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May 24

Crack the Cover Letter Code

Posted in Career Article, Tips & Tricks at 2:57 pm

If you think cover letters aren’t important, you’re wrong. They are often a key factor in who gets an interview and who doesn’t. 

For the most competitive job openings, your application packet may be in a stack with of hundreds of well-qualified individuals vying for the same position. While hiring managers may use your resume to narrow that stack down, the cover letter will be a deciding factor in whether you make it into the “interview” pile. 

So how do you write the cover letter that gets your resume to the final cut? Here are seven easy steps that will increase your chances by an order of magnitude.

 1. Personalize it
Figure out the name of the person who will review the resume. If it’s not on the job announcement, the name of the HR director may be on the company website. If the company is small and doesn’t have an HR department, the hiring manager may be the direct supervisor for the position — so find out who that person is and address your cover letter to them directly. This doesn’t work for all openings, but when I see in a stack of 300 cover letters that half of the applicants took the time to find out my name, the other half look lazy by comparison. 

2. It’s not you it’s them
Don’t spend too much time talking about what the company can do for you — talk about what you can do for the company. Your opening pitch should focus on how you can help the company achieve their goals or mission better, faster, or more efficiently than all the other applicants. The hiring manager’s first concern is not how this particular job will help your own career goals. Save that for the interview (and only if they ask). 

3. Name dropping is good
If you have any connection to the company, the cover letter is the place to mention it. Mention a study or report that you read authored by the company president that inspired you to enter the field. Or, mention the industry tradeshow where the CEO spoke and you were able to learn a valuable lesson from his speech. Or, mention that you’ve been a user of their product or service. Whatever it is, it should be true, and also provide a demonstrated interest in their company and the products or services they offer. If you can’t figure out a way to do this, you might want to reevaluate whether the company is a good fit for your career goals. 

4. Keep it concise
There’s no reason why your cover letter should be longer than about one page. If it’s one and a half, that’s fine. But if you find yourself shrinking your font smaller than 12pt and expanding your margins to fit onto two pages, your cover letter is way too long. For competitive positions, hiring managers will just not have time to read them. Which leads me to my next point. 

5. Use bullet points — carefully
As someone who has spent hours evaluating hundreds of application packets in a single sitting, I have developed a new appreciation for bullet points. Used strategically in a cover letter they can highlight your key selling points to the recruiter and move you quickly to the “interview” pile. An effective way to use bullet points would be to highlight your strongest assets you can provide the company. Used poorly, however, they can draw attention to the wrong information. Don’t use bullet points, for instance, to repeat information on your resume, or to list books you’ve read (sadly, I have seen this done). Think carefully about the information you are highlighting with bullets because they will draw the reader’s immediate attention. 

6. Tell them what they want to hear
Take a very close look at the job description for the open position and try to use the same language they do when you write your cover letter. For example, if they say they want a ‘results-driven sales executive’ repeat that phrase back to them in your cover letter if it fits in to how you’re pitching yourself. If they list 10 key skills that are essential to the job, pick out three or four where you excel and make sure your cover letter addresses examples of those key qualities that the employer thinks are important. 

7. Spell Check. Again.
Finally, don’t forget to double and triple check your cover letter for spelling errors and typos. Have a friend look it over for good measure. There’s nothing more embarrassing than realizing in the rush to send out 10 new job applications that you forgot to change the name of the company or the title of the job to which you’re applying.

May 13

Ten Interview Fashion Blunders

Posted in Career Article, Tips & Tricks at 10:44 am

What Not to Wear to the Interview

Any article about what to wear to an interview might well begin with a qualifying statement covering the extremes in various states (New York and California, for example) and industries (technology, manufacturing), which are possible exceptions to the normal rules of fashion. But it might surprise you to learn that those extremes have, over the last couple of years, begun to move closer to the middle ground.

Nowadays, if you were to ask 100 people their opinion about what to wear to an interview, the majority would answer, “Dress on the conservative side.” With that in mind, here are some suggestions on how to avoid fashion blunders.

Anna Soo Wildermuth, an image consultant and past president of the Association of Image Consultants International, says, “Clothes should be a part of who you are and should not be noticed.” She cites 10 dressing faux pas to avoid when interview time comes around: 

  • Wild Nail Polish: This tip is for women or men. Extremely long or uncut nails are a real turnoff, too. Your nails should be groomed and neat.
  • Jewelry That Jangles: Don’t wear more than two rings per hand or one earring per ear. And no face jewelry or ankle bracelets allowed.
  • Open-Toed or Backless Shoes: And mules are a definite no-no. Out-of-date shoes should be thrown out or kept for other occasions.
  • Bare Legs: Wear stockings, even in humid summer weather. Stockings can be in neutral colors or a fashion color to match your shoes.
  • Out-of-Date Suits: These have lapels that are too wide (three inches or more) or too narrow (one inch or less). A good tailor can alter lapels. The style for men’s jackets is full-body and looser rather than fitted or tight.
  • Short Skirts: Hemlines should not be more than three inches above the knee. Don’t wear capri pants or leggings to the interview.
  • Leather Jackets for Men or Women: Even leather blazers are not good for interviewing purposes. They look like outerwear.
  • Turtlenecks for Men: A tie is preferable, at least in the first go-round. At the very least, wear a collared shirt. 
  • Printed or Trendy Handbags: Purses should be conservative and inconspicuous.
  • Red Briefcases: Briefcases, purses and shoes should all be conservative in color and in good condition.

