Unless you have been living under a rock, you have undoubtedly heard the tagline for Head and Shoulders: “You only have one chance to make a first impression.” http://www.headandshoulders.com/en-US/index.jspx

headandshoulders

And in this age of gnat-like attention spans and information overload, the ability to make a positive first impression in 15 seconds or less has never been more vital whether it be attracting that delectable member of the opposite gender (or your own, if you are so inclined), pitching a story to an irritable editor/reporter/blogger or applying for a job to a stressed-out hiring manager. There is no time for beating around the bush; you have to get to the point, pronto.

Just this past week, I was given the flattering opportunity to deliver a PowerPoint presentation on cover letters and resumes to a group of University of Oregon undergraduates. Coming as no surprise, I had their full attention as they are all nervously looking past their upcoming graduation and what will inevitably follow, entering and (hopefully) successfully competing in an incredibly brutal job market.

Without rehashing the entire presentation, here are some of the key points that I humbly advocated to the soon-to-be-entering-the-job-market competition:

● Get to the Point. Find out who is the hiring manager and send an e-mail to this person, don’t just send your cover letter and resume into digital never-never land. Copy and paste your cover letter and attach your resume. Ask for the order immediately in your cover letter. Tell she or he what distinct value you bring to the job and exactly why you want to work for this particular company, non-profit, trade association, PR agency, governmental agency.

● Sweat the details. Check and then double-check your prose. Read your letter and resume out loud. Better yet, ask a colleague to proof it for you. Another pair of eyes is better, particularly a pair of eyes that are more critical than yours. Don’t rely on spell checkers as they will miss the wrong word spelled right (e.g. “their” instead of “there” of vice versa or worse, “pubic” instead of “public”). And at all costs, make sure you do not misspell the hiring manager’s name or the name of the company in your cover letter (worth a one-way ticket to Hell).

● Think Twitter when writing your cover letters and resume. Why Twitter? The answer is that Twitter forces you to communicate in 140 characters or less, and it is amazing in what you can achieve in so few characters (many Baby Boomers have trouble with this concept to their own peril). Your sentences in your cover letter and the phrases in your resume should be short, punchy and direct. The clock is ticking. It is time for your red-zone offense to covert as the time is expiring. www.twitter.com

● Digital is forever. In the corporate world, we used to say that “Digital is discoverable.” Translated: a plaintiff’s attorney in a securities litigation case can demand all the e-mails and electronic memos on a given subject despite the fact that they were deleted. There are no shredding machines for digital content. Virtually all digital is recoverable. The point here is that anything that you do on Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, Flickr etc., regardless of the friendly intent can and will be found.

● That leads to the next point…Google yourself; they will. What may have been a goofy photo this year with a bong pipe (e.g. Olympic Swimmer Michael Phelps) or a topless expression of sexual joy reminiscent of “Girls Gone Wild,” can become an embarrassing incident causing a hiring manager to question your sense of judgment. My point here is to have fun, but don’t make any career limiting decisions while you are still in college or just graduated. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Phelps

phelps

● Speak in their language, not yours. Whether an entity is for profit or not, they are expending a certain amount of capital on someone who is going to bring in unique skills to solve problems. They are looking for a return on investment (ROI). So what are some of the key phrases (hint: ROI is one of them) that they want to hear or their software is going to be searching for? How about: Message Development; Social Media; Search Engine Optimization (SEO); Employee Communications; Crisis Communications; Investor Relations; Media Relations; Analyst Relations; Media Training; Brand Management, Marketing Success, Multi-Media Skills, Presentation Skills and many more. Use these words to your full advantage.

● Don’t just talk-the-talk when it comes to social media; walk-the-walk. Ever wondered why you should start your own blog? Think personal branding and marketing. How about pushing toward 500 connections on LinkedIn? Think networking, networking and networking. How about hundreds of friends on Facebook or thousands of Tweets on Twitter? The reason for all of the above is that companies are inevitably going to figure out how to monetize social media. They need people who embrace this trend. Remember: Social media is not a fad. If you don’t believe me, then ask yourself why Goldman Sachs recently put $500 million into privately held Facebook, started a $1.5 billion hedge fund to invest in the company and why Facebook has an estimated $50 billion market cap. http://www.economist.com/node/17853336

● Seek out the advice of career counselors who know how to unlock the hidden job market, not just the jobs that everyone applies for online. One example is Dennis Thompson of Pleasanton, CA, who wrote “Four Degrees to Your Dream Job.” Think of it this way, you may be much closer via your contacts and friends to an influential decision maker than what you ever thought was possible. Now back to the main point: How are you going to make the best use of your critical 15 seconds to make a lasting first impression? http://fourdegreestoyourdreamjob.blogspot.com/2011/01/should-you-stay.html

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