This afternoon I had an encounter with a woman who came up to me with a list of 21 written questions she was to answer as part of an online job application. In addition to the 21 questions, she had nicely composed a second sheet of the corresponding 21 answers she had formulated and wanted my opinion on them.
One of the questions was, “Why do you want to work here?” The employer which I’ll not name for reasons of confidentiality is an office of 5 Doctors; the position she was applying for was a Medical Receptionist. So that’s the background. Her answer to the question posed was, “I want to work in this office because it would be a good place to learn from the Doctors and gain more skills which I would find very helpful.” So what do you think of that response?
As I read the answer she gave, I was simultaneously doing quick assessment of the woman in front of me. Now I’d never met her before; I’d never even seen her before. All I had to go on was a 3 minute introduction and in addition to her appearance and her voice, I had her answers which gave me a glimpse into among other things, her motivation.
Here was an answer that was all about her you see. It was all about being in a good place for her own growth and gaining more skills. To what end? To take to another employer in the future or to benefit the 5 Doctors who were going to spend their time presumably training and teaching her? I suggested an alternative; perhaps she might be better off to say that she wanted to work there in order to provide the Doctor’s with administrative support in order that they might have more time to devote what they do best; treat patients.
Now this answer shifts the focus from what the young woman would benefit from in the job to what she actually offers to the employer(s). She gave a look that suggested she was processing the alternative and after a reflective pause she said, “I get it. That’s better.” When I asked her why she thought it better, she demonstrated an understanding of the point I was attempting to make all on her own. Good for her.
This is a fundamental position to take whether you are writing a cover letter or resume, or answering questions in the midst of a job interview. Shift the focus from what you want or need in a job to demonstrating or stating what the employer would gain from hiring you. In other words, what is your value proposition. Hire me and you get ____________. Hire me and I solve your problem. Hire me and here’s the benefit you derive.
It’s not about now, nor has it ever really been about you quite frankly. It’s about what you can do for the employer. Now most of the time what this translates into is money and how much are you going to either cost them or make them. If you present yourself as a cost to the employer (as in you’ll need extensive training or with your credentials you’re not likely to stay long) you will likely be passed over. If on the other hand you can competently market yourself in a way that they see will make them money, you become a commodity of higher value.
So how do you make an employer money you ask? Well if you’re in retail that’s easy; you educate customers on the benefits of purchasing products and services and then they do so increasing the stores profits. If you are in the service industry, you provide excellent service which benefits the people you serve, and they are less dependent on services and more empowered to do things on their own, eventually becoming self-sufficient and independent.
But to some this sounds like boasting; a very tired objection but real nonetheless. You were told not to boast about your abilities as a child growing up and maybe were even told its unflattering, ungodly, shows conceit or arrogance. It’s not boasting however; it’s marketing your skills, abilities and capabilities in such a way that you become attractive to the interviewer. You want them to say to themselves, “This one is just what we need and we can’t let them get away.”
Look at the employer’s values which you can typically find out by doing some homework on the company itself. What do they stand for? What motivates them? What is it about what they believe and how they operate that separates them from their competition. Now ask yourself if what you have found out is similar to your own values and beliefs. If the answer is a resounding yes, you’re going to need to produce some examples of your work in the past that demonstrate your values and beliefs. Otherwise, without those concrete examples, you may be dismissed as just telling them what you think they want to hear, and anyone can do that.
Invest in the necessary research to learn about the company BEFORE you apply and a second time BEFORE an interview. Don’t wait and say, “I’ll look them up if they give me an interview; I don’t want to waste my time.” I’m telling you that if you don’t do your homework in advance of your cover letter and resume revisions, you are indeed wasting your time.