Most people who begin their job search perceive it with an air of need. After all, we all need jobs, right? And yet, because they view it from a somewhat negative perspective, the job becomes something that an employer must confer upon them. While this idea is somewhat true, there is a more relevant concept present. The job search process is not about what you, the job seeker, can get from the decision maker. In fact, it is the opposite — it’s all about what you can offer and do for the organization.
When you make this mental shift, you begin to see that this is an exchange of value: you are providing your intelligence, skills, knowledge, and experience to help solve problems for the employer. In exchange, they are paying you. The service you are giving them is quite valuable. But to land an interview, which will hopefully enable you to land the job, you have to consistently articulate how you will contribute to the enterprise and how you will move their agenda forward. Below are a few of my favorite ways to do this.
Include the right elements
We all know to submit a resume (or curriculum vitae, if we are going for university or Research and Development (R&D) roles). And often, job advertisements specifically request a cover letter. However, this is not always the case. Even when you don’t see explicit directives instructing you to submit a cover letter, typically, you should do so anyway.
The cover letter gives you another strategic opportunity to showcase what you can offer the employer, and make your case as to why you will be an asset. It allows you to take a deeper dive in helping the decision maker see a one-to-one match between what their needs are and how you can help them achieve their mission. The resume alone doesn’t afford you this opportunity.
The purpose of every job is to solve problems. When I hire you as a chemE in my company or a safetyE intern for my research lab, I am bringing you in to provide value by solving problems. The problems will be multi-dimensional and will include those of a technical, engineering, and scientific nature, as well as those associated with hard business and soft business skills. You will be solving problems in communications, team building, and project management.
Your goal in the job application process is to make abundantly clear what problems you have solved in the past and are solving presently, and how this experience will enable your success in solving problems for the employer in the future. Aim to elucidate your achievements from each of your experiences in the following format: problem, solution, result.
Quantify your accomplishments
Numbers help me understand the context and significance of your problem-solving abilities. When you write that you increased the number of AIChE members in your section by 50%, improved the efficiency of the plant by 30%, contributed to a new formulation that is being implemented in 35 new products that led to $35,000 in new sales in the first month, decreased costs by X, mentored or trained Y new colleagues, or won two Nobel Prizes in Chemistry, you are making it very easy for the reader to appreciate the value that you provide.
Quantifying your success is especially important when you are pivoting between fields or industries, or shifting from one career milestone to another (such as finishing up your master’s degree and moving on to a permanent role).
The major key to standing out in a job application is to make sure you customize. Don’t take the easy way out and send in a boilerplate resume and cover letter; instead, research the organization and reference facets of its products, culture, organization, and its place in the industrial landscape. For example, you could write “I recently read in The Wall Street Journal that your company is looking to deploy AI in its pipeline repair program. This was especially interesting to me because for the last five years, I have been honing my skills in various aspects of AI, deep learning, and machine learning in chemical engineering systems within the oil and gas industry. I can see that my exposure to these types of innovations will add value to your organization immediately.”
Make it easy for the reader
As I am reading your resume and cover letter, I should not have to be an archeologist to sift through it to find the exciting treasure of your value. It should be crystal clear how you will be a catalyst for triumph in my organization. Use a headline on your resume that highlights your high-level skill sets and problem solving abilities. Put your list of skills towards the top of the documents. Create easy ways for the decision maker to know why they should invite you in for an interview.
Non-technical experience is relevant
Not all of us have had internships at Prestigious Chemical Company X, and that’s ok! When I was an undergraduate in mathematics, my part-time job was working in the basement of my university’s pool hall. My job was taking money as people rented the tables and dispensing billiard balls. One may dismiss this $4.25/hour (!!) gig as unimportant, but even at the tender age of 20, I knew that I was gaining skills that would be relevant to any employer. I was learning accounting, customer service, facilities management, and even risk assessment and safety protocol development, all of which I made sure to include in my resume and cover letter, drawing attention to the fact that the business skills I had developed here would allow me to be an asset for employers.
Note: Concepts in this blog build on and have appeared in other works by the author, including her presentations, articles, columns, and book, Networking for Nerds (Wiley, 2015).