NEW YORK (MainStreet) — To online resumes, LinkedIn profiles, social media searches, keywords and the other tools of 21st Century job-hunting, you can now add video cover letters. According to one study by research firm Aberdeen Group, 65% of employers are using video to screen applicants. If you haven't been asked by a target employer to include video in your application, you probably will soon.
So now is the time to get your video cover letter ready, or at least begin planning how you'll put one together. First, know what a video cover letter is -- and isn't.
"It's an introduction, your 60 to 90-second elevator speech," says Jim Schofield, vice president at Cutting Edge Connect, a Libertyville, Ill., recruiting firm that offers a free Applicant Advantage service for recording video introductions. Its purpose is to let a prospective employer get to know you faster and, hopefully, decide to hire you sooner. You can attach a video cover letter to an emailed resume or give a link to an online copy.
What it isn't, Schofield adds, is a visual slice of your daily life. Avoid rambling about pets, hobbies and the like. Focus content on what you bring to the table as an employee by answering one or a few key questions interviews will have. "The question we have all candidates answer is what are their values and how do they reflect those values?" Schofield says. "Basically, it's what gets you up in the morning. What are you excited about when you go to work?"
That's for a generic video cover letter. If applying to a specific employer with special requirements, know those requirements and address them in your video. Answer questions about values, skills, interests and ambitions that a live interviewer might ask.
Production values aren't critical. A generic web cam or late-model cellphone can supply adequate image quality, and you don't need fancy transitions, fades or makeup. However, dress appropriately and watch your surroundings. You can record in your living room, but not if others are talking or walking in the background. Still unsure? YouTube has plenty of examples.
Plan on retakes -- but not too many. It takes practice to appear confident, natural and relaxed while clearly and concisely stating a value proposition relating to the job you want. On the other hand, it's better to glance at your notes a time or two than come across as an automaton. "You don't want it too look like a canned delivery," Schofield says. "You want to come from a personal place that's honest."
Getting comfortable on-camera may pay off if you advance to the next round, when employers increasingly use live video interviews to screen candidates. The reason: video saves on travel and reveals applicants' personalities better than traditional methods. "Everyone has the same piece of paper," says Mark Newman, founder and CEO of HireVue, an interactive platform for recruiting screening, and hiring based in South Jordan, Utah. "But people are stories, experiences, ideas, passions and personalities. That's the power of video."
The real power of video, from an employer's perspective, is that it lets them fill jobs faster and cheaper than old-fashioned paper. HireVue reports doing half a million video interviews for 500 companies last year, and Newman estimates that half of the Fortune 100 uses video in hiring now.
Not all employers or positions are video-suitable. Creative types in advertising and marketing will welcome video, while that could be less likely with a financial services or engineering employer. "That said, slowly but surely companies across industries -- from Red Bull to JP Morgan -- are turning to video interviewing," Newman says.—Written by Mark Henricks for MainStreet