Posted by Erik Even on Jul 30, 2009 in Job Search
You don’t always need a cover letter — in fact, some recruiters request you do not send one.
But the cover letter is the best way to to play up the most important parts of your resume, while including information inappropriate for a resume. The letter also demonstrates your writing ability, and shows you were willing to take a little extra time with your application.
Here are some tips for writing a great cover letter:
Start by introducing yourself. Stick to what relates directly to the job. My name is Joseph Blow, and I have 10 years experience in Advanced Widget Management.
Mention the position for which you are applying. Forgetting this is a common error. Chances are excellent that the recruiter is working to fill several jobs. I am writing about the Senior Widget Manager position advertised on EmploymentCrossing.com.
Grab the reader’s attention. Cover letters are dull. If there is anything that sets you apart from other applicants (and which applies directly to the position), mention it right off the bat. Don’t bury the lede. I am the author of the best-selling book How to Manage Widgets.
Sell your qualifications. Don’t just recap your resume — the recruiter already has it. Imagine if had only three sentences to convince and attractive person to go out on a date with you. Now translate that to convincing a recruiter to hire you. I will use my training, plus years of technical and management experience at some of the best firms in the widget industry, to help make your firm the top-rated manufacturer of small-to-medium-sized widgets.
Be specific about the position. Read the job description carefully, and refer directly to the specific qualifications listed. I am fluent in Microsoft Widgetware, but I have plenty of experience with WidgetPro, the software used by your team.
Assume you will be contacted. I have attached a copy of my resume, and you may find samples of my work at widgetmanagerblog.com. I look forward to having the opportunity to speak to you about my qualifications in person.
Make sure your name, address, and contact information are on your cover letter. Yes, all that is on your resume. Be redundant. Make it easy to contact you.
Only list your salary history or your salary requirements if you are specifically asked to do so. Let the firm get to know you, and get excited about you, before the topic of filthy lucre is raised. If you do list your past salaries, don’t lie.
Grammar, punctuation and sentence structure must be perfect. If you can’t write, find a friend who can.
Use the same paper and print quality you would use on a resume. Don’t go cheap — you’re trying to impress people.
Got any more advice? Let us know in the comments!
Posted by Erik Even on Jul 29, 2009 in Job Search
There are two reasons a recruiter will ask you a dumb, inappropriate or illegal interview question. One: he or she is “testing” you, by playing silly games. Two: he or she is incompetent.
You don’t want to work for or with this person.
But in this economy, you may not have the luxury to be choosy. Here’s how I would answer some of these dumb questions:
“Have you ever brought a lawsuit against an employer?” “Yes. I sued the recruiter at my previous job, who asked me questions about things you’re not allowed to consider when hiring.”
“Do you ever abuse alcohol or drugs?” “Why? Are you holding?” or “I wouldn’t call it ‘abuse.’”
“Where do you see yourself in five years?” “Running this department, and firing you.”
“Have you ever stolen from an employer?” “No way! My last employer may be in prison, but he has ‘associates’ all over New Jersey!”
“How would other people describe you?” “A tall white male between 30 and 40 years of age, fleeing the scene to the southeast in a leather jacket and bluejeans.”
“Are you religious?” “Yeah, did I mention I sued my last employer for asking me illegal questions?” or “Yes! Soon the Great Old Ones will descend, and mighty Cthulhu will rise from lost R’lyeh to destroy the world! Yog-Sothoth knows the gate! Yog-Sothoth is the gate!”
Have any more bad interview questions? Let us know in the comments!
Posted by Erik Even on Jul 28, 2009 in Advice
, Job Search
Let’s take a look at some more mistakes you may be making on your resume.
DON’T put full sentences on your resume. Recruiters are going to scan your resume looking for keywords. The more text you have, the less likely they will catch the words they want. Keep it terse: Managed staff of 12 people, not I have experience managing a staff of up to 12 people.
DON’T tout your college experience. Unless you are less than five years out of college, no one cares what you did there. Young people list college experience to make up for their laick of job experience. Now that you have some jobs under your belt, discuss those. Recruiters want to know you have a college degree, so just say University of California Los Angeles, 1994, BA Anthropology. Well, you’d say that if you were me.
DON’T be vague. When some people describe their past experience with a position, they write what could be a generic job description. Your prospective employer already knows what a Manager of Widget Development does — he or she wants to learn about what YOU did SPECIFICALLY. You don’t have much room, but concentrate on specific duties and accomplishments — anything that will differentiate you from the dozens of other Managers of Widget Development a recruiter will consider.
