No, absolutely not. People who take the time and effort for every job application actually end up doing more job interviews, which means that they end up spending less time in the job search. It’s always a painful time and people want to end it as soon as possible, so every effort helps.

Mac Prichard:

Well, at the start of our conversation you talked about 3 steps here that people could take, customizing resumes, doing research, and then making personal contact. Any other tips you’d like to share about things, or steps rather, that people should take before sending in that job application?

Connel Valentine:

Well, the one final step that I’d recommend as well, Mac, and this is going to sound really unorthodox to a lot of folks, but it’s actually to send their resume and cover letter by postal mail and, you know, it’s always funny when I tell people to do this.

When I say, “Post,” they think, “Okay, so do you mean a LinkedIn post or do you mean a FaceBook post?” Then I have to tell them, “No, I mean the kind of post where you’ve got to print the document out, lick a stamp, go to a red box and drop it in that little hole over there.”

Mac Prichard:

Now, why is that a good approach?

Connel Valentine:

Well, here’s the thing, Mac, it’s very possible that you may have taken all of the steps to customize your resume, it’s done really well, perhaps you couldn’t find the contacts on LinkedIn or you tried to reach out, and for whatever reason they didn’t get in touch with you.

You sent the emails out but you know there’s always the chance it could end up in their junk mail, or they’re one of those folks that have like 10,000 unread emails in their inbox and it’s just 1 of 10,000 sitting in there.

But when you post your resume out, the only way it’s not going to get in front of them is if the postal service loses your mail but otherwise, if you’ve got an envelope that just has the person’s name on it, and you know their address is no secret, you can very easily Google it.

Your resume is going to pop up in front of them; they’re going to receive and read your document and, yeah, that’s a sure fire way of guaranteeing that your resume’s in front of their eyes.

Mac Prichard:

Well, that’s a great way to stand out, too. Now tell us, Connel, what’s next for you?

Connel Valentine:

Well, Mac, we’re currently developing our online courses that help job seekers find jobs well before they need it. That’s what we try to aim for and we’re making enhancements to it and you can find it at courses.zero2hired.com. And for your audience, we created a coupon code called Mac’s List and they get a discount if they apply for those courses using that code.

Mac Prichard:

Well, that’s very generous of you.

Now, Connel, given all the advice you’ve shared today, what’s the one thing you want our audience to remember about what somebody should do before applying to any job?

Connel Valentine:

One thing, wow. Well, if I was to choose one thing, I would have to say it would be the research. You know, no one likes a cookie-cutter approach, Mac, and even when you and I connected, you know, I sent you a message on LinkedIn.

I talked about your podcast, and I talked about your blog, and I remember I tried to offer value to you as well, to say I would advertise Mac’s List on my blog. Offering value, making the messaging personal, all that requires research and if you take that approach in anything that you do whether you’re reaching out to someone for the first time for a job or otherwise, you’re always going to find that you’re going to get a better response rate with that.

Mac Prichard:

Alright, terrific advice. Well, Connel, thanks for joining us this week.

Connel Valentine:

Thanks, Mac, it’s been a pleasure.

Mac Prichard:

So many job seekers ask me what they can do to stand out when they apply for a position. Well, Connel shared a road map for how to do that.

He had 3 parts to his approach, one was to customize your resume. Second, do your homework, research the company and the people who are making hiring decisions. And third, reach out to the people who are going to hire the position that’s being filled.

And when you do that, as Connel made clear from his experience working with his clients, you become part of the conversation that’s happening inside the company and you have an opportunity, not only to share your accomplishments, but begin to make personal connections and share your personality.

Chemistry is so important when hiring. If you’re looking for other ways to stand out we’ve got an online course that can help. It’s called How to Wow and Woo Employers.

It’s a three-part video series and it shows you how you can use social media and other online tools to attract the attention of employers and recruiters.

You can get your copy today. Just go to macslist.org/wow.

Thanks for listening to this week’s episode of Find Your Dream Job.

Join us next Wednesday. Our guest expert will be David Burkus. He’ll explain why you don’t need to go to networking events.

Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.

When you see a job posting that you’re interested in, your natural inclination might be to get your application in as quickly as possible. After all, you’ve got a better chance of being seen if you get it in early, right? Not so, according to Find Your Dream Job guest Connel Valentine. Sending in a general resume, no matter how early, is a great way to end up on a huge pile of other discarded, generic resumes. Connel says the best way to get ahead of the competition is to understand the job description, conduct extensive research, and use that research to arrange a meeting with the hiring executives.

About Our Guest:

Connel Valentine helps people find the job that’s right for them. He’s a career coach and online course instructor at Zero2Hired. Providing both one-on-one sessions as well as self-paced learning courses, Connel shares core skills with clients to get them into the workforce as quickly as possible.

Resources in This Episode:

  • For more information on finding the job that’s right for you, visit Zero2Hired.com