Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Cover Letter Keys - Part Four – Letters to those in your professional network

It is always wise to make use of the contacts your professional network.

Most job-search surveys indicate that a majority of people find jobs through networking—someone they knew told them of a job lead and introduced them to the hiring manager. An effective method of contacting those in your circle of influence is through a special form of written communication called a ‘résu-letter’.

A ‘résu-letter’ is a hybrid that combines the elements of both a cover letter and a résumé. A ‘résu-letter’ allows a job seeker to get the word to his or her professional network without sounding desperate to find a new job. This letter is especially nice for those conducting a confidential job search while still employed. Usually this letter is sent as an e-mail.

A few pointers on writing a great ‘résu-letter’ include the following elements:
  • It is perfectly acceptable to keep the tone casual, as this letter is sent to people with whom you have a first name relationship. Although you have a familiarity with the recipient, it is important to be careful not to relax your grammar and spelling.
  • This letter should contain all the selling points of your résumé without sounding like a commercial.
  • Ideally, the recipient will pass your letter on to others who may be interested in your qualifications, so write the letter with other readers in mind.

With competition for good jobs at an all-time high, job seekers can’t afford to cut corners in their written communication. The extra time and effort taken to customize your cover letters goes a long way toward placing you at the top of the candidate pile.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Cover Letter Keys - Part Three – Letters to recruiters and head-hunters

Most recruiters and head-hunters specialize by industry or job type. For maximum effectiveness, target only head-hunters who specialize in your field. It is also to your advantage to ‘register’ with more than one recruiter*.

Since the best way to contact recruiters and head-hunters is through email, your letter will take the form of an e-mail note. This e-mail should be accompanied with your résumé in Word format. A brief cover letter (or note) is essential to make sure the recruiter opens and reads your resume before storing in an electronic resume storage database.

For best results make use of the following information:
  • It is important to keep the e-mail short. One or two paragraphs should suffice. Most recruiters are paid on commission and work under heavy production quotas—they don’t have the time or patience for lengthy letters of introduction.
  • Your note should read somewhat like a résumé summary statement full of key-word qualifications. An example might sound something like, “My background includes 15 years of VP-level management in the telecom industry specializing in start-up of new divisions and building consensus across departments.”
  • Do not end your note with a promise to call. The recruiter will call you when he/she has an available position. I have it on good authority that nothing annoys a recruiter more than unsolicited phone calls from job seekers. You need recruiters and head-hunters on your side. So, to get your relationship with recruiters off to the right start, let them contact you.

  • Working through head-hunters is a numbers game. The more qualified recruiters you contact the better your chances are of finding great job leads. Don’t minimize your efforts by contacting only those in your geographic area. Recruiters and head- hunters who specialize in a given industry usually work nationally and sometimes internationally. Investing in a résumé distribution service that allows you to target recruiters by specialty increases your efforts exponentially.

*N.B. you should NEVER have to pay a recruiter or head-hunter to help you get a job. Recruiters and head-hunters are paid by the employers who are looking for candidates.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Cover Letter Keys - Part Two - Targeted Market Letters

Targeted market letters cover letters are those that are proactively sent to your target market of employers.

Savvy job seekers do not wait to hear about openings; they look for openings before they become public knowledge. One way to find unpublished job leads is to conduct a target-market search. This strategy involves first identifying a group of companies or organizations that are most likely to be interested in your background and expertise.

Once these companies or organizations are identified, you can then proceed with the next step by contacting hiring managers directly to let them know of your availability. The Reference Librarian at your local library is a valuable source of information on how to research your target companies.

Below are a few hints on writing effective cover letters for your target market.

  • Whenever possible, address your letter to the hiring manager rather than HR. Again, this may require a phone call to sleuth out the information, but could yield great results.

  • Begin your ‘targeted’ letter by indicating your knowledge and interest of the company. You need to give the reader a reason to believe that you have a genuine interest in their company and that you haven’t just pulled their name out of a hat.

  • List briefly your qualifications and accomplishments and the position you’re offering to fill.

  • Use “I” sparingly. This is your opportunity to articulate the many ways that you can be a benefit to their organization.

  • Since this is a proactive contact, it is up to you to initiate phone contact. End your letter with a promise to call by a certain day.

Although using this target market strategy is time consuming, it often yields surprising results. Know that a job lead discovered through proactive methods means little or no competition from other job seekers.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Cover Letter Keys - Part One -Cover letters that respond to job postings

If you have resolved to move your job search into high gear, don’t forget the importance of the cover letter as part of your self-marketing materials. The cover letter is essential for creating a positive first impression.

Unlike a resume, which usually remains unchanged, cover letters should be customized according to each of the four basic job search strategies:
  1. Responding to job postings.
  2. Résumé distribution to prospective employers in your target market.
  3. Contacting recruiters or head-hunters.
  4. Networking among your professional contacts.

Each strategy requires a different type of cover letter.

Cover letters that respond to job postings:
This is the most common job-search activity. Rather than respond with a canned message, it is important to take the time to write a brief cover letter that maps your work experience to the job qualifications.