DON’T limit your resume to one page. Often applicants try to cram all their experience onto one side of one sheet of 8 1/2 by 11″ paper, believing that recruiters won’t read anything after that. This is untrue. You need to make sure all the most important points are on that front page; but if you need the room, go on to page two and even three. But unless you’re a college professor writing a CV, never go beyond three pages.
DON’T list your hobbies. You might think listing hobbies and club memberships will humanize you to a recruiter. Hey, this guy snowboards and is a 3rd Degree Mason — he must kick ass! In truth, they just don’t care. And adding hobbies gives the impression you are padding out your resume.
Got any more resume advice? Let us know in the comments!
Read Part 1 and Part 2!
Posted by Erik Even on Jul 27, 2009 in Careers
From the Internet, with some additions of my own:
When you take a long time, you’re slow.
When your boss takes a long time, he’s thorough.
When you don’t do it, you’re lazy.
When your boss doesn’t do it, he’s too busy.
When you make a mistake, it’s your fault.
When your boss makes a mistake, it’s your fault.
When doing something without being told, you’re overstepping your authority.
When your boss does the same thing, that’s initiative.
When you take a stand, you’re being bullheaded.
When your boss does it, he’s being firm.
When you break a rule of etiquette, you’re being rude.
When your boss skips a few rules, he’s being original.
When you please your boss, you’re a suck-up.
When your boss pleases his boss, he’s being cooperative.
When you’re out of the office, you’re wasting company time.
When your boss is out of the office, he’s “in pocket.”
When you take a day off sick, you’re sick too often.
When your boss takes a day off sick, it’s a tragic illness.
When you ask for a few hours off, you must be going for an interview.
When your boss asks for a few hours off, it’s unavoidable.
If you forget to do something important, you’re risking your job.
If your boss forgets, you forgot to remind him.
If you can’t get the printer to work, you’re incompetent.
If your boss can’t get the printer to work, it’s broken.
When you get laid off, you get two weeks severance and a security guard to escort you off the premises.
When your boss gets laid off, he gets a golden parachute and stock options.
Got any others? Let us know in the comments!
Posted by Erik Even on Jul 23, 2009 in Advice
, Job Search
Your resume gives the very first — and if not done properly, last — impression a prospective employer will get of you, as both a person and as an employee.
Here are some resume mistakes — don’t make them!
DON’T include every job you ever had on your resume. Once, long ago, I was interviewed for a position as assistant to a film producer. Being young and naive, I listed on my resume every job I had held since I started working at 16 — including that first job, with McDonalds. My reasoning was, I wanted to show I had been constantly employed since I was a teenager.
Instead, the producer saw the McDonalds job, and spent the rest of the “interview” making fun of me. I didn’t get the position.
Not every employer is as much of a jerk as that guy. But prospective employers are only interested in jobs you have held that are related to the position for which they are hiring. Personalize your resume to your industry or career — and if that leaves gaps, be ready to explain them. For instance, I have a two-year gap in my career as a web designer and writer. I was teaching high school. I don’t include that on my resume, but when employers ask what I did for those two years my answer is ready.
DON’T make your resume a laundry list of job duties and skills. Don’t list every responsibility you had at a particular job. No employer wants to search through a long list of skills and experience, hoping to find what he or she needs. Distill each position down to a list of the three-to-five most important responsibilities. You’ll have a chance to discuss the job in greater detail at the interview.
DON’T list your skills and certifications at the bottom of the resume, or on the back. Make a concise list of your skills, especially computer skills, and put them at the top of your resume, right after “Objectives.” The key word here is “concise” — you can go into greater detail at the interview. A resume is a brief précis of your career, not a lengthy autobiography.
Do you have a resume mistake to share? Let us know in the comments!
Read How to Put Together a Resume — Part 1
Posted by Erik Even on Jul 21, 2009 in Advice
From the Tubes — a Management-to-English translator:
That’s very interesting. I disagree.
I don’t disagree. I disagree.
I don’t totally disagree with you. You may be right, but I don’t care.
You have to show some flexibility. You have to do it whether you want to or not.
We have an opportunity. You have a problem.
You obviously put a lot of work into this. This is awful.
In a perfect world… I won’t give you any resources or guidance. Just get it working and get it out the door.
Help me to understand. I don’t know what you’re talking about, and I don’t think you do either.
You just don’t understand our business. I hire experts like you and then ignore their advice.
You need to see the big picture. The CEO thinks it’s a good idea.
If you do want to discuss it further, my door is always open. Go f— yourself.
I appreciate your contribution. Go f— yourself.
We’re going to follow a strict methodology here. We’re going to do it my way.
I didn’t understand the e-mail you said you sent. Can you give me a quick summary? I still can’t figure out how to work the e-mail program.
