We're all familiar with being on the application side of the job search, so Write For The Job spoke with Aaron Gottlieb, senior manager at digital advertising company Digiday, on what he looks for in candidates he wants to hire.
Write For The Job: What makes someone's professional materials stand out?
Aaron Gottlieb: Your resume should be a little different and unique, visually speaking. This doesn’t mean you should throw in unnecessary colors and shapes, especially if, like me, you don’t have a design-friendly bone in your body. But check out some bland examples of resumes online, and then find a way to differentiate yours. When I most recently updated mine a few years ago and didn’t honestly have anything special about my experience, I included a small box set to the right that summarized my work experience and skills in about five bullets. Sometimes a well-thought out idea like that will mean the difference between a first-round phone interview and the garbage can.
"A well-thought out idea like that will mean the difference between a first-round phone interview and the garbage can."
WFTJ: What is the most important quality you look for in candidates that is identifiable through their professional materials?
AG: I look for someone who is clear and focused with who they are and why they’re applying for this job. An 800-word autobiography is unlikely to catch an employer’s eye, but a well-made case about why your experience makes you a good fit for a role certainly will.
WFTJ: Why have most of the professional materials you've seen look similar?
AG: Resume: Most applicants for this job came through a third-party website. And when you apply through a site like that, it will often pull your work experience from your profile and present it to the employer as a poorly formatted, jumbled mess. Don’t take that risk. Always submit PDF versions of your materials so you can be sure the employer is seeing all information presented how you want them to see it.
Cover Letter: I get it, you’re probably applying for a lot of jobs, but it’s really obvious when you use a blanket cover letter for every application. And if you think you’ve perfected the generic-cover-letter-that-actually-passes-as-custom trick, guess what: It doesn’t. A great resume can really be spoiled by clear laziness. Remember, you’re trying to get someone to trust you with important work. Your 10 minutes, or - :gasp: - hour of genuine thought and effort will be worth it.
WFTJ: What are your top 5 tips for differentiating yourself as a candidate?
1. Gain a good understanding of what the company does. It’ll show in your conversation when you’re able to casually mention the fact that they just received another round of funding, or laid off 500 employees. The job you’re interviewing for is important, but don’t forget the larger business you’re trying to become a part of. And on that note…
2. Ask questions. Good ones. If you take one thing away from this post, let it be that someone who is genuinely curious about the job and company stands out. It shows serious interest beyond the fact that you need a job. Any job.
3. Follow up, both to say thanks and also to check in on the process. I used to assume it’s a given, but I’m constantly amazed at how few candidates actually do it. It shows you’re interested and keeps you from getting lost in the mix of tens or even hundreds of other candidates.
4. As I mentioned earlier, have a resume and/or cover letter that stands out visually. Whether that means it’s just a little more concise or has some strategic design elements, take any advantage you can to catch an eye.
5. Relax. There’s a difference between being professional and rigid, and showing your human side will make you much more relatable and likeable. Nobody wants to work with a soulless robot.
As head of audience development at Digiday Media, I’m responsible for growing our publishing brands’ audiences and the data we collect on them. I then work with our various departments to monetize those audiences, whether that comes in the form of a paid subscription, events ticket, sponsorship or something else.