Cover Letter or Not

Posted on: September 17th, 2014 by
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You’ve completed a compelling resume. You have identified your target company and they

have an opening that fits you well. You’re about to contact them but have a nagging question:


Should I include a cover letter or is it even necessary?


Here are some general rules and rationale as to when and how to write cover letters:


• If your application is to a very large company through the internet below the manager’s level, two things are generally true:


- Unless they specifically ask for a cover letter, it will not be considered nor read. Why?


- Because very large companies use a computer with algorithms to pick out key words on your resume, not your cover letter. A human may never see your cover letter.


• The higher the position in the company you’re seeking, the more meaningful the need and influence of a well tailored cover letter:


- At the Director level or above, the cover letter should be addressed to a specific individual, usually the hiring executive


- The cover letter should reference any third party who is referring you or a common association with the executive. Any connection is better than no connection.


- The cover letter should be tailor designed to a specific job or function for which the executive is looking. Never write a generic cover letter or resume then hope for the best. At the director level or above, the generic approach works against you.


• If you’re applying through a large job board posting below the Director level, a cover letter is usually not needed unless requested. If requested, follow the rules below.


• What should the content of a cover letter be? Here are some guidelines:


- Keep it short but powerful. Think of it as a delicious appetizer to a great main meal


- Put the emphasis on what you can do for them rather than what you want from them:


Say “Your search for a XXXXXXXX is of great interest to me, based on my expertise and results as follows:”, rather than “I’m interested in your open position”


- Focus on the key 4 or 5 job requirements and your parallel experiences that would make you an outstanding candidate


- Include measurable results that will get the attention of the hiring executive. Show that you have solutions and strategies that solve problems.


- Use the company name in the cover letter with an industry connection if possible


- End the cover letter with a strong statement of intent. Your passion should show through without demonstrating desperation.


Think about it this way: A compelling cover letter leads to a compelling resume, then to a compelling interview. Your job is to present yourself as a result oriented candidate who has achieved success in the function that they are looking to fill. It all starts with a powerful cover.


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Good Boss, Bad Boss

Posted on: September 10th, 2014 by
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I came across an interesting survey that said for every 10 people interviewed, 2 had a boss that hurt their careers.  WOW, 20% are being blocked, frustrated, diminished or worse.  The only good thing about a bad boss is that it forces you to move on as quickly as possible.  How you move on and where you go are the critical questions.


GOOD BOSS:  A good boss should train you to be successful in your current job, support you when you run into a problem and help you develop increasing responsibilities. One predictor of success can be determined by your relationship with your boss.  An effective boss should build a team, share success and help develop expanding competencies in their people.


BAD BOSS:  A bad boss tends to be insecure in their job and makes life miserable by constant criticism, micromanagement, and lack of support.  The behaviors of a bad boss can be a lack of delegation, underexposure to higher management, taking credit for your work or passing blame for shortfalls.  We have all seen examples and know a bad boss when we see one.  Most have a tin ear to alternatives or others’ opinions.


WHAT TO DO?  If you have a good boss, optimize your time with them.  Stretch your opportunities to perform, but make sure you get the results expected.  The more you perform the greater the opportunities to expand your skills and demonstrate your competence.  Your career will tend to accelerate.  Make sure others around you know that you have a good boss, especially upper management.  Senior management wants to know those who can develop talent and create a work environment for improving performance.


If you have a bad boss, do the best job you can while minimizing your time being nearby and seek other opportunities both internally through the posting system or externally with a quiet job search.  Or if you’re comfortable, ask your boss, “What can I do to help you achieve your objectives while at the same time get a raise or a promotion?”  Try to find out the problems your boss is having difficulty solving and ask if there are ways you can help.


Some bosses don’t want help.  There isn’t much you can do in those cases except try to perform at your best, given a bad situation. There are also situations where the environment is negative or the business is in a downturn. There’s not much a boss can do about that situation either.  In both cases, keep your options open for a new position in a new environment that is more compatible with your career plans.


A bad boss tends to push good people out of the organization while a good boss tends to draw high performers to them.  What are you experiencing?  What do you plan to do about it?


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Who Decides Your Career?

Posted on: September 2nd, 2014 by
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What’s your next move?  Where? When?  How?  Why?  If you don’t have a career plan, any decision will get you somewhere, just not the best place.


One of the more difficult transitions is from the military to a civilian search.  Why?  It’s a totally different world.  While in the military, many decisions are made for you.  The civilian marketplace is different.  You have to decide what you want to do, where, plan a strategy, target and contact potential employers, convince them that you’re the best person, interview, negotiate an offer, move to a new location and take the risk you’ve made the right decision.  It’s a daunting time.


In the private sector, you have to take the initiative. Your boss is most interested reaching his or her goals, not yours.  You come secondarily and only if it supports the short-term objectives of the department.  The boss is not primarily focused on your career.  Counting on your boss to manage your career is not a good idea.  The boss has goals for his or her career and you may or may not fit those plans.


