Archive for December, 2011

Your Cover Letter, Your Story

Dec 26 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Nothing is more infuriating to an employer than to receive a resume with no cover letter. With a tight job market, competition is intense and it’s a “sink or swim” world out there. Job searchers beware: job searching has become a lot more brutal. Take it from me. I was forced to quit my job to relocate across the country for my husband’s job. 5 years ago, I had employers knocking down my door. Fast forward to 2011 and I feel like the annoying student in the front of the class with my hand raised as high as I can get it, but the teacher won’t even look my way. QuitOrNot.com (www.quitornot.com) will help you make your “quit or not” decision, but once you’re in the job market, let me show you the ropes to getting interviews. Since starting my own job search, I have landed a phone interview with every company I have applied to. The reason: my cover letter.

There are a few basics that should first be mentioned without much explanation needed. Your cover letter should look attractive, be only one page long, grammatically correct, include the current date, be addressed to a specific person or department, and have the physical address of the place you are applying to. If the address and specific person’s name do not appear in the job description, find them. There are simple tools like Google (www.google.com) and LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com) that can help you find that information. You have to become a job detective and use your creativity to find information, but it is worth it in the end.

Your first sentences should make it clear which position you are applying for and why you should be considered. “Please consider me for the <job title> position you have available. My extensive <field> experience and strong work ethic make me the perfect candidate to fit into <company name>.” This sentence is fairly generic and can be catered to your own field with a more specific example, but be sure to pin-point one of your strongest skills into the reason for why they should consider you. If you have an impressive accomplishment, this is the place to mention it.

Make your cover letter relevant. This is the most important thing you will learn from this article. You must answer the question, “Why should I hire you to do this job?” Employers want you to clearly explain why they should consider picking up the phone and calling you for an interview. You need to do the work for them. The best way to do this is to take pieces of their job description and include them in your letter. For instance, if the job description says that they are looking for someone who can “multi-task and manage multiple projects while managing a team of 5 people.” Your cover letter could say, “You mention that you are looking for someone capable of managing multiple project at once. While with <company name>, one of the things I mastered was how to juggle multiple tasks while leading my team to success.” This shows you paid attention and actually read what their needs are. You are trying to sell yourself and, as with any sales job, you have to establish a need and find a solution. YOU are the solution, so convey that in your cover letter. You should try to reference at least 2-3 of their job description needs and relate them your experience. Your cover letter needs to be about the employer and how you fit into their scenario.

One thing most people hear when they first learn to write a cover letter is to not overuse the word “I.” As simple as this sounds, it is true. You cannot completely avoid using it, but bury it in sentences and try to avoid starting your sentences with “I.” This is a skill that takes some work, but will help you make your letter about the employer. It is a way to sell yourself without sounding too self-centered.

End your letter with something a little more unique than, “I hope to hear from you soon.” Try something like, “<Company name> has such a well-respected name in our community and working for you would be such an exciting opportunity for me. My schedule is open to meet at your convenience, so please contact me for the next step.”

These are just a few ways to make your cover letter more relevant and personalized to each job you apply to. It can get daunting, but it is worth the effort. There are some parts of your cover letter than can probably stay the same with each application, but take the time to relate your experience to that specific employer. Your effort will shine through and put you above other candidates who did not take that extra step.

Comments Off on Your Cover Letter, Your Story

Things I Wish I Had Known

Dec 15 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Regret is not a good feeling, but we all experience it at one time or another. There are a few things I wish I had known as I was starting my career. You need to have regrets to learn, but why not skip over a few by taking some advice from someone who has made plenty of mistakes.

“Honesty is the best policy.”
This may seem simple, but it’s so easy to exaggerate things. Situation #1: When you’re selling your company’s products or services to clients, it is so easy to answer their questions with statements that are exaggerated or untrue to gain their business. But this will only lead to additional problems, your ruined reputation, and sleepless nights. Situation #2: Your boss’s job is to question you, sometimes more often than you would like. It seems much easier to occasionally twist the facts with your boss when you want him/her to think of you in a higher light. But results do not lie and the bottom line will prove your credibility, so it’s actually easier to be completely upfront with your boss and suck it up from the beginning.

“Ask for permission, not forgiveness.”
The old saying, “Ask for forgiveness, not permission” is a recipe for disaster. Remember, you work for someone else. Your gambles are the company’s gambles. Although you may get lucky and your rash decisions could be the best bet, it is much safer to get your supervisor’s buy-in before making drastic decisions. With permission, you have the support of your company behind you, which is much better than standing alone.