Cost of ownership is a significant issue. We want all of the benefits and none of the costs.
We have to leverage our resources. You’re working weekends..
Your project is on hold. Your project is canceled.
Wrong answer. You didn’t tell me what I wanted to hear.
You needed to be more proactive. You should have protected me from myself.
I’d like your buy-in on this. I want someone else to blame when this thing bombs.
We want you to be the executive champion of this project. I want to be able to blame you for my mistakes.
We need to syndicate this decision. We need to spread the blame if it backfires.
We have to put on our marketing hats. We have to put ethics aside.
It’s not possible. It’s impractical. It won’t work. I don’t know how to do it.
It’s a no-brainer. It’s a perfect decision for me to take credit for it.
I’m glad you asked me that. My boss told me what to say.
There are larger issues at stake. I’ve made up my mind, so don’t bother me with the facts.
I’ll never lie to you. I’ll lie to you.
Our business is going through a paradigm shift. We have no idea what we’ve been doing, but in the future we shall do something completely different.
Human Resources. A bulk commodity, like lentils or cinder blocks.
The upcoming reductions will benefit the vast majority of employees. The upcoming reductions will benefit me.
Got any more? Post them in the comments!
Posted by Erik Even on Jul 20, 2009 in Advice
, Job Search
There are lots of sites out there with advice for how to snazz up your resume. Much of the advice contradicts itself. Should you print on colored paper, or not? Should you include your photo, or not?
Fortunately for you, I used to be an office manager. Part of my job was going through the stack of resumes, pulling the 5% that the human resources veep might want to see, and sending the rest to the round file. My advice is the right advice.
Here is what you need to remember when creating or updating your resume:
Only use white paper, or slightly off-white (beige, ivory, pearl, bone). Any other color is difficult to read, and looks unprofessional. Oh, and the 1980s called — they want their pastel colors back.
Use “fancy” paper. You know that extra-expensive “resume paper” they sell at the office supply store? Use it. Thick, textured ivory paper with a paper-maker’s imprint tells the employer I take this job application seriously, and took the time and effort to demonstrate it. A resume printed on cheap printer paper says I send out 20 of these a day, and if you call me for an interview, I won’t remember who you are.
But — do not send a resume on paper that is so thick, it feels like poster board. If you can’t easily fold a piece of “resume paper,” don’t use it.
If you are providing a separate cover letter, then use the same fancy paper.
Make sure your resume looks professionally printed. There’s an easy way to insure this — get your resumes professional printed. All the big box office supply stores now have printing departments; or if you enjoy waiting in long lines, go to Kinko’s.
But printing your resumes at home is fine — as long as your home printer does a good job. If you print a resume and the letters look irregular, or some areas are lighter than others, don’t use it. And don’t send in a resume if you’ve smeared it. Let your newly-printed resumes dry for a few minutes.
Don’t use unusual fonts. Allow me to introduce a friend of mine. His name is Times New Roman. Get to know him well, because unless you’re a professional graphic designer or advertising director, he is the ONLY FONT YOU SHOULD EVER USE on a resume. No, it’s not okay to use Arial (your resume is not a web site) or Courier (unless you actually typed out your resume on a manual typewriter).
And if you ever, ever use Comic Sans for any reason, you deserve to be unemployed.
Don’t attach anything to the resume unless specifically instructed to do so. Recruiters don’t need your photograph or business card. They won’t think it’s cute that you tied a lollipop to your resume with a bow. They just want your resume, hopefully without a staple or paperclip attached. Cute attachments get thrown out, along with the resume. Unless it’s candy — we eat the candy, and then throw the resume away.
Don’t fold your resume unless you are mailing it. Never hand anyone a resume that has been folded. Or crumpled. Or has a coffee stain on it. If you’re mailing in a resume, you can fold it into three to fit in the envelope. Do so very carefully. (And make sure the envelope is made of the same fancy paper as the resume.)
Got any additional advice for resume creators? Let us know in the comments!
Posted by Erik Even on Jul 16, 2009 in Employment
As a sequel to yesterday’s post on looking busy at work, here’s a meme floating around the Web: what to say if you get caught sleeping in your cubicle:
“It’s okay: I’m still billing the client.”
“They told me at the blood bank this might happen.”
“This is just a 15-minute power nap like they raved about in that time-management course you sent me to.”
“I was working smarter, not harder.”
“Whew! I must a left the top off the Liquid Paper.”
“I wasn’t sleeping! I was meditating on the mission statement and envisioning a new paradigm!”
“This is one of the seven habits of highly effective people!”
“I was testing my keyboard for drool resistance.”
“I’m in the management training program.”
