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 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 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 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 9, 2009 in Job Search
Here’s another wonderful Internet meme: what all those cliched phrases in job ads really mean to say.
Ability To Handle A Heavy Workload: You whine, you’re fired.
Apply In Person: If you’re old, fat or ugly you’ll be told the position has been filled.
Career-Minded: Female applicants must be childless (and remain that way).
Casual Work Atmosphere: We don’t pay enough to expect that you’ll dress up.
College Degree Preferred: Unless you wasted those four years studying something useless like Philosophy, English or Theology. (Or, like me, Medieval Iceland. Seriously.)
Competitive Environment: We have a lot of turnover.
Competitive Salary: We remain competitive by paying less than our competitors.
Duties Will Vary: Anyone in the office can boss you around.
Entry-Level Position In An Up-And-Coming Company: You’ll be making under $7 an hour; we’ll be bankrupt in a year.
Flexible Hours: Work 40 hours; get paid for 25.
Good Communication Skills: Management communicates, you listen, figure out what they really mean, and do it.
Immediate Opening: The person who used to have this job gave notice a month ago. We’re just now running the ad.
Join Our Fast-Paced Company: We have no time to train you; you’ll have to introduce yourself to your coworkers.
Must Be Deadline Oriented: You’ll be six months behind schedule on your first day.
Must Have An Eye For Detail: We have no quality control.
Nationally Recognized Leader: Inc. Magazine wrote us up a few years ago, but we haven’t done anything innovative since.
No Phone Calls Please: We’ve filled the job; our call for resumes is just a legal formality.
Problem-Solving Skills A Must: You’re walking into a company in perpetual chaos.
Profit-Sharing Plan: Once it’s shared between the higher-ups, there won’t be a profit.
Requires Team Leadership Skills: You’ll have the responsibilities of a manager, without the pay or respect.
Seeking Candidates With A Wide Variety Of Experience: You’ll need it to replace three people who just left.
Some Overtime Required: Some time each night and some time each weekend.
Got any definitions of your own? Let us know in the comments!
Posted by Erik Even on Jun 23, 2009 in Advice
, Job Search
Men assume that because proper interview attire isn’t the minefield for them it is for women, they don’t have to worry too much about what they wear to a job interview.
You may think your resume or cover letter gives a prospective employer their first real impression of you. Nope — that just gets you in the door, and by the time of the actual interview, an employer may have forgotten everything in your resume, or not even have read it yet.
It’s the first moment that an interviewer sees you that gives them their most important impression of you. Is this prejudice? Only if they’re judging you based on race or ethnicity. You choose your hairstyle, choose your hygiene, control your own gait and posture, and you select your own clothes. These are all messages you select and control. If you’re not aware of them, controlling them, then who know what you are telling the world about yourself?
As the great David Byrne once sang, “I am just an advertisement for a version of myself.”
Let’s talk clothes.
Have at least two suits — a formal suit and a casual one. I guess what I mean by “casual suit” isn’t really a suit — it’s a coordinated shirt, slacks and sports coat combo, usually a medium-to-dark earth tone. This is what you wear when, and only when, the employer instructs you not to wear a suit to the interview. The rest of the time, wear a nice two-piece suit, purchased within the last five years, excellent condition (no wear or stains), dark blue or charcoal. Black is acceptable, but makes you look like you’re going to a funeral — wear a colored tie to cheer it up.
Wear a nice shirt. White is best, properly fitted, with stays in the collars. If you know how to coordinate a colored shirt, go ahead — but white is safer. No French cuffs unless you’re French. Cuff links are nice — silver, not gold — but not necessary. No stains — eat before you change for the interview.
Also, make sure your suit and shirt are all newly dry-cleaned and pressed. Or at least iron them yourself.
Wear a tie. The tie should be silk, either a solid color or a subtle pattern. Absolutely do not wear any kind of novelty tie to a job interview. You can wear a college tie — if you know in advance that your interviewer went to that college. Otherwise, keep it simple and conservative. Clip-on ties are for blue collar workers circa 1953. Are you a blue collar worker, circa 1953?
If you don’t know how to tie a tie, look here.
Wear nice shoes. Yes, people look at your shoes. Wear leather business shoes, lace-up or slip-on, preferably black or brown. Spend some money, if for no other reason than pricier shoes will be more comfortable than cheap ones, and you never know how far you will have to walk from the car, or how long you might need to stand. Don’t think you can get away with black sneakers — this screams “I’m a recent college grad and I live in my Mom’s basement.”
Match your socks. Buy nice socks, and make sure they color coordinate with your suit and shoes. This is one of the little trivial things employers notice. If you’re wearing white sports socks with your black suit and loafers, you will not make a good impression.
Wear a belt. Like shoes, belts quickly wear out and become damaged. Have a recently purchased belt that fits properly — no extra long belt poking out of your suit. A slender belt is better than a thicker one. And absolutely no novelty buckles. Unless you live in Texas.
