No one would advise a job applicant to share the personal details or his or her life when angling for a job. But there’s one area in which getting personal really makes a difference in terms of your odds of getting hired, and that’s the cover letter. In short, you better seem like you know something about the company, or your resume is probably going to get tossed in the trash.
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“Working at a small startup, we are all intimately involved in hiring processes,” writes Lisa Kennelly at Medium. “As a result, even though I’m not an ‘HR’ person, I’ve seen every one of the 74 applications that have come in over the last month for our open Android developer position. …None of the applicants referenced the app they would be building. Less than five mentioned our company by name.”
This is especially ridiculous, Kennelly says, because the app is freely available for download. Any truly interested candidate could try it out, and make reference to the specifics of the app in their cover letter. Instead, they sent generic applications that could have been for any job at any company.
It’s possible, Kennelly says, that as Android developers, they figure they’re in such high demand that they don’t have to make the effort. This is a mistake, especially when applying for a job at a small company. No one wants to hire someone who would be just as happy working anywhere else, especially in a startup environment, where people tend to wear many hats. (See the example of Kennelly, a marketing person, reviewing CVs for developer positions.)
So what should you do instead?
1. Research the company.
Google the company’s name. Look at their website. Do independent research on salaries and job titles in the PayScale Research Center. Find out everything there is to know about the company, before you apply.
2. Try out their products, if possible.
Download their app, read their publication, eat their food, if that’s what they make. Get familiar with what they do.
3. Talk to people who’ve worked there.
It’s a small world in most industries, and thanks to LinkedIn, you’re more likely than ever before to know someone who’s worked at the company you’re applying to. Ask what it’s like to work there, and what kinds of people thrive. And, if you’re closely connected enough, ask your friend to put in the good word.
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