“I’m actually doing a “Stress Level Elimination Exercise Plan” (SLEEP) I learned at the last management seminar you made me attend.”
“This is in exchange for the six hours last night when I dreamed about work!”
“I was doing a highly specific Yoga exercise to relieve work-related stress. Do you discriminate against people who practice Yoga?”
“Darn! Why did you interrupt me? I had almost figured out a solution to our biggest problem.”
“The coffee machine is broken.”
“Boy, that cold medicine I took last night just won’t wear off!”
“It worked well for Reagan, didn’t it?”
“I was cross-training for telecommuting.”
“Ah, the unique and unpredictable circadian rhythms of the workaholic!”
“I wasn’t sleeping. Was trying to pick up a contact lens without hands.”
“The mailman flipped out and pulled a gun, so I was playing dead to avoid getting shot.”
And the best thing to say if your boss catches you asleep at your desk:
“Geez, I thought you were gone for the day.”
Got any of your own? Let us know in the comments!
Posted by Erik Even on Jul 15, 2009 in Advice
If you’re at work, you should be working.
BWA HA HA just kidding. Apart from certain important personal matters that may have to be dealt with at work (making doctor’s appointment, dealing with your bank/cable company/phone provider), there are times you won’t be busy, if for no other reason that you need a mental health minute.
But some bosses don’t realize this, and expect you to be 100% productive, 100% of the time. So it’s important to know how to look busy without getting caught.
Fortunately for you, I’m an expert.
Position your monitor so no one can see it but you. If possible. When someone comes into your office or cubicle, you’ll have the opportunity to Alt-Tab your way from World of Warcraft to Excel.
Always keep important programs open on your screen. Or you can create a screen capture of your monitor when busy, and make this your wallpaper image.
Turn off your screensaver. If your boss sees your screensaver running, he or she will know you haven’t used your computer in the last 15 or so minutes. This is especially embarrassing if you’re sitting at your desk.
Keep lots of paperwork out on your desk. Tidy=slacking.
March around the office looking stressed. Let other workers see you walking quickly past, on your way to that very important… whatever.
Have a folder or binder with you at all times. If you have a binder, you must be busy, right? But make sure it’s something relevant, in case your boss asks you what you’re carrying.
If your job requires you to be on the phone, then pretend to be on the phone. If your job does not require the phone, then don’t try this — you’ll look like you’re slacking or making personal calls.
Talk to your co-workers about how busy you are. Get that rumor going that you’re the busiest one in the group. But be cautious – spend too much time talking up how slammed you are, and your coworkers will figure out what you’re doing.
FedEx packages to yourself. It’s expensive, but it really makes you seem important — like Steve Martin in Bowfinger.
Got any more advice for the successful slacker? Let us know in the comments!
Posted by Erik Even on Jul 14, 2009 in Advice
I live in the Los Angeles Metropolitan Area, which has the fifth worst average commute time in the nation, at 26.5 minutes. But I’ve had jobs that required a hour-and-a-half commute each way, and that’s not unusual.
Commuting to work can create a great deal of stress, and that stress can bleed into your work life and your home life. But there are ways to make commuting easier.
Leave home much earlier than you usually have to leave. It may take you 45 minutes to get to work most mornings, but there is always going to be an accident, or construction, or a loose animal in the lanes, and the time of your commute doubles or triples. Unfortunately, employers often don’t care why you are late, just that you are late. So arrive early. Get some coffee. Be the first person at your desk — it’s very impressive.
Of course, if you have a family or other responsibilities, it may not be viable to give up even more of your time to your commute and employer.
Buy gas on your way home, at a regular location you use all the time. Never leave gas purchases to the morning — you’ll just make yourself late for work.
Listen to books on tape. You’re not going to learn anything from that wacky morning zoo radio show. Take advantage of the extra time each day to expand your horizons.
Don’t work in the car. Sure, you’re making up for lost time — until you die in a fiery crash because you had your BlackBerry jammed into one ear while you tried to take notes and drink from your Starbucks brushed-metal coffee mug. Work can wait until you get to work.
Carpool. Many employer offer incentives to workers who carpool. If you can find other employees who live in your general area, this is a great option.
But remember you are putting your arrival time in the hands of others. Make sure you have a back-up plan so you can get to work on time if the carpool driver bails. Make sure everyone in the carpool understands that if they can’t make it that morning, to give the others as much notice as possible.
Also, split the cost of gas evenly. Don’t try to get more money from people who live farther away, or break it down by mile, or try to charge for “wear and tear” on your car. Just split the costs evenly — it’s better for everyone.
Got any suggestions for commuters? Let us know in the comments!