Conservative colors in various shades of blue and gray are best. Wearing black to the interview could be viewed as too serious. If you do wear black, make sure that there is another color near your face to soften the look. Brown is still considered questionable as a business color and probably should be avoided. Change your outfit’s look for a second interview by wearing a different color blouse, shirt, scarf or tie.

An interview is not the place to make a fashion statement, though those in the art fields and the very famous can be more adventurous. Everyone else should opt for a conservative look. “More and more companies are returning to traditional professional dress,” says Wildermuth.

Whatever you wear should accent the fact that you’re a professional who’s ready to get to work at a new job. Let common sense guide you, and it should be easy to avoid fashion blunders that could damage your chances of getting to the next level in the process. In this market, it is essential that you look good and your appearance is right for the job.

May 13

Return to Work After Retirement

Posted in Career Article, Tips & Tricks, Workforce Issues/Update at 10:33 am

Donald Sayner considers himself lucky. At 69, he’s working because he wants to, not because he needs to. For many older workers today, this isn’t the case. Rising healthcare costs, inadequate financial planning and rising living expenses are a few of the many reasons people are working longer.

As someone who retired and then rejoined the workforce, Sayner, a career counselor, understands the mental anguish, depression and frustration older workers who expected to retire may feel. That’s why he started Jobs in Transition, a job club for retirement-age professionals still in the workforce. The workshops are offered through St. Paul-based Quality Career Services, an organization that offers job advice, counseling and networking opportunities for job seekers.

“A lot of people heading into their golden years are unable to live the life they thought they would be able to,” says Sayner. “This is forcing would-be retirees to deal with an entire set of life challenges they aren’t prepared to face.

Follow a New Career Path

Sayner encourages job seekers to reconsider early passions they may not have pursued for one reason or another. He says finding a job or career path instead of just a paycheck can be the key to workplace happiness at this stage of life.

“Sometimes searching for work in the field you spent your life trying to earn a living [in] just isn’t going to work out,” says Sayner. “Don’t get into a rut where you believe you are too old to change direction. Now can be the best time to look at a new career, to do something you always dreamed of doing.

Melanie Keveles, a certified business coach who has helped older workers find passion and meaning in their current jobs or new careers, often follows the theories discussed in The Three Boxes of Life and How to Get Out of Them by Richard Bolles.

In the late ’70s, Bolles predicted we would outgrow the idea that there were three stages (or three boxes) in our lifespan -– the learning stage, the work stage and the retirement stage. Bolles suggested that we were moving into a time when those stages would merge, and we would experience lifelong learning, work and play.

“For those people who for whatever reasons find themselves having to go back to work during what they had dreamed would be the stage in the life that they would be retired or playing only, it helps to recognize that such a leisure-only phase is just not always practical anymore,” says Keveles.

Get Motivated to Go Back to Work

Keveles admits it’s hard for retirement-age workers to get motivated for work when they feel underappreciated or that they are not contributing in a meaningful way while their peers enjoy retirement. But it’s important to make the most of the situation, Keveles says. The first step is overcoming the mental barriers. Keveles suggests that by becoming receptive to the idea that working can coexist with learning and playing as you age, you might find that working again can:

  • Provide an opportunity to find meaning and accomplish things that are compatible with your values.
  • Give you a reason to get up in the morning and a community in which to operate. Isolation can be deadly as you age.
  • Help keep your mind and body active.
  • Give younger people an opportunity to get to know more older people, thereby fighting stereotypes that suggest we lose our usefulness, creativity, imagination and productivity as we age.
  • Keep you engaged. Examples of people working into their 60s, 70s, 80s and even 90s have shown us that people who work into these later decades often outlive those who fully retire.

Shifting your perspective is the first step, and it could be the beginning of a new and rewarding career

May 13

Cover Letters Build the Case for Workers Over 50

Posted in Career Article, Tips & Tricks, Workforce Issues/Update at 10:28 am

“The cover letter is dead.” You may have heard this pronouncement from friends or colleagues, who cite the trend toward electronic submission of resumes and the ever-shrinking attention span of application readers as reasons.

But according to those who think deeply about the particular challenges facing job seekers age 50 and above, the statement can be reversed: “Long live the cover letter!”

The cover letter is an age-neutral communication that can build a bridge from your impressive career achievements to the prospective employer’s specific needs and help punch your ticket to a job interview.

That’s why experts recommend using cover letters (or cover messages, for electronic submissions) to introduce professional connections, project youthful energy, demonstrate writing prowess, and — to set the stage for an upbeat interview — adroitly dispense with challenges such as resume gaps and requests for salary history.