You need to answer the fundamental question, “Where do I want to be in 5 or 10 years?  Doing what?”  Once you have a general idea, then define the steps you need to take, no matter how many, to achieve that goal.  Then zero in on the next step to begin the climb.  The progressive steps may shift over time, but the direction will become clearer. Generally speaking, from ages 20 to 30 your exploring different jobs and career possibilities.  From ages 30 to 40 your getting the responsibilities and performance results that set you up for the big push.  Between ages 40 to 50 you have maybe one or two more shots at achieving your optimal career goal.  After that it’s more luck than strategy.


Be careful you’re not following what your parents years ago determined was your best career.  What was thought to be a “safe” job or function when you were in college may not be the place for you 20 years later.  Most successful and satisfied people follow their passion and do the things that they love.  Those are the things that you are most likely to be highly successful in doing.


What’s your passion?  What’s your next step forward?  Who can help achieve it?


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Your Next Job

Posted on: August 26th, 2014 by
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How many jobs do you look out into the future?  If you don’t plan for the next 2 or 3 jobs, you’re making short-term decisions at the expense of your long-term goal.  These next few jobs should prepare you to advance your career in the most expeditious way.


Always look ahead to your next move, even though that move may be years away.  It concentrates your activities to optimize the experiences you need to take you to the next level.  Your next move might be in your current organization, another department, a different company or another industry.  Prepare yourself.  Here are some simple rules to follow:


Stay aware of the marketplace:  Know what’s going on in your field while keeping your name and background accessible through your social media vehicles.  Look for trends that can leverage your career.  Understand the direction of the marketplace over the next few years.


Keep your network alert:  Make the connections to those “in the “know” that you are available for the right position.  These are past bosses or those at a level who can influence a hiring decision.  Join associations and attend conferences where you can expand your network.


Understand your value:  Keep your finger on the pulse of the value you bring to a company.  Pay is almost always tied to contribution.  Have the evidence of your ability to impact the financial results of the business, whether through revenue, cost, efficiency or performance.


Look 2 or 3 jobs out:  Your next job, whatever it is, is the entryway to a higher responsibility.  Make sure it’s not a “dead end” job or one that will take you away from your ultimate goal.  Are you looking to deepen your career (vertically) or broaden your career (horizontally)?


Get credibility then plan strategies:  Staying in a job too long makes you stale; while too quick a move shortens your experience.  A rule of thumb is to collect all the skills, knowledge, abilities and results that are possible in your current role to establish your credentials, then develop the strategies to move on.


Target your specs:  Assess the best kinds of companies for your skill sets.  If your target companies are in the industrial sector and you’re currently in the consumer sector, consider how to best make the switch.  Know which companies in your field are expanding versus contracting, or those that are searching for added strength in a specialty field like yours.


Focus like a laser beam:  Don’t be pulled off course by offers that look good short term but will delay or prevent your ultimate goal.  A high paying job in a remote location can be a trap.


Your career direction and pace are yours to optimize or impede.  Make sure you have the longer-term strategy in place and working to your advantage.


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Forget Buzzwords

Posted on: August 12th, 2014 by
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What are buzzwords?   When it comes to resumes and interviews, a buzzword is a word or abbreviation that has meaning to you, but may not have meaning to the reader/listener. In those cases, the hiring person/organization may have no idea what you’re talking about.


Some buzzwords have industry or functional definitions like CPA, PMP, or MBA and may not need to be spelled out.  But to be on the safe side it might be helpful to just once write it up like this:  MBA (Masters of Business Administration).  It’s kind of like using a belt and suspenders at the same time.  On the other hand, abbreviations like ABA, UMAT, CNC or similar designations may be totally irrelevant if the reader has no idea of the connection with the open position and your background.


Buzzwords that begin a sentence about your activities can also be irrelevant or misleading.  Words like motivated, innovative, talented or dynamic can obscure your experiences and diminish a hiring manager’s interest in you.  Why?  Because you’re declaring yourself a  judge of your own performance in place of an objective external reference.  The real question is:  What did you contribute to a past employer?  Self-appraisals seldom work.


Rather than describe yourself as creative, why not demonstrate with an example of a project on a resume or a “story” during an interview that proves it.  Example:  “Increased revenue 10% by creating a new ‘consultative marketing plan’ for new customers in a new market”.  The words you use creates a “word picture” of who you are, what you have done, and how you are uniquely different from all other candidates.  Focus on the professional achievements and experiences that are specific to you and the job to be done.


The hiring manager wants to know the skills you bring that will assist the organization in reaching its objective.  Profile yourself in a way to match or exceed the requirements set out in the position description.


Don’t use words that the hiring agent is tired of looking at and has no meaning:  Proactive, energized, committed, engaging, creative, and so on.  Your resume and interview must give the hiring manager confidence that you can do the job.  That is accomplished by using action verbs followed by a metric that demonstrate results.


To the hiring manager, you should be able to do achieve results, not give empty words.


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