As a journalist and someone with a Bachelor of Arts in English, words play a major role in just about everything I do. I understand not only their individual meanings, but how any combination of words weaved together can leave an impression, whether it’s a positive or negative one.
This includes the way that we use our words to present ourselves. In a job market as competitive and scarce as the one that currently exists in our society, everyone knows that they will truly have to “stand out” from the pack in order to land the position they want. Yet, sometimes it is the language we use in our attempt to stand out that damages our chances.
Now, I’m not claiming to be an expert on the matter, and sometimes, I’m guilty of not painting the most positive picture of my experience and abilities (and, you’ll notice, I just did it right there!). However, these are a few things that I’ve discovered are important to consider when trying to make that great first impression.
Put Yourself in the Other Person’s Shoes: Whether you are writing a cover letter or filling out an online dating profile, the person reading whatever you put out there is going to gain an impression of you from what lies within the text. You want to use that valuable space to give that person a reason to give you whatever opportunity you are seeking, which is why it is important to read over the text to make sure what is mentioned there would appeal to you, if you were the stranger reading it. You also want to make sure that you…
Use Confident Language: Let’s go back to the “cover letter” example for a second. Which of these hypothetical applicants, do you think, would get more interviews?
Applicant #1: I am confident that my vast experience and advanced proficiency in (insert field here) makes me an ideal candidate for this position.
Applicant #2: I possess decent skills in (insert field here) and, although I have more to learn, I am willing to continue my improvement over time.
I’m going with our first applicant, and you should, too. Think about it; employers want someone who can step in and do the job right now. If employers suspect that you will require extra time to get up to speed, that would not only hurt your productivity in any position, it would also hurt the company’s productivity as a whole. After all, they’re willing to put good money out there, so they want the ideal person-or at least, the best of the crop of applicants-for the job.
You want to sound confident in yourself right from the start, as believing in oneself is the only proven way to get others on the bandwagon. However, while confidence is paramount to success in all areas of life, it is equally as important to…
Know the Difference between Confidence and Arrogance: As I noted above,I think it is important to embellish about your background a little bit in a cover letter, or even in an interview, but you don’t want to take it too far. Employers don’t like feeling like their toes are being stepped on, and speaking as if you’re doing them a favor by applying, and even attempting to show them up in the interview, is one of the most surefire ways to sink yourself.
It’s totally acceptable-and strongly preferred by a majority of employers, actually-to be educated on the company. Having done prior research is a good thing, but make sure to keep it within the context of a professional, polite document or conversation.
Be Prepared to Talk About your Strengths… and Weaknesses: While you should spend the cover letter talking about your experience and the skills you bring to the table, there is one place where you’ll most likely have to talk about your weaknesses, as well-the interview.
We all know the question. ‘What would you say is your biggest strength?’ is then almost always immediately followed by the same question regarding a weakness. Some interviewers will ask for two or three of each.
For each of your strengths, come prepared with an example of what you have done in the past to apply that strength to a situation. Again, you want to embellish, but within reason-you don’t want to sound arrogant.
Weaknesses are a little tricky; a lot of the time, you’re not sure exactly how to word your response without making it sound like this weakness is your ultimate downfall. Trust me, I’ve done it, too. I believe, though, that the key when presenting weaknesses is to identify them as something that could be turned into strengths over time. In other words, don’t mention them just to leave them on the table as things you cannot change. Instead, offer insight as to how you are working to improve upon these weaknesses, or at least, how you intend to.
This desire to improve could prove helpful, as it could present you as someone who is resilient and solution-minded to the interviewer.