Customization Is King

Because older workers have so much to gain through the cover letter, customizing the message to the opportunity is particularly important. “People send me the same cover letter that they sent to the last 10 positions they applied for,” says Sarah Hightower Hill, CEO of Chandler Hill Partners, a career search strategies firm. “That’s just crazy.”

If possible, start the letter with a reference to a professional colleague who connects you to the prospective employer. “Lead with the person who refers you,” says Carleen MacKay, a practice leader at staffing firm Spherion Corp. If you’ve chosen the connection wisely, you’ll vastly increase the chances of getting your resume read.

Now use the cover letter — a faceless, ageless message — to communicate your core qualifications for the job opening. Resist the temptation to cite years of experience or encyclopedic knowledge of your industry’s history. Instead, concentrate on recent, specific accomplishments that make you a match for the job.

Also use the cover message to showcase your business writing skills and familiarity with the language of your industry or occupation. You’re likely to have emerged from the US education system before it descended into its present state of mediocrity, and this should show in your writing.

Confront Difficult Issues and Put Them Behind You

If elements of your resume might raise substantial questions for its reviewers, it’s best to address these in the cover letter, where you can carefully calibrate your response — without revealing your age.

“It’s important to get stuff like resume gaps out of the way immediately,” says Brian Drum, CEO of Drum Associates, a search firm. The second half of the cover message is a good place to do so.

“If salary history is a requirement of the job posting, one must address it, and not superficially or deceptively,” says Hill. For older workers, especially those who want to deemphasize the high salary band they’ve reached in recent years, “it is appropriate to say, ‘Through my career, I’ve earned salaries in a range from…”

Finally, have a trusted colleague read through your cover letter to check the tone and avoid embarrassing spelling, grammar and other errors. After all, crafting an important document with care is one of the skills that can help make the case for your candidacy ahead of younger competitors.

May 13

Part-Time Jobs for Older Workers

Posted in Career Article, News, Workforce Issues/Update at 10:24 am

“Your company won’t always take care of you. So you’ve got to take care of yourself.” That sobering advice, from syndicated career advice columnist Jim Pawlak, is hitting home with an increasing number of men and women who were raised to believe that doing a job well translates into a lifetime of security but instead find that job security is rare. 

Older workers are discovering this firsthand. Though workers older than 45 make up 25 percent of the workforce, they represent 35 percent of the long-term unemployed. And the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, DC, says that while some laid-off older workers find comparable jobs, many accept pay cuts of up to 20 percent just to return to work. 

The good news is that older workers may have fewer financial obligations than younger colleagues. Children are out of college, and homes may be paid for.

For these men and women, a part-time job may be an answer, although it will probably mean taking a more junior position, because, as Pawlak notes, there are no part-time positions in management. Part-time jobs are more likely to be lower-level positions in industries like retail and healthcare. And even for these positions, older workers must still brush up on computer skills and evaluate whether they need to expand their skill sets. But with a bit of insight and creativity, older workers can land part-time jobs that provide stimulation and challenges — and pay more than minimum wage. 

Flexibility Can Pay Off

Steve Reilly spent three decades in information technology, but when work in that field dried up, he turned to real estate. He enrolled in the necessary courses, researched firms in his area, and sold himself as someone with both technical and organizational skills. “It’s different than getting paid for work every day,” he says. “But I love the challenge of helping people -– not organizations –- deal with problems.”

 Michael, who asked that his last name not be used, had to dumb down his resume to get work in a Phoenix frame shop. Thirty years of hiring engineers and running MIS projects priced him out of similar work in a stagnant field flooded with younger, cheaper employees. So he turned to his earlier background as an artist, called himself a high school graduate and landed a job.

His hours vary, but he’s made himself valuable because he volunteers to work any shift. He’s earning less than he once did, but he’ll soon be a manager.

Dave Harrison and his wife, Marianne, were also looking for work. They weren’t laid off, but after retiring in their late 50s and moving to Florida, they wanted to work again. In their new community, they networked and asked everyone they met for advice. They applied for full-time positions. When granted interviews, they offered to work part-time to help prospective employers save money.

Eventually, Marianne got her job as an aide in an academic office that way. Dave’s job as an assistant in the office of a youth sports organization was advertised as part-time. 

The key is that “we took jobs where the tasks were less than we could handle, and the pay was less than we hoped to earn,” says Dave Harrison. “We knew if we got our foot in the door, we would earn our way to more responsibility and more pay.” They set a target of one year to prove to their employers that they could do more than they were hired for and should be compensated accordingly. 

They proved themselves indispensable. In less than a year, Marianne was managing logistics for a graduate MBA program while her husband became executive director of a 1,200-player program.

“No one would hire us part-time at a salary we deserved,” he says. “We had to prove our value during the first year, and swallow our pride about wages.” 

Advice for Older Job Seekers

Dave Harrison recommends a few strategies for older workers who are looking for work:

  • Examine all potential job opportunities, full-time and part-time.
  • Accept less-than-desirable assignments.
  • Give an employer more than expected.
  • Give an employer enough time to appreciate your contributions before asking for more compensation

Lastly, he stresses the importance of working in a nonbureaucratic environment. “You want a place that is small enough so that one person’s efforts can be seen and acknowledged,” he says.