“Never write an email while angry.”
Angry emails are childish. This is a situation where, yes, you may feel better for a brief time period, but in the end, who really is the winner? Emails are still written proof of your childish behavior, so they could be used as evidence. The recipient could easily forward your harsh words to your boss, resulting in disciplinary action. The best thing to do is wait a day or two before responding to your client, customer, co-worker, or whomever the disruptive party may be. Or, better yet, call that person. Talking is less traceable. Plus, the tone of an email can be misconstrued. Maybe a quick phone call can clear the air.

“Niceness matters.”
People want to work with positive people. When you shun others, act snobby, or make others feel uncomfortable, they simply do not want to be around you. Creating an uncomfortable environment is actually a form of harassment. It’s much easier and more safe to smile and be pleasant. This goes without saying when it comes to clients. As a reminder, the customer is always right, bite your tongue when you get angry, and SMILE!

“Save the drama for your Mama!”
To go along with the last piece of advice, “Niceness matters,” removing yourself from the office drama matters as well. As interesting as office gossip can be, do not involve yourself. You want to be a fellow employee that people can trust and being involved in the office “clique” immediately disqualifies you as trustworthy. The office is not the place to be involved in personal issues. Especially stay away from Drama Queens and troublemakers; the last thing you want is your boss associating you with the “bad seeds” in the office. You can kindly dismiss yourself from conversations that take a bad turn.

“Do not work away your life.”
You should work hard to play hard. It is easy to work away the days and forget to take care of yourself. Although some professions require excessive hours by nature, most people can find ways to work smarter and leave time for their personal lives. If you work hard every minute you are at work, you can justify leaving the office at a normal hour. A healthy, happy employee is much more valuable than a stressed, worn down employee. There will always be that one person in the office who leaves the latest and makes you feel guilty about having a life outside, but your life is more important. As long as you are getting your job done, then take a break! If you are not completing your job, then you either need to work more effectively or your company needs to provide you with more support.

“Choose a path and stick with it.”
Changing your career is usually necessary to move up through the ranks, but it is best to stay on the same professional path throughout your career so your resume makes sense. Professionals who move around through multiple industries confuse employers. Being a Jack of all trades and the master of none is not attractive to future employers.

This is all for now, but I will continue to learn with you!

Comments Off on Things I Wish I Had Known

Should You Ever Work for Free?

Dec 09 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

In this tough economy, when good jobs are sparse and can seem nearly impossible to find, modern job-hunters can consider working as a volunteer or unpaid intern in order to gain experience and connections.  While this won’t work for everyone, if you’re in a position where you can afford to donate your time in exchange for the potential benefits, it’s an option worth considering. (http://career-advice.monster.com/career-development/education-training/students-benefits-internships/article.aspx)

Working for free is ideal for those who are brand new to the workforce, especially those that are still living with parents, since they have fewer financial obligations.  Some internships may allow some unpaid workers to get a deferment on student loan payments, some volunteer organizations can forgive some or all of student loan debt, in exchange for making a large commitment to working for them. (http://www.i-to-i.com/benefits-of-internship.html)

Working for free will allow you to get to know your particular field from the inside, as well as provide you a foot in the door when the company is hiring.  As a team member everyone already knows and can vouch for, you’ll be a much more attractive hire than someone the company is unfamiliar with. Like many things, finding a great job is as much a matter of who you know as what you know, and being inside a company or field will help you stay on top of current trends, as well as filling your contacts list with associates and mentors who can help you get a boost in your field.  (http://www.fastweb.com/college-jobs-internships/articles/212-working-for-free-the-benefits-of-internships)

Working for free can also help get your foot in the door at other companies, if your hard work and dedication results in glowing letters of recommendation in your field.

Finding a job that doesn’t pay can be as challenging as finding paid work, and many available work experiences may not be advertised.  Your best bet to find an unpaid position is to plan on putting in a lot of footwork.  This can involve everything from going door-to-door or cold-calling local employers in your field to searching through your old contacts to seeking help from the job placement office at your college or university.  Your local chamber of commerce can be a great resource, as well. (http://www.internships.com/employer/resources/setup/benefits)

When applying and interviewing for a volunteer or intern position, put in as much of an effort as you would if you were applying for a paid position.  You’ll want your supervisors and co-workers to regard you as professional, hard-working and dependable, so put your best self forward.  After you’ve been brought on, apply this same work ethic to your daily activities and you’ll be well on your way to a paid job that’s even more rewarding than your unpaid work. (http://www.worldvolunteerweb.org/resources/how-to-guides/volunteer/doc/benefits-of-volunteering.html)

While working as a volunteer or intern, keep good records of the time you spend, any expenses you accrue and what you’ve been working on, both as a reference for yourself and to show potential future employers.  Some expenses for some jobs may be tax deductible, as well.