When responding to job postings, take the time to do the following:

  • Whenever possible, address the letter to a specific person rather than “Dear sir or madam” or “To whom it may concern”. You should never be afraid to call the company for the name of the recipient; at worst, they will not give you the name. Ask for the correct spelling of the recipient and use their full name rather than try to guess if the recipient is a “Miss”, “Mr.” or “Ms.”
  • Take the time to match your letter to the job description by using the key words and phrases found in the ad. This type of ‘mirroring’ will increase the chances of getting your documents flagged by the software used to scan incoming documents. Where applicable, list point by point how you match the requirements of the position.
  • Provide accomplishments that illustrate the level of your qualifications.
  • Avoid over use of the word “I”. Translate “I” sentences into “You” or “Your” sentences. For example, turn “I am interested in the position...” into “Your company will benefit from my experiences as...”

Cover Letter Keys - Part Two - Targeted Market Letters

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

One Employer's Perspective

I recently had the opportunity to attend a networking meeting where I met a fellow who happened to sit upon the recruiting committee of a law firm. As would be expected, we got onto the subject of résumé and cover letters and such, so I took the opportunity to ask him his views regarding the résumés that come across his desk. This gentleman shared with me a number of points from an employer’s perspective and I believe that they are important enough to share with you.

  1. The size of font a candidate chooses to use matters. While content is important, he is baffled as to why some candidates choose to shrink the size of the font so that the résumé will be only two pages in length. Candidates need to understand that, at some point, the documents they submit will be printed out and that hiring managers and/or committees will be trying to read the harp copy without the benefit of the ‘zoom in’ button that it typically found on any desktop computer.
  2. Candidate profiles are a waste of space. In his case, the fact that they have already finished law school and are now looking for articling positions with various law firms indicates that these candidates have already proven that they can learn. In order to be successful at securing a position, it would be to their advantage to show me what makes them special. Candidates need to be able to differentiate themselves from the pack.
  3. Personality counts. When candidates are looking to join a company, they need to demonstrate that they have a personality. Interpersonal skills are just as important as technical skills. Candidates that are personable have an edge over candidates that are ‘book smart’.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Before You Leap...

Okay, so you’ve got the itch to change jobs. The question to ask your self is whether you should scratch that itch or, put a salve on it until the itch goes away.

Before you leap into the unknown, be certain that you have good sound reasons for wanting to make a change. Do you really believe that you can put your career on the faster track with a new job, or are you just running away from a situation you find uncomfortable?

Among the questions to ask yourself are the following:
  • What is it that I truly want?
  • Are there things that I can do to make my present situation more acceptable?
  • If I decide to make the jump, what am I leaving behind? Job security? Pension? Benefits? Seniority?
  • What do I want my future job to look like?
  • > More money?
    > Different job title?
    > More opportunities for growth?
    > Greater work/life balance?
    > Is there a market for my current skills?
    > Do I need to upgrade my skills?
You will be doing yourself a huge disservice if you allow yourself to be driven by a sense of malaise to make a change just for the sake of making a change. If you can't spell out in writing the valid reasons you want to move to a new job, then don't set the process in motion.

If, on the other hand, a leap is in the offing, then you need to be totally committed to your job search. Job searching is an exhausting task and requires a very thick skin. Be prepared for a countless number of “no’s” before you are even granted an interview, much less a job. Know that there is a lot of talent out there and that it is unlikely that you will be courted. Search for a job takes time and effort. There are no shortcuts. Due diligence is critical.
Before you jump, do the following:
  • Make sure to chat with people who are already in the industry to get at least some kind of assurance that what you perceive to be the job and duties are close to reality and not some romantic version of what you believe the job to be.
  • Talk to people in your network
  • Read appropriate career and job profiles
  • Suss out industry trends/innovations by reviewing news articles and trade journals
  • Seek guidance from a career management professional

Know that the best time to consider a career change is when you are safely ensconced in your existing one. A steady paycheque can relieve a lot of pressure. There is nothing wrong with testing the water, but it is important do so in a productive manner. While employed, take a few baby steps toward your new career path, such as volunteering or offering yourself as a freelancer or consultant.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Can YOU Follow Instructions?

I recently had the opportunity to attend a networking meeting where I met Julien Simon, marketing specialist for Virtually Canadian. Mr Simon was looking to fill a position with his website optimization company. He placed an ad on one of the more popular job boards with very specific instructions regarding how candidates were to respond to the advertisement. All of the candidates were to send their cover letter and supporting documents in a PDF format to a specific address and include their salary expectations in the cover letter.

He left the advertisement up for 2 days and received 100+ e-mail from individuals who were interested in the position. Of the 100+ e-mail, only 15 had taken the time to read the instructions and comply as stipulated. Of the 15 candidates who had cleared the first hurdle i.e. responded to the ad in the specified manner, he narrowed his search by eliminating those individuals who priced their services too highly and eliminated those who candidates whose salary expectations were too low. When I pressed him about his decision to eliminate those respondents with the lower salary expectations, he candidly shared with me that he believed that these candidates either, a) were not sure that that could fulfill the job requirements or, b) lacked a sufficient perspective with regard to value the work they were able to do.

There are three lessons to be learned:

  1. Employers don’t have time to work with those who are incapable of following even the simplest of directions regardless of the credentials of the talent

  2. There is a lot of good talent on the market today so, as a candidate, you need to stay on top of your game in the job search department

  3. Candidates need to know the value of the work they can do