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Help Wanted: How to Stand Out from the Crowd

Help Wanted
A single ad on Fort Lauderdale's Craigslist for an entry-level administrative support professional gets hundreds of applicants. How can you make sure you give yourself the best chance of landing an interview?

by Seth Eisenberg

What’s it take to get an entry-level job with a fast growing nonprofit?

With Broward County’s unemployment rate three times higher than it was ten years ago, every local job announcement with even just a single posting on Craigslist quickly generates hundreds of applications.

Most large firms have the benefit of a full-time HR team to check stacks of resumes and cover letters, but smaller enterprises such as PAIRS Foundation in Weston, Florida have to rely on an already stretched team to go through dozens of submissions each day.

While major hires are likely best screened by employment agencies, the cost becomes an expensive proposition when hiring administrative support staff.

Hunting for an entry-level position with a professional organization has changed a lot in the past 20 years. Resumes are tighter and more attractive than ever, reflecting the best built-in templates in Microsoft Office, and, quite often, a professional touch-up by capable friends or services that promise to make yours stand out from the rest.

Key words, such as competent, dependable, dedicated, efficient, and proven have become such common descriptions of every level of talent, track record, and ability that they often lose their meaning.

For those who have spent weeks or months looking for a job, it’s easy to understand the frustration of knowing each submission has only a small chance of getting more than a few moments of attention against a flood of competition.

So what can you do to give yourself the best chance of getting past the review stage to an interview and potential job offer?

As hard as this might be for those who have already applied for dozens of positions or more, when applying to become part of a relatively small team, it begins with making it personal.

That means doing your homework before simply hitting reply to a job posting with a generic cover letter and resume attached. Find out about the company and demonstrate both your knowledge and eagerness through your actions.

A cover letter that shows an applicant has taken time to visit the company website, blog and social media postings is far more likely to get attention. Prospective employers are impressed by people who prove they’ve done their homework and are motivated to want the position advertised, and not simply any job.

While it’s no guarantee of a job, I can’t remember a single time that someone who took time to write a cover letter that showed a direct connection to our corporate mission and vision didn’t at least get carefully considered. Those who have registered for our free local classes, subscribed to our blog or mailing list, or taken other actions to learn more about our community services and meet other team members have always gotten attention from our hiring and training team, whether or not there was an open position at the time.

It’s also important to make sure what you say in your cover letter and portray in your résumé is 100% accurate. Sitting on either side of the table for an interview in which it turns out experience and abilities detailed on an application was misleading or false is no fun for anyone.

Everyone has strengths that could potentially contribute to any organization. Whether or not your strengths are a good fit for a particular job opening in a particular company depends on many factors that are only partly about your personal background, experience and goals.

For our team, making sure you’ve shown us that you care about how you present yourself, that you share enough to help us see more about you as a person and as a professional, and that you’ve demonstrated through your actions that the opportunity is meaningful to you beyond just being “any job” will help you leap ahead of the competition.

While the chance of that leading to a job offer depends on the quality and fit of other applicants, it will give you the best shot at making sure your interest gets the attention it deserves.

Seth Eisenberg is CEO of the nonprofit PAIRS Foundation in Weston, Florida, an industry leader in relationship skills training.

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