I've tried to make this point in various ways in this blog along the years I've been writing it, but now and then I feel the need to bluntly state it:
Hiring managers don't care about what they can do for you.
I'm not trying to make them sound like unfeeling monsters. The fact is, they are out to fulfill one goal-to hire a person best suited for the business goals they need to achieve. They don't have the time to choose the person who will change the business with his or her great ideas-unless it's a panel of shareholders looking for a new CEO. And they most certainly don't have the time to interpret your resume. "I'm looking for a data center person, but this guy is a steeplechase champion. But from what I can piece together, he may have project management skills that can transfer to what I need!" That may actually be true, but it's your job to make that obvious, not a busy hiring manager's.
Let me use an example from my little corner of the world. I get article pitches on the average of 5-10 a day from people I've never met. Some are, I hope, just PR mass mailings hoping to hit some interest somewhere; otherwise I'd be ticked off. (Like the recent pitch I got from a company who designs a resume building app for artists and designers. Um, have you even bothered to look at TechRepublic?)
Some are from people whose only goal is to get a piece published on a high-profile web site to pad their resume or get their name out there as an expert. But they're pitching a topic like "Security is important in IT." Well, yes, but if you take a moment to look around the site, you'll see that we have already taken that broad topic, split it in about 400 ways and covered it every which way you can. Those kind of people don't take the time to look at the content already there to make an informed pitch. That's a little lazy and frankly, to a managing editor, a little insulting.
Now the third person is the one who makes me want to pound my head against my monitor: the one who wants to argue about a pitched topic. "I know you don't usually run pieces about hydrodynamics, but I think your audience would really like it." True, they probably will. But that topic does not fall within our business model. We also don't run pieces on foot fetishes, for the same reason. The assumption that the person to whom you are pitching a topic knows less about his or her company's business model than you, a virtual stranger, is beyond insulting.
And last is the perfect pitch. The other day someone emailed me with a piece he wrote in which he referenced a piece already on the site and explored one of its points more in depth. The tone he used was conversational (not white paper-ish as we've been known to get from people more concerned with how smart they sound than how they fit within the existing tone of the site). And he went to the bother of using the same styles we use on the site (initial caps on titles, larger, bold font for subheads)! I couldn't sign him up fast enough.
So the bottom line is that you must know all about a company when you go into an interview. Speak to that company's goals, not your own. Talk about how your experience can benefit a company, not how a company should change to fit your experience. Trust me on this-you might get a veteran interviewer who is as seasoned (gristled) and discerning (crabby) as me.
Toni Bowers is the former Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.