Do Unto Others: Don’t Drop the Ball

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One of the most common complaints that job seekers have is the silence that frequently follows resume submissions and interviews.  I can’t even count the number of times I’ve heard one of these statements.

Ÿ “I sent in my resume 2 weeks ago but haven’t heard anything in response.”

Ÿ “The recruiter reached out to me to see if I might be interested in a specific position.  After a brief conversation, she said she’d talk to the hiring manager and get back to me.  That was 3 weeks ago and I haven’t heard from her since.”

Ÿ “Last month I interviewed with the hiring manager and it seemed to go well.  I was told that I would be contacted in a couple of days to schedule follow-on meetings with his staff, but it’s been radio silence since.  I even called the recruiter and she hasn’t responded.  I just wish someone would tell me something one way or the other.”

I find it incredible that the recruiters involved in these situations fail to communicate to the candidates.  The common wisdom is that if you don’t hear anything, they’re not interested.  So what?   If this is the case, the recruiter should have the common decency to contact the candidate to let him know that he will not be considered further, preferably by phone but at the very least by email, including an indication of the reason for rejection.  This show of respect will allow him to move on to other opportunities and perhaps adjust his search strategy, grateful for the feedback.

But to the ever hopeful job seeker, silence doesn’t always equate to rejection.  Many things could be happening.  The hiring manager could be on vacation, traveling for business, caught up in an office emergency.  Any number of issues may have occurred to slow the process down.  Communicate this to the candidate, providing status updates with a revised timeframe for continuing the process if applicable.  Even if you don’t have any substantive information yourself, notify him of that.  He would much prefer to know even if the news is negative.  Avoiding contact, not responding to emails and phone calls, is not acceptable procedure.

Sure, we’re all busy and time can easily slip away from us, but this communication doesn’t need to take long.  I think we may have become too complacent and fail to realize just how important these common courtesies are, both in terms of etiquette and the effect they have on your personal and corporate brands.  Perhaps it would be more obvious if you think of yourself as an employee working on the other end of the business, in marketing or sales, and consider each of these applicants as a customer who will carry away an impression of what it is like to work with you and your company.  Behave as if you expect to see yourself reviewed on Yelp or Glassdoor…and as you would like if you were in their place.

Mauri in Orange BlouseHi my name is Mauri, and I am the President of Career Insiders, a career management and talent acquisition consulting firm. I speak frequently at conferences, job fairs, and career panels and have been invited to speak at HR West 2013 in April. I consult with career centers at universities including UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, Tulane University, Mills College, and others, and contribute regularly to publications such as TheLadders RecruitBlog. I am what some might consider a professional “people person.”

The 3 Question Cover Letter

Cover Letter Image I will start by saying that the vast majority of cover letters are never read. Yes, that’s right. With recruiters and hiring managers sifting through hundreds of resumes, in the interest of time, most of them go straight to the resume. This is even true when the job posting specifically requests one. That said, you should write your cover letter as if it will be read because you have no way of knowing whether or not the person reviewing your application will be one of the few who do.  And many decision makers will go back to read the cover letter if they like the resume.

Even those who will read your cover letter do not have the time or inclination to read a page-long essay, so keep it succinct, not more than half a page, and three, possibly four, paragraphs. Each paragraph should answer one of these three questions, in this order.

Why you?
Where ‘you’ is the company. Introduce yourself and in two or three sentences, convey your interest in the company, the specific position, and even the hiring manager if appropriate, with enthusiasm. Your explanation should include information that shows you have done your research. Some hiring managers who do read resumes tell me that they have more than once rejected an applicant whose cover letter is so generic that it could have been sent for any job at any company. They want to see at the beginning that you’ve taken the time to distinguish them from the rest of the pack, to see why you think they are special. Keep in mind that this will be their first impression of you, and you know what they say about first impressions. At the same time, be careful not to be overly solicitous.

Why me?
Where ‘we’ is you. In this section, tell the reader why you should be considered for the position, why you are special. Choose two or three of the company’s highest priority requirements and write a sentence or two that describe your achievements that will illustrate to the hiring manager that you possess the required qualifications. Don’t just tell them you have the experience. Show them by describing key accomplishments, your actions and the results. To keep your resume easily readable, your paragraphs should only be five or six lines long. Therefore, you may need to use two paragraphs for this segment, thus extending your letter to four paragraphs, but still only half a page in total.

What next?
This last paragraph will be the shortest and simplest, refers to the next step in the process, and may be the one area that is generic. It generally tells the reader that you want a chance to discuss your qualifications and indicates the next step to be an interview.

Most cover letters these days are actually the body of an email message with your resume as the only attachment. However, if a cover letter is specifically requested or you are delivering a hard copy, create a separate document and use the formal business format including your return address, the name and address of the person to whom you are writing, a salutation or greeting, followed by the body of your message.

At the end you want to include a complimentary close, “Thank you for your consideration,” and your first and last name.

For the salutation, it is polite to write “Dear Mr (or Ms) Brown,” rather than use their first name. If you do not know the name of the person who will be receiving your letter, exclude the salutation completely. Don’t use phrases such as “To whom it may concern,” “Dear sir or madam,” or “Dear hiring manager.” Similarly, don’t use the first name and the last, as in “Dear Mr John Brown.”  Believe me, I’ve seen it all.

