Last month, I discussed the importance of increasing your activity and setting reasonable stretch goals to get the results you want in your career transition journey. One of the essential activities of someone who is looking for the next step in their career is submitting resumes and cover letters to a recruiter or an employer for a specific opportunity—what I like to call “getting paper out.”

You cannot control the job market and make positions materialize out of thin air, but when possible, I often recommend setting a goal of getting five pieces of paper out per week. This requires you to stay accountable and keep tabs on opportunities through your network, advertisements, recruiters, or LinkedIn.

To apply or not to apply.

How can you know if an opportunity is worth applying for and find that balance between applying for a good number of positions but also high-quality positions?  First, you need to draft your Top 12. This is a list of priorities you have for your next opportunity, and could include things like location, work-life balance, job responsibilities, etc. Once you have your Top 12, you can use them as a filter to decide when to throw your hat in the ring.

I recommend starting by applying for positions that meet at least 40% of your Top 12 criteria.  If you find that is creating more activity than you can reasonably keep up with, then raise that percentage to 50%. You have to balance quality and quantity.

Additionally, as you filter these positions through your Top 12, make decisions based on facts from the position description and other sources, not assumptions about the job or the company. This helps you to take what can be an emotional decision and make it a logical one.

Your resume indicates where you want to go.

Good companies with fulfilling jobs and a great work environment are flooded with applications when they have open positions.  For applicants who are looking for the next step in their career, it is essential to differentiate yourself from the crowd.  An often-overlooked way of doing that is by fine-tuning your resume and cover letter for each opportunity.

In today’s competitive job market, you have to have a good resume. Period. And I’m not just talking about one that is free of typos. A good resume is appealing aesthetically, has solid, measurable achievements, and sends a clear message about you that aligns with where you want to go in your career. Make it skimmable and easy to read. Employers are trying to make quick decisions in those early rounds of submissions, so help them to see—even at a glance—that you are a quality candidate.

Tailor your cover letter to each opportunity.

Many people believe that the use of a cover letter is a waste of time, and in some situations they are right. Cover letters can feel cumbersome, and often candidates will submit a stock cover letter drawing attention to their top achievements, skills, or leadership characteristics. This is a mistake. An employer can spot a form letter a mile away, and receiving one makes it clear that the applicant is focused on casting a wide net, rather than the quality of the position and a value fit with the organization.

There are more creative ways to get this information to the right audience that sells your fit/alignment with that specific opportunity.  Your cover letter is an excellent opportunity to differentiate yourself from other applicants by crafting a letter that makes the employer feel as though you wrote it just for them.  Take the time to do some research and figure out which specific person to address the letter to. Create a connecting point with that person or the organization. Use the letter to show that you know the organization, and include four or five elements that indicate that you are aligned with the opportunity. The cover letter also gives you opportunities to address up front the elements that you don’t have in your experience or skills, and how you plan to overcome that.

You can also set yourself apart by getting paper out for a particular opportunity via email and by snail mail, creating two touchpoints.  Following up on an opportunity anywhere between 10 to 14 days after applying is an appropriate timeline, and will help you stand out from others in the application pool.

It doesn’t take writing a dissertation to show an employer why you are a great fit for their open position. A concise, thoughtful, well-researched cover letter and an easy-to-read resume with a clear message will put you lightyears ahead of the competition, and increase your chances of finding a position that fits your Top 12 and furthers your career.

Author: Jim WiederholdJim believes his 39 years of experience--particularly his more than 26 years in healthcare--has prepared him well for what he does. His wealth of experience spans key areas, including finance, operations, management, leadership, sales and sales management, corporate, contingency, contractual and retained recruiting, outplacement and transition work and executive coaching.