Some of us work best — or even only really work at all — when we have a deadline. The sheer terror of knowing you have five hours to do the thing you should have been working at carefully over the last two weeks gives you the push necessary to get it done. I’m a big adrenaline junkie myself (I prefer that to “procrastinator”).
This week I was trying to help a friend who had until midnight to apply for a potential job, needed to put together a portfolio showing her prowess in the required field, and couldn’t figure out the software program she needed to do it in — she’d been relying on getting guidance from a colleague but hadn’t had time to do it that day. Six p.m. and my friend was a mess of anxiety, nerves, and self-derogation. My “help,” such as it was, was mostly comprised of reassuring her that she wasn’t a complete loser.
Cases like that show how it’s important to have your ducks lined up ahead of time. If you’re smart, you will adapt your cover letter and CV and portfolio to suit the particulars of each job that you’re applying for. But unless you’re applying for a government job, which is its own circle of hell, you should be able to prepare components of each and have them ready to deploy when necessary, on whatever platform necessary.
- Cover letter – This is what you use to introduce yourself to the employer. Know how to write one. Look up samples online, choose a voice (or several voices, to respond to different employers) but know more or less what it is you’ll want to say in every letter. Don’t just recite your CV; if the employer wants to know details, they’ll look there. Try as much as possible to match the tone of the job posting, or of the company’s branding. You want your cover letter to show that you’re a good match for the corporate culture, so your letter to edgy and modern Shopify will be different than your letter to the staid and traditional Governor General’s office, for example.
- CV – One CV used to do the job for everything — for practical reasons as much as anything, when they were typed on a typewriter. A well-prepared one might still do that, but it doesn’t hurt to tailor it to the job and computers make that so much easier than it used to be. Move your academic credentials around, rearrange your job skills to highlight the ones being sought by the new employer, change your opening mission statement to directly respond to the position on offer. Make sure that the important words in the posting are repeated here.
- Portfolio – This is mostly a problem for those who have work product to show, but in some industries it will tell prospective employers more than a letter and CV will ever do. You can send a polished letter and the most-up-to-date CV, but the portfolio tells employers what you can actually do. For me it was bylines. I kept most of my paper bylines, but the best — the articles I liked that got printed in good spots in well-regarded papers — went into an envelope to be ready for job applications. And then for any given job I’d choose a certain number of them to send along. Now that everything’s online, it would behoove me to gather links and have a page with those that I can pick and choose among. If I were looking for social media jobs, right now I’d be in a bit of a pickle because I don’t have a lot of non-personal work product. I’d have to generate examples, and then figure out how to put them together in a file to show them off (thus demonstrating not only my knowledge of social media platforms, but also other kinds of software that allowed me to create the file). For those of you whose work doesn’t lend itself to being gathered in a portfolio, this kind of presentation is done during the interview. You’ll have prepare narratives of your past work that show you in your best — verifiable — light.
I’ve been reading a book about looking for work in the “hidden” job market — jobs that aren’t advertised — and one big takeaway from that book is that proper prep work is vital to an efficient job search. Know what you’re looking for, where to look, and what questions to ask. Part of that proper prep work is also being ready when opportunity knocks. Don’t wait until you have a few hours till deadline to prepare one of the most important parts of your application.