There is some room to negotiate when you aren’t working for money.  You’re more likely to be able to work on a flexible schedule, you’ll likely have fewer bosses to answer to, and everyone will be so grateful for your help and expertise, your job experience should be very positive.  Take care, while still doing your best work, to not let yourself be taken advantage of. Keep lines of communication open between your peers and your supervisor to ensure expectations are clear on all sides.

In short, working for free, either as an intern or as a volunteer, can be a valuable experience for your career.  Even when you can’t find paying work in your field, you can stay abreast of current trends in your field, you can keep your skills fresh and honed, and you can keep building your networking contacts with the hope of earning a few great references from people who know you’re great at what you do.

Comments Off on Should You Ever Work for Free?

Pump Up Your Resume with Charity

Dec 01 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

A good way to pump up your resume and gain valuable experience is to get involved in the community. Charities are, often times, short staffed and always on the lookout for good volunteers, board members, and consultants. The non-profit world is very competitive, so it is imperative to keep costs low to attract donors, which is their lifeline. This is the reason most non-profits rely on “free” help to get the job done.

Non-profits are much more complicated than they look from the outside, which is a positive for everyone who gets involved; you can be sure that your small contribution goes a long way. Here are a few ways you can get involved that will help you gain experience that is resume-worthy.

Board of Directors: In order to be a 501(c)(3), all charities must have a Board of Directors calling the shots (http://www.stayinglegalmi.org/not_all_nonprofits_are_charities.html). Many larger organizations only have one national governing Board, then form smaller local Boards that can help make local decisions. The biggest advantage to being part of a Board of Directors is the connections you make with other Board members. Typically, Boards are made up of the who’s who of your local area. Executives tend to do business with other executives with like-minded community interests. If you are actively searching for a new job, what better way to get in the door than to sit shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the area’s movers and shakers. Being asked to sit on a Board of Directors is not the easiest thing. You need to prove your worth, hold a high-level title, or know someone already involved. Many non-profits also have financial expectations to be part of their Board of Directors. Contact the charity’s Executive Director to find out what they look for in new Board members. If their Board is full, ask about joining another committee to get your foot in the door.

Event Planning: There is a reason Donald Trump chooses planning a charity event as the final test on The Apprentice each season- it’s a marketable skill. If you can successfully plan a charity event, you prove your ability to organize, manage, market, promote, recruit, inspire… everything an employer looks for (http://blog.cvent.com/blog/meetings-and-events-3/its-not-marlee-or-john). Charities are constantly planning events. Start off small and volunteer for an event. For instance, if you volunteer for a charity walk, you may be assigned to help register walkers, set-up water stations, hand out timers, record winner data, pass out food, organize the awards ceremony, etc. Try to get experience in different areas. Once you have found an event you enjoy doing (and there are MANY different events: galas, walks, golf tournaments, screenings, etc.), find an organization that will allow you to do an event on their behalf. There are usually strict rules to “third party” events, so find out your particular charity’s rules. Then work your magic and gain valuable experience running your own event.

Project Management: If you are looking for specific experience, contact the Executive Director of your chosen charity and ask how you might be able to help. For example, if you want to gain publicity experience, call a non-profit and find out if they have any upcoming fundraisers or big announcements that they need help publicizing. Most local non-profit offices do not have the luxury of a Communications Manager on-site and would welcome your help. Many non-profits especially need help with graphic design, marketing, writing, development, public relations, volunteer recruitment, and promotion.  Manage a specific aspect of one of their projects and use it as a learning experience to strengthen your skill set and add to your resume.

Get Published: Many employers now ask for writing samples to prove your abilities. If your current job does not offer enough chances to get published, look for a charity that needs help. Most non-profits rely on grants for financial support, yet have few staff with the time to focus on writing grants. Writing a grant is very time consuming, but a unique skill that many do not get the opportunity to do (http://www.wikihow.com/Write-a-Grant-Proposal). Charities often need help writing press releases and press packets for upcoming events or announcements. There are event program books, websites, newsletters, and many other publications charities produce. Ask the charity to give you samples of your work to use in your portfolio.

In addition to volunteering for charities, you may want to consider working for one. Especially for recent graduates, charities offer the opportunity to get a myriad of experience. With fewer staff, you will have more responsibilities and opportunities to build your resume. Whether you volunteer or work for a charity, you can pump up your resume while doing something positive for your community. It’s a win-win!

Comments Off on Pump Up Your Resume with Charity