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What Makes a Good Job Application?

By Daniel Bobinski

Let’s face it, sometimes you’re in a job and it’s not a good fit. Moving on may be the best option, but it’s important to do it wisely. What follows is a checklist of what I look for in a job application when companies ask me to help with their hiring process. However, you can also turn this around and use the checklist to review applications coming into your organization.

Take time to draft a good cover letter

Most people devote a lot of time to polishing their resume, asking others to suggest improvements and provide a critical review. This is not usually the case with cover letters, and it shows. Because of that, I always ask for applicants to send cover letters, as they give me a much better insight into what kind of person I might be looking at.

My recommendations for cover letters are:

  • Make it a letter, not a paragraph. A cover letter represents how you would draft a letter to a client. If all I get is one or two paragraphs that tell me how wonderful you are, I won’t be impressed. A cover letter is an opportunity to personalize yourself, to show me you’ve done a bit of research into the company and the position for which you’re applying. I’m looking for three-to-five paragraphs, and if you can list specific accomplishments that match the job requirements listed in the job ad, extra kudos to you. That scores points with me.
  • Keep it professional. Over-familiarity doesn’t impress, and neither does over-confidence. One applicant recently wrote, “It would be in your best interest to interview me.” My IMMEDIATE reaction was, “Oh, really?”, and the resume instantly found itself in the reject pile. I don’t care how qualified someone might be technically, all positions require a modicum of manners and informing me that something is in my best interest is NOT good manners. Unless the job description asks for someone with an over-inflated ego, such over-confidence is almost guaranteed to lead to an instant rejection.
  • Pay attention to your grammar. It amazes me how many applicants start each sentence in a cover letter with the word “I”. If the word “I” starts each of your sentences (“I was instrumental in …” “I received such-and-such an award …” “I am eager to …” etc.), it suggests you will correspond with others in a similar way. That’s not impressive, especially for senior positions.

It’s a given that the cover letter is supposed to talk about you, but many ways exist to structure sentences without starting with the word “I”. If you can’t think of any, ask other people for help.

Take time to adjust your resume

Resume reviewers are not only looking for reasons to interview you; they’re also looking for reasons not to interview you. Therefore, while it’s a good idea to ask others to critique your resume and offer suggestions, you’ll also want to make sure your resume matches each job description as best you can. In other words, customize your resume each time you submit it.

But don’t forget to proof it before hitting “send.” I recently received a resume for a high-level finance position in a large nonprofit organization, but the resume stated that the person believed his skills would be of great benefit to Amazon.com.

Other resume tips

  • Keep your formatting consistent. If you capitalize all the words in your current job title, then capitalize all the words in ALL your job titles. Another example: If you use “space/dash/space” to separate years of employment (e.g., 1998 – 2005), then do that on EVERY date. Inconsistencies stand out and look like you have poor attention to detail. Choose one formatting standard and stick with it.
  • Tell me you want the job I’m advertising. I’m a fan of creating a specific “Objective” as the first line item and drawing a direct correlation to the position for which you’re applying. If the job ad is for “Director of Operations,” then you gain great advantage by stating your objective is to be a director of operations in that specific industry. Conversely, if your objective is generic, such as, “To provide quality results that make an impact in the work environment,” or worse yet, if you don’t list an objective at all, you lose points.
  • Put the most pertinent information on the top half of the first page. I want to think “WOW” in the first six seconds, and the “wow” factor should link to results you’ve achieved. Rare is the job that requires a bullet-point list of all the computer programs you can use. Instead, list four or five bullet points that provide specific accomplishments and use direct verbiage from the job ad if possible.
  • Keep resumes to one or two pages. A one-page resume may not be enough to list all your accomplishments and how they correlate to the requirements listed in the job ad. I am quite content looking at a two-page resume, or even two-and-a-half pages. One applicant’s seven-page, nine-point font resume went straight to the “thanks-but-no-thanks” pile. Reviewers don’t have time to read a book. If you think you need that much space to demonstrate that you’re qualified, you aren’t qualified enough in the “professionalism” category.
  • Don’t include your photo or a personal logo. These days, reviewers often look at your social media and they will find out what you look like. Unless you’re applying to be a model or a graphic designer, photos or logos will not impress, and unless asked for, including them indicates you don’t understand what it means to be professional.

These are most of the factors I consider when reviewing job applications. Obviously, other reviewers will have different preferences, so you might consider this list a starting point for discussion if you’re embarking on a new job search. And, like I said, if you review resumes as part of your job, perhaps this list will help you identify higher-quality applicants.

Daniel Bobinski, M.Ed. is a best-selling author and a popular speaker at conferences and retreats. For more than 30 years he’s been working with teams and individuals (1:1 coaching) to help them achieve excellence. He was also teaching Emotional Intelligence since before it was a thing. Reach Daniel on his office phone, 208-375-7606, or through his website, www.MyWorkplaceExcellence.com.

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