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The Best Type of Applicant

Applicants communicate four types of messages: that they (a) want a job, (b) want a type of job, (c) want this job, or (d) want this job and can do this job.

My team and I love to help people do and feel their very best job sharing themselves to their prospective employers—which means ensuring that they communicate that they not only want the job, but that they can also do the job.

It is important for any candidate out there to learn what kind of message they are communicating as they go through the application and hiring process. While no single candidate is one dimensional, here is a breakdown of the four categories from a recruiter’s perspective:

Candidates that want a job.

This is the type of candidate who has submitted an application (not necessarily a good one). Recruiters review the application materials and are often puzzled as to why this candidate is applying: there’s no clear connection with their skills to the role, indication of passion or cultural fit, or that they even know what the job is all about.

The catch here is that most of the time, these are the candidates who are most desperate for a job—which is why it doesn’t quite seem to fit (when you are trying to land anything out there, you don’t have the time to tailor each application right?). While submitting materials might help these candidates feel like they are doing everything they can, the truth of the matter is that in desperate ties, quality beats quantity. An applicant needs to do more than just shotgun applications out and hope for a chance to hit a target. Firm recruiters don’t like to feel like they don’t matter (lawyers don’t like to feel like they don’t matter, because clients don’t like to feel like they don’t matter). Candidates need to do their homework and research the firm, role, and application instructions.

Candidates that want a type of job.

This is the type of candidate who took some time to indicate a clear field, role, or industry, and also took some time to support this aspiration with work experience and anecdotes. These candidates make it through to a screening interview, but tend not to move past that screen. Why?

They’ve done more than the minimal work—but not anymore that can help them convey something other than their enthusiasm (and while enthusiasm is great when your credentials are perfect, enthusiasm alone isn’t enough to compensate for a candidate’s shortcomings when there are plenty of other competitive applicants waiting in line). If you’re a candidate who has been getting first round interviews but not getting far beyond that, you will need to do the necessary homework to better advocate that you truly understand the nature of the position you have applied for. (For more, read some tips about your resume and interview working hand-in-hand).

Candidates that want this job.

This applicant’s resume and cover letter looks as if it was tailored to the application posted, and during the screener interview, impressed the interviewer by comfortably using the industry’s language to convey a clear understanding of why they are interested in this field and particular role. There isn’t anything else that this candidate can do right?

Not exactly. Once everything is great on paper, a candidate needs to make sure that they don’t mess it up in person. In the competitive field of legal services, the candidate must also demonstrate the right “fit.” It’s not so much that this candidate was not a good candidate or had a weak application—it’s just that there is probably a better one out there. The little things are what will matter here: did you look at the firm photographs to see if you are dressed according to what the firm presents? Have you connected with your network or recruiter to discuss the culture of the employer? Is your personal and professional narrative compelling?

Candidates that want this job and can do this job.

By now, you have an idea of what kind of candidate this is:

Application materials support their candidacy for the position and the firm or company; during the interview, this candidate has built on his or her specific ability competently complete the work and conveyed an understanding of how their work contributes to the team’s success. Interviewers who meet with the candidate immediately get the impression that the candidate sincerely understands the challenges of the role, the team, and the culture (frankly, they could have mistaken the candidate as an internal candidate).

Firms and companies are doing everything they can to make hiring great candidates easier and faster. Without getting too lost in the process and possibly missing great opportunities, make sure you are doing everything you can to maximize your opportunities to land the role you want.

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