Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Personal Branding

The article I chose to post today highlights that while we are in a struggling economy, companies are still hiring. So how do we go about differentiating our resumes from the flood of others hiring managers are receiving daily?

Thanks to and Cyrus Afzali, today's article provides a couple of strategies for making your resume, and yourself, rise to the top. So enjoy today's posting and make it a great week!

By Cyrus Afzali

It’s almost impossible to watch TV newscasts or read newspapers these days without lots of doom and gloom about the economy. While the ramifications of a slumping economy have many people worried for different reasons, job seekers are getting particularly rattled as they see their efforts stymied by a decreasing number of job ads and talk of additional layoffs. Although the mood about jobs at the moment is certainly dim, there are time–tested strategies one can take to improve their odds of landing the job they seek, regardless of the current market.

One important fact I’d note is that during turbulent economic times, it’s often tough to keep your mind focused on the things you can control, while not worrying so much about the things you can’t. The bottom line is that, while jobs may be harder to get this year than last, many companies – including those that are simultaneously trimming their work force in some areas – are also adding workers. The best way to become one of those additions is to be aggressively marketing yourself and your skills.

Focus Your Resume

There are several different ways to do this and methods differ, partly based on the type of job you’re seeking, and partly based on the success an applicant may have found using a certain method in the past. Of course, the most common of those methods is a resume listing recent jobs, responsibilities and skills. While many approach putting together a resume as a formulaic task, the best strategy is to customize a resume and cover letter for the specific opportunity for which you’re vying. Highlight specific duties under each job that are relevant to the job you’re after and any skills you might have that differentiate you from competitors.

While you want to do the best job possible to make yourself and your skills shine on a resume, be cognizant of the fact that, in all likelihood, whoever reviews it is only going to spend a few minutes with it. Given that, don’t make them hunt for the relevant information they’re looking for; make it stand out. Use the resume to highlight knowledge of specific software applications or commonly used tools that would be routinely used in the job. Also, if you’ve got foreign language skills or experience working abroad, for example, highlight that too, as it would be especially attractive to a company with operations in multiple countries.

Target Your Cover Letter

In terms of the cover letter – the most overlooked element in a job hunt in many cases – use it to expound on your skills and accomplishments and elaborate on how they’ve helped you prepare for the job you’re seeking. When at all possible, include metrics that give insight into your accomplishments; for example, a salesperson might highlight how their efforts increased revenue at a firm, while a Web editor might accentuate page–view growth. This may sound like common sense advice, but by all means, never go generic with a cover letter. Recruiters and hiring managers can almost always tell when someone’s merely done a “cut and paste” of a previous letter for reuse. Not only does this tactic fail to give you a key venue to let your skills shine, it’s also in many cases a great way to get your information tossed in the proverbial “round file.”

Stand Out From the Crowd

Another key way to stand out from the crowd is by effectively using your network of contacts. Sites like LinkedIn make it a snap to see if anyone you know or a close contact knows has an “in” at a company for which you’d like to work. If you do know someone who’d be beneficial, don’t hesitate to ask them to be an advocate for you and point out the connection in your correspondence with the company. This may sound decidedly old fashioned, but it’s important to remember that many times new jobs are landed with the help of friends and former co–workers.
Speaking of LinkedIn and other Internet venues, another good way to get more information about your skills across is putting URLs to any relevant online profiles or sites containing work samples. A simple URL can convey a wealth of information you might not have time to present otherwise. Another great thing about this approach is that it gives the recruiter or executive the option to seek out the information rather than being overwhelmed with it in a resume or cover letter. Of course, applicants to any kind of Web–related job would also be well advised to include these, as recruiters often see mastery of these platforms as another “feather in your cap.”

Old Fashioned Follow–Up

However, as great as these Web venues might be, there are still occasions where tried and true methods worked best – and perhaps that’s especially true for a follow–up letter. These are short “thank–you” letters sent to managers you’ve met with within a day or two following an interview. While their main purpose is to keep your name in front of the hiring manager and reinforce your desire for the job, they also give you a way to quickly mention a key skill or accomplishment you might have forgotten about during the interview or failed to include on your resume or cover letter. The mere fact of sending one will often put you ahead in the applicant pool, since so many never bother with them and they remain a very popular token of appreciation with managers.

Finally, don’t overlook the value of industry organizations. Getting involved in a volunteer capacity with the leading organization in your industry is not only a great way to keep abreast of new developments, but also to network and increase your visibility within your industry. It’s important to remember that you shouldn’t use these to blatantly sell yourself, as nothing turns off a potentially valuable contact than being swarmed with job seekers at organizational events. It’s much better to take a long–term approach that involves such things as volunteering on key committees and offering to donate your services and/or key skills to the group in some way. Doing this will raise your profile greatly; since job hunting, at the end of the day, is really another form of brand building, this approach can pay big dividends over time.

Cyrus Afzali is president of Astoria Communications, a suburban New York City-based PR consultancy serving clients in financial/professional services, technology and real estate. His clients include law firms, legal organizations, technology companies and several non-profit organizations. Before opening his PR consultancy in 2004, Afzali worked at several New York agencies as an editor and as a writer at several media outlets, ranging from small, daily newspapers to CNN Financial News.


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