“Yes, you really do need to target your resume and cover letter every time.” I find myself uttering this over and over again to my students. Whether itis in a class of design students or meeting one-on-one with a business student, they all doubt whether this is truly the case. They cannot believe that they need to go through the trouble of reading through a job description, interpreting what an employer is really asking for, and then demonstrating their interest and skill in these areas. They ask, “Do employers really care?” and some of them raise objections, feeling that targeting their resume is dishonest or “being fake.” After several years of struggling with this, I have realized I can relate this issue to something students are more familiar with, something they think about all the time – dating. When placed in the context of an everyday situation where they “target” their communication, they begin to see how important it is to enter into a relevant conversation with a potential employer from the outset.
To demonstrate this concept, I ask a group of students to imagine that they have just met someone they find incredibly interesting and attractive (Person A), and that naturally they would like to get to know Person A better. They are standing in a group of people and Person A mentions that her favorite band in the whole world is Flock of Seagulls. The question is, do the students walk away because they know nothing about Flock of Seagulls? Do they nod their heads and cast their eyes down hoping everyone else in the group is as ignorant as they are? Do they mention their own love of sea birds? Probably not. They likely search the recesses of their brains for any knowledge they may have about this 1980's band and share it with the group; anything so that they can stand out and impress Person A. They can ask a question or mention a similar band that they know of, but they will try their hardest to show a similar interest or at least some knowledge of this topic. I ask the group to imagine what would happen if they did not try to demonstrate an interest and inevitably they all say the same thing – they would never catch Person A’s attention; they would never stand out from the crowd.
The connection to targeting employers then becomes obvious. The students want to make an impression on this potential partner just as they want to make an impression on an employer. Employers are people too (which students often forget!) and this analogy helps students understand that the person reading their resume and cover letter likes to feel important and, similar to a potential boyfriend or girlfriend, the students need to show that they have been listening to an employer.
I like to take this one step further and have the students imagine that the situation is a little different – Person A mentions the student’s favorite band. The student will not just say, “Yeah, that’s my favorite band too.” In this situation most people mention their favorite song, a concert they attended where that band performed, or even their thoughts on the band’s upcoming album. With this explanation, a light bulb tends to go off – targeting is not about lying or being fake, it is about finding a common connection and being able to demonstrate it. Employers, like dates, will not know about these similar interests unless told! Employers are not mind readers (which students also often forget) and students will have to demonstrate their passion or strength on their resume and in their cover letter for employers to know it exists. In addition, the students have to prove that this line (or resume) is not the same marketing ploy that they use with everyone . . . it should be carefully constructed for each specific date, i.e., employment situation.
The dating analogy is easy to carry through the rest of the hiring process:
The first interview is like the first date – Each person is testing the other to see if it is a good match. On the first date, it is too soon to talk about commitment (salaries, benefits or vacation time).
Going to an interview without doing research is like going on a blind date – You know nothing about the person across from you and it can make the whole interview extremely uncomfortable because the topics of conversation do not match.
A panel interview is a date with Person A and a couple of his/her friends – The students want to make sure they are not ignoring any of the friends since they do not know who the real decision maker is.
The second interview is like meeting the parents – A general impression has already been made and the students need to solidify this impression and get approval.
The job offer is an offer of commitment – The students need to have thought through whether this is really a good fit for them. Are they sure they don’t want to see other people?
I find analogies to be one of the most useful tools in career counseling. Here are a few more that I use on a weekly basis:
A cover letter is like a movie preview, telling a brief interesting story that entices the reader to check out the main event.
A job description is like a recipe, because you need to read the entire listing very carefully and understand what is involved BEFORE beginning the process.
Crafting an “elevator pitch” is like McDonalds marketing their menu items, since there are a lot of offerings, but the pitch is targeted to an appropriate audience.
The prospect of a job search is scary and targeting the resume can be daunting, but being able to lighten the process with comparison to another familiar (or everyday) situation seems to make the job search more understandable and less overwhelming. I think it may also teach them a little something about dating in the process!
Kayla Krupnick, Ed.M, M.A. is an Assistant Director in the Office of Career Planning at Golden Gate University and she teaches Career Development at The Art Institute of California – San Francisco. She holds an Ed.M. and an M.A. in Counseling Psychology from Teachers College at Columbia University and a B.A. in Urban Studies from Vassar College. Kayla has also counseled students at NYU, LaGuardia Community College, The New School, and Columbia University. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.