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How to Put Your Best Foot Forward: Candidate’s Guide to Representing Yourself

The Benefactor Group search team interviews hundreds of candidates for executive searches each year. As a retained search partner, our role is to narrow the pool of candidates to those whose skills and experience best align with the needs of the position and the organization. This happens through a series of interactions with each candidate including informal question-and-answer calls, application review, and more structured behavioral interviewing. 

We strive to offer a transparent and candidate-centered approach. We recognize and seek to minimize the burden associated with participating in an application and interview process. We serve as extensions of our clients and treat candidates with the same level of respect they would offer their donors or close supporters. As a candidate, there are ways that you can shape your own experience and help us serve as your advocate throughout the process.

Building Your Application

When building your application, keep in mind the purpose of the materials you are submitting. They are your first impression as a candidate for the position. 

1) Your Resume

Your resume serves as the record keeper of your past experiences. This is where you highlight your top accomplishments for each relevant position. Much of the information included in your resume can be standardized for all jobs you apply for but slight customization toward the position is helpful. We recommend that candidates include a brief summary statement at the top of their resume that answers the questions: Who am I? What am I good at? What am I looking for? 

Your resume should include:

  • Contact information. 
  • Relevant past experiences and accomplishments. 
  • Metrics that speak to your performance in previous roles.
  • Education and additional licensure.
  • Trainings or other involvements relevant to the position. 
  • Board or other volunteer service.
  • Areas of strength.

2) The Cover Letter

The cover letter is your opportunity to bridge the gap between your resume and the specific position you are applying for. 

It should include:

  • Your interest in the organization for which you are applying. The letter should be addressed to the person to whom the position reports and mention the organization by name. You may also address additional questions, such as: Why are you well-suited for the position? What personal connections, if any, do you have to the organization?

💡Benefactor Group Insight: During our review, we look for candidates who have familiarity with our client organizations. The cover letter is a great space to customize your application and differentiate yourself from other candidates.

  • Any additional context to information included in your resume. Are there gaps in your resume? Did you have a short tenure at one or more of your past positions? The cover letter should anticipate and seek to answer questions that may arise about your listed experience.

💡Benefactor Group Insight: When reviewing application materials, we seek to understand the comprehensive story of an applicant’s employment history and experience. This additional context will support that.

  • How your experience aligns with the position description. Highlight a few key position functions or competencies and connect them to your experience or skills.

💡Benefactor Group Insight: Candidates are screened according to position profile descriptions including the ability to perform key position functions and alignment with competencies.

  • Do your research on the organization and the position. Who does the position report to? How long has that person been involved with the organization? Is there anything you can gain from their bio or experience that speaks to who they are or their relationship to the work? Write your letter as though they are the first ones who will read it.
  • Again, demonstrate interest in the organization. The executive searches that Benefactor Group conducts are highly customized to each organization, including the candidates presented. The strongest candidates not only have the relevant experience and ability to fulfil the job duties, they also are equipped to become champions for the organization.

💡Benefactor Group Insight: We seek candidates interested not only in the titled position, but also interested specifically in working with and supporting the mission of the seeking organization.

3) Additional tips

  • Leave out your picture on your resume or cover letter. Benefactor’s executive search process is designed to mitigate bias beginning with the application review all the way through presentation of candidates to search committees. 
  • Follow the instructions listed in the position description. While we ask for application materials in Portable Document Format (PDF), other search processes may request different formats. Be sure to follow the instructions given. 
  • Align the design of your resume and cover letter. Although you will not be penalized for your design choices, it provides polish to your application and initial impression.

We recognize that it is time consuming to prepare your materials and research an organization. The investment of time is worth it. Have fun and use the process as an opportunity to think about—and write about—things you care about. And know that the Benefactor Group search team is your partner in the process. We are passionate about placing candidates in roles that allow them to apply their skills and their values to serve the common good. 

Deja Reid (she/her) facilitates the work of our teams by coordinating people, information, and timelines to deliver effective client engagements.

Deja is passionate about youth education and community empowerment. Prior to joining Benefactor Group, she interned at Junior Achievement of Central Ohio…

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