Jobs: Tips for looking good on paper and in person

A job seeker takes down information from a

A job seeker takes down information from a recruiter during the San Francisco Hire Event job fair on November 9, 2011 in San Francisco, California. (Credit: Getty/Justin Sullivan)

When Lynn Hazan, president of recruitment firm Lynn Hazan & Associates, found a candidate who had excellent experience on paper, she wanted to learn more about him. As it turned out, he was difficult to work with in person: He missed a scheduled talk with her, sounded annoyed with the staff on the phone and was unresponsive with follow-up materials. Ultimately he was not a good fit for the client.

This situation isn't uncommon. With all of the advice available about résumé and cover letter do's and don'ts, almost anyone can look like the perfect candidate. But just because a job candidate looks good on paper doesn't mean he will be a good fit for the company.

"While education, past work experience, qualifications and skill set will always be a major influence in hiring, there are many other factors that are used to determine if the candidate will be a good fit for the organization," says Samantha Lambert of Blue Fountain Media, a media design company in New York.

"I can immediately tell if a candidate spent time researching us and personalizing his job application as well as if he pumped out his résumé to any job that looked somewhat appealing. You can tell a lot from email correspondence with a candidate, but nothing is as substantial as meeting him in person to gauge his compatibility with the company culture."

Eszter Szikora, marketing communications manager at an information technology recruiting firm in Sunnyvale, Calif., remembers when his company was seeking to hire a senior recruiter.

"The candidate had excellent references and a pitch-perfect résumé with plenty of experience -- all the qualifications we required. On paper, she was the dream candidate to fill this job. However, when our team started to interview her in person, we quickly realized that she did not fit into our energetic, fun, multicultural environment," Szikora says.

"We ended up hiring someone who was not the picture-perfect candidate on paper. She did not have that much industry experience but she had the drive and the personality to succeed. Sometimes it is better to hire someone who really wants the job and has the right attitude than someone who has all the skills you need but simply does not fit the environment."

Ideally, the perfect candidate looks good on paper and in person. To achieve that goal, here are some tips from Lambert and Lynne Sarikas, executive director of the MBA Career Center at Northeastern University in Boston.

On paper:

1. Make sure your name and contact information are up top and clear so the hiring manager can contact you, Lambert says.

2. Always include a customized cover letter. "Don't expect the hiring manager to review your résumé and think about how your experience relates to what they need," Sarikas says. "Demonstrate the value you add by preparing a customized cover letter that clearly identifies how you can address their business needs. It is about them, not you. Use key words from the job description. Make them want to talk to you."

3. Don't be afraid to write something catchy in the subject line that will make you stand out among the competition and intrigue your reader, Lambert says.

4. Take the paper to the next level. "Use your networking skills to build a network within your target companies. Then, when a position becomes available, ask your contact to share your résumé and cover letter with the hiring manager. Increase your chances of being seen by leveraging your network," Sarikas says.

5. Remember: "The goal of your résumé and cover letter is not to get you the job, but to get you an interview. Make the hiring manager want to talk to you," Sarikas says.

In person:

6. Lambert suggests that you arrive early to explore the office, use the bathroom and get a glimpse of what the average day at the company looks like.

7. "Bring a notepad so you have the questions you want to ask as well as an opportunity to take notes," Sarikas says. "Bring extra copies of your résumé just in case it is needed. Be prepared with a list of references just in case you are asked."

8. "Do your research on the company and especially on the person that will be interviewing you," Lambert says.

9. "Dress professionally and conservatively; your best suit, polished shoes, impeccable grooming, etc. Make the best possible first impression," Sarikas says.

10. "Prepare at least five talking points as to why you would be the best fit for the position," Lambert says.

11. "Be yourself. Let them see the person behind the résumé. Your personal brand should be consistent across your cover letter, résumé and interview. Answer questions honestly and thoughtfully. Give them strong examples. Show how you can add value to the company and help solve their business problems," Sarikas says.

12. "Do not ask about compensation and incentives unless an offer has been extended," Lambert says.

13. Focus on what you can do for the company, not what they can do for you, Sarikas says.

14. Always thank the interviewer for his time and demonstrate your sincere interest. Be sure to follow up within 24 hours with a handwritten thank-you note. Customize the note by referring to something you learned or discussed and again confirm your interest, Sarikas recommends.

Rachel Zupek Farrell researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues for CareerBuilder.

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