One Size Does Not Fit All

I can’t stress enough how important it is to tailor your resume to each specific position.  It must immediately capture the attention of the hiring manager as he/she will only give it a 15-20 second glance to decide whether to reject it or to continue reading.  Your cover letter should be well written, short and to the point, directly addressing your relevant qualifications in a way that will compel the hiring manager to take a look at your resume.  However, it’s not enough to customize your cover letter, because the vast majority of them are never read, even often when one is expressly requested.  With only a short amount of time to sift through hundreds of applications, most hiring managers and even HR will go straight to the resume, and it must be able to stand alone.

In the initial 15-20 second scan of your resume, the reader will most likely focus on the top 1/3 of the first page.  Anything they need to know about you regarding your fit for their job should somehow be expressed in this space.  That is why I recommend using a summary of qualifications section at the top to outline these key points in bullet form.  I also advise that for each of your jobs, you include only relevant experience so as not to cloud the picture and make it difficult for the reader to see pertinent achievements.  A resume is a marketing brochure, not a historical document.

I believe in using what I call the People Magazine philosophy of resume writing, as compared to The New Yorker or Vanity Fair whose articles go on and on for days.  In People as in the USA Today newspaper, for each article there is a headline, a sub-headline, and a few sentences. It is easy to grasp the key points without making a huge commitment of time.  Keep in mind that the purpose of a resume is not to get you a job; it is to convince the hiring manager to invite you to interview.

Regarding LinkedIn, it is true that while you may have several versions of your resume, you only have one LinkedIn profile.  My rule in this case is to ensure that your LinkedIn profile is not inconsistent with any of your resumes.  That will most likely mean that it will contain fewer details about your experience.  This may not be ideal, but it’s much better than causing confusion with mismatched bios.

Carefully proofread all your documents – resumes, cover letter, thank you notes, and emails.  Nothing is worse than saying you have excellent communication skills when you have grammatical or spelling errors.

Finally got an Interview? Don’t screw it up!

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A client recently approached me to help her prepare for an interview with an organization that she had been trying to get into for the past six months. She was very concerned that she perform well because she knew she wouldn’t get another chance…and rightly so.

In today’s job market, it is so difficult to land an interview that you need to make sure you do a good job.  As they say, you only have one chance to make a first impression.  Here are some good tips.  Study the job description carefully and identify the four or five most important criteria.  What skills do they need the most?

For each of the criteria that you have defined, write a couple of sentences that indicate how you fulfill that requirement.  Describe one or two achievements that most illustrate your ability to carry out that function.  Be sure to write complete sentences, not just notes. This way you will be comfortable speaking in full sentences during the interview. Make your statements concise and be sure to highlight the positive results of your actions.

Don’t take these notes into the interview but practice reading them, keeping in mind that you need to stop when you reach the end of your answer.  I emphasize this because it will help prevent you from rambling which is one of the most common interview mistakes.  You will want to deliver the information and stop.  It will then be up to the interviewer to move on to the next topic or ask follow-up questions.  Select accomplishments that are among your most significant, ones of which you are proud.  However, be sure to use examples that are most relevant to the specific position.

Remember that this is not about what you want; it’s all about what they need.  Refrain from bringing up experiences that are not germane.  This will only cloud the issue with extraneous information.

If you have properly prepared this framework, you can use the information to respond to a variety of questions.  For example, if you are asked, “Tell me about yourself,” the interviewer does not want to hear you recount your life history or even your professional history from the beginning to the present.  By the time you get to the most recent / most relevant information, you may have lost their attention.  Tell them the aspects about yourself that show them you will do their job successfully.

If you are asked, “Why should we hire you,” this is another ideal time to respond with the key points in your framework.  If you are asked to describe your strengths, make sure they correlate directly with these same points.

Throughout the interview, show enthusiasm for the job and the company even if you aren’t sure you will accept an offer.  At the conclusion, be sure to thank them and let them know you are interested.  If the information is not provided, ask them to tell you what the next steps in the decision process will be and when you should expect to hear back.  Also, ask for business cards so that you can write a thank you letter as soon as possible after the interview, preferably the same day and by email so that they receive it immediately.

Good luck!

(Please email me for a free copy of my Interview Prep Guide)

Linking on LinkedIn

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Whether in person or through social media, a first impression is made within a matter of seconds, and the opportunities to change this impression are few and far between. So whether connecting with a friend, colleague, or boss, it’s extremely important to make your first attempt so good that they can’t ignore you.

Today I’d like to focus on LinkedIn. I’m a true believer in the value of LinkedIn as a job search tool, especially for research, and naturally I have a lot of connections. I’m happy to connect with people I know but lately I’ve been receiving invitations from folks I have no way of having met, from all over the world.  I guess I could be flattered, but I wish they would provide some information as to how they know me and why they’d like to connect with me. Since I’m known as the career expert who is committed to integrating old-fashioned interpersonal relationship building skills (i.e., social etiquette) with the latest technological tools, this has prompted me to lay out my three cardinal rules for LinkedIn requests:

  1. Never ask a stranger to connect!  If you want to introduce yourself, do it in an email or by phone. Build the connection first before you try to link.  If you’ve just met someone at a party or networking event and you’ve exchanged contact info, then that counts.
  2. Never use the “Friend” category unless that person would consider you their friend. If you have attended the same school, then you may use “Classmate” even if you weren’t there at the same time.  The same goes for “Colleague” if you have worked at the same company.  Otherwise, use “Other” and type in the person’s email address in the box provided.  If you’ve followed rule #1, you will have this information.
  3. Never use the generic introduction message that Linkedin provides! Take 20 seconds or so to personalize the request. Remember it took days, weeks, months, and maybe even years to build this connection.