I love that so many interviews happen at coffee shops. Not only is it wildly entertaining, but it gives me plenty of useful information to share with you. During my most recent eavesdropping session, I got some tips on how to make yourself an appealing candidate, even when you lack experience.
A young man showed up wearing jeans and a button-down shirt, carrying a file folder, and looking a little nervous. Let’s call him Jacob (which happens to be the most popular boy’s name in 2000, the year he was likely born). Jacob went to the cashier and asked to speak with Amy. After a few minutes, she came out and joined him at a table. A bit of back and forth about the unusually sunny weather, and then, as I suspected it would, the interview started. By this time, I’m giddy with excitement—a real, live, unplanned job interview with a front row seat.
Amy asked him a few questions about his schedule. She took about ten minutes to explain their training program, the expectations of different shifts, the employee discount details, and the hourly pay. Jacob asked a few clarifying questions as the interview went along, but by now, I’m getting irritated. How come she wasn’t asking him any questions about his experience in food service or customer service? Cue the sad music—clearly, I wasn’t going to get anything interesting or insightful by listening in.
Almost ready to plug my headphones back in and resume working, Amy said, “I just want to tell you how much I loved your resume and cover letter.” In an instant, she had my full attention again. Finally we’re getting to the good stuff! At this point, I didn’t even care if I was being super obvious. Clearly, I’m going to get some intel that will help all of mankind—or at least job-seekers.
“I rarely interview anyone who doesn’t have any prior work experience. But based on your cover letter, I decided to make an exception. I’m so glad I did.” And then it was over. Amy asked him if he would like to start in a few days and he says yes, without hesitation. They shook hands, Jacob left, and Amy went back behind the counter and disappeared. What?! No way could I concentrate on my work without knowing what she liked. You can’t leave a career coach sitting on the edge of her seat like that, Amy. I went up to the counter and asked for her.
I introduced myself and asked if she’d be willing to share with me what made such an impression on her. Here’s what she said: Jacob was a high school student with no prior work experience. But he didn’t let his lack of work experience stop him; he wrote his resume highlighting the skills he had gained through volunteer work, school activities, and sports. His cover letter was all about his love for coffee and cooking. He told a personal story about his connection to the smell of coffee and how he’s written several school papers about fair trade coffee, which he got interested in after an international trip with his family.
“It was refreshing to read a well-constructed resume and cover letter that was written just for this job. I could tell he took the time to think through how his skills connected to the job, yet he kept it simple and straightforward. His enthusiasm and eagerness were compelling—we love to hire people who want to work here.” Amy said that she normally doesn’t interview people without any prior work experience, but Jacob’s resume, and particularly his cover letter, had made him stand out.
It’s easy to dismiss Jacob’s success because “it’s only an entry level, minimum wage job he’s applying to.” But if you’re plugged into the job market like I am, you know that’s not the case. I’ve had several clients who have secured interviews based on their cover letter and resume combo. Here’s the takeaway from Jacob and Amy’s story:
- Take a chance and apply for the job you want by demonstrating you have the relevant skills for the job. Make the connections clear on your resume—don’t make the reader work too hard to figure out what you’re trying to tell them.
- Employers want to know you want the very job you’re applying for, not any job at the company, one that will give you experience, or anything that sounds remotely like something you could do. They want to know why THAT job.
- Maybe you’re not qualified or are applying for a “long shot” job. Use your cover letter to address the elephant in the room (i.e., qualifications, change in industry, etc.) and the value that you’d bring to the role.