Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain
Source: Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain

Relentlessly, you’ve been told to network. You may even have been urged to cold-contact target employers. But if you’re reading this article, chances are those tactics haven’t worked for you or you’ve been too scared to use them.

The good news is that many people land good jobs without networking. They just answer job ads. The key is in how you answer them.

These tips are from my new book Careers for Dummies.

The first tip is obvious but I wouldn't mention it unless many people fail to use it. Apply only for jobs for which you're a solid fit. If the employer wanted to hire a misfit, s/he would have hired Cousin Gomer. You have only so much gas in your emotional gas tank and if you waste it on ill-suited job prospects, you’ll likely be on empty before you land a good job. To find on-target jobs, set up alerts at major websites such as Indeed, LinkedIn, and Craiglist, and on niche sites such as that of your professional association.

That’s basic. What will give you an edge over other applicants is how you handle three things: your resume— If you decide to send it. (More on that later)—, your work sample, and your cover letter.

Application letters

But you protest, “These days, there’s usually no room for a cover letter. You apply online and all you can do is fill out their application and attach your resume.”

No problem. Even in those situations, you can simply append your letter to the top of your resume.

Here’s a model:

Hello,

I was pleased to see your ad for a clinical social worker because I’ve heard good things about your agency, I live just a few blocks from your office, and most important,

I’m a good fit for the position:

Job description. (Insert, verbatim, the item in the job description you best meet)

How I meet it: (Insert your answer.)

Do the same for the next two items in the job description that you best meet.

Of course, there’s more to me than can be described in a chart. People say they (insert something positive about yourself, for example, that you manage to stay upbeat even under pressure.)

So I’m hoping to meet with you.

Sincerely,

Jane Jobseeker

Resume/LinkedIn profile

Adapt your resume to the job. Have a title that matches the job, although not so closely that it looks like you change it to match each job you apply for.

Right below the title, include a summary that lists three major strengths that would appeal to your target employer. If you don’t have three or at least two, instead of a summary, use an objective that describes the sort of job you’re looking for.

Next, in describing each job you’ve had (or your school experience) list two to four bullets describing accomplishments or at least skills that would impress the target employer.

Tip: If your resume is unlikely to be top-of-the-stack, for example, if you’re a career changer, don’t include your resume, even if it’s required—It will only hurt your case. Of course, some employers will reject you for not having included your resume but when the day is done, people with not-competitive resumes will more quickly land a good job if they stand and fall on the aforementioned letter.

Work sample

Artists and performers have long submitted a work sample with their job application. But others should too. For example, a salesperson might submit a brief business plan for what s/he'd do if hired. A software engineer might submit a piece of code. A career changer might include a white paper. That’s like a term paper whose topic is relevant to your target job. For example, in applying for that social worker job, an appropriate title might be “Promises Practices in Working with Abusive Parents.” A white paper can at least partially compensate for lack of experience because it suggests you have relevant current knowledge.

Interviews

Expect “Tell me about yourself,” “Why do you want to work here,” “Tell me about a problem you faced,” and, “Why did you leave your previous job?” If you have a strong answer, it can go a minute. If it’s a weak one—like you’ve been unemployed for two years because you’ve been trying to find yourself by meditating in the Himalayas—keep it to under 15 seconds. That way, more of the interview is spent on your strengths.

Have a few PAR stories ready: a problem you faced at work (or, if you’re young, in school), the clever or dogged way you addressed it, and the positive result.

Thank-you note

Do send a thank-you email but it should say more than thank you. You can remind the interviewers of an answer you know they liked: “I’m pleased that you appreciated the blueprint for how I’d structure my day.” And if you flubbed an answer, your thank-you letter gives you a second bite at the apple: “I’ve given further thought to your question about X. (Insert new and improved answer.)

The takeaway

Use:

  • a point-by-point application letter
  • a targeted resume or no resume if it's likely to make you look worse than other applicants
  • a work sample
  • prepared answers for those few stock questions
  • tell a few PAR stories.

Do those things and you’ve greatly boosted your chances of landing a good job—even if you hate networking.

I ad-lib a video on this topic on YouTube.

This article is part of a series of simple career tips drawn from my new book, Careers for Dummies. The others are:

Choosing a Career

14 Careers to Consider and 5 Overrated Ones

Tips for Succeeding on the Job

Five Preachy Pleas

Managing Your Time and Your Procrastination

Stress Reduction for the Stress-Prone

Tips on Management and Leadership

Low-Risk/High-Payoff Self-Employment

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