Groom your facial hair. If you are clean shaven, then make sure you really are clean shaven — take extra time to shave before an interview. Get under the chin. Even up those sideburns. Trim your nose hair.
If you have facial hair, you’re already at a disadvantage — some employers still think it’s 1947, and frown on beards and mustaches. Some firms even have policies against facial hair — you do not want to work there, unless you enjoy mandatory calisthenics, “WWJD” mugs and daily venerations of Walt Disney.
So if you have facial hair, trim it closely and evenly. Long beards are for pirates and hermits. Shave the edges to keep the beard neat.
Also, it’s 2009 — mustaches with no beard are appropriate only for cops and gay men. Tom Selleck can get away with it — you can’t.
Wear a watch. You will need to know the time. Actually, you can get away with almost anything for a watch — unusual watches make good conversation pieces. If a firm is unusually conservative, stick to a conservative watch.
Posted by Erik Even on Jun 18, 2009 in Advice
, Job Search
The rules for proper business attire for men are quite simple. Sure, men get them wrong all the time, but they are simple.
For women, things are more complicated. This is because male hominids are genetically programmed to sexually objectify female hominids, especially the hot ones. It’s in the female hominid’s best interests to dress asexually, so as to be taken seriously as a workmate rather than a sexual conquest. Yet she must dress provocatively enough so as not to invite scorn. It’s a balance between a burka and Dr. Lisa Cuddy.
Here are some quick tips for female job interview attire. One general rule: while it’s generally undesirable to dress as generally undesirable — that is, too much “like a man” — it is better to dress less feminine than to wear an outfit that is too sexy. Yes, dressing provocatively may very well help you get hired — if the boss is a guy. But he’s not the kind of guy for whom you’ll want to work. To put it in terms familiar to D&D players: you want to be charismatic, not comely.
Wear a suit. Make it navy, black or dark gray. Some misguided people will tell you that a red outfit is a “power” outfit. Unfortunately, there are still people in the 21st Century who think a red outfit on a woman means she is a prostitute. Also, avoid lavender, aqua and other ’80s colors. These colors say “I collect unicorns and watch QVC while I cry into my Ben & Jerry’s.”
Wear a skirt or pants. Well, obviously — don’t show up in a thong. If you wear a skirt, keep it below the knee with no provocative slit along the side. If an employer requires its female employees to wear skirts, do not work there. You do not want to associate with those people. Unless you enjoy “Power Prayer Breakfasts,” “No on Prop. 8″ rallies, glass ceilings, and anti-Semitism.
Coordinate your blouse. You are safer with a perfectly opaque blouse, but a VERY SLIGHTLY transparent one should be fine. If I can read the label on your bra, it’s no good. Make sure the color coordinates with your suit. Oh, and those blouses with frilly junk along the front? Don’t do that. You’re not a pirate.
Minimal jewelry. Small earrings (non-dangling), a thin necklace and a ring. That’s it. Wear all silver or platinum — gold jewelry is for Jersey mob wives. (Whatever your wedding ring is, even if it’s awful, you can wear it. No one expects you to take off your wedding ring. Although your next husband should have better taste.) Avoid cheap jewelry — better to wear none.
Also, wearing multiple rings implies you lost your virginity in the wheat germ hut at Burning Man. Save that stuff for your off-hours.
Wear pantyhose. For the interview, anyway. Yes, in 20 years this ridiculous clothing item won’t exist anymore. But for right now, wear the damn things. Wear neutral pantyhose — colored hose are for porn stars and Harajuku girls.
Wear sensible shoes. First, keep them dark and coordinate them with your suit. Avoid buckles, frills and bells. “Light-up” clear plastic heels are right out.
Second, wear comfortable shoes. DO NOT WEAR HIGH HEELS. It’s not necessary, and you walk like a hobbled calf. Why spend your interview in severe pain? Men may notice if you wear high heels, but they won’t notice if you don’t. It’s time to end the tyranny of the cruel shoe.
Got any advice about female interview attire? Let us know in the comments!
Posted by Erik Even on Jun 4, 2009 in Advice
, Job Search
When I was an office manager, way back when Huey Lewis and the News was still topping the charts, the veep of human resources took me under his wing. We would sit in his office with a stack of resumes, and anything on colored paper, or with a photo or lollipop attached, or which deviated in any way from the strict rules of traditional resumes or cover letters, ended up in the “round file,” headed to our special “landfill storage facility.”
Recently a friend of mine sent me the following cover letter, which he wrote and actually used recently. Here it is in full:
Dear Sir or Madam,
The “Freelance Proofreader” position that [company redacted] posted on [job site redacted] caught my attention, and I would like to apply for the job. Please find my resume with salary history attached to this email.
I’m a professional proofreader and copywriter with over five years of experience writing, editing, and proofreading both web and print media (catalogs, brochures, product descriptions, etc.). I began my career in children’s entertainment as a copywriter for MGA Entertainment where I wrote and proofed instruction manuals for children’s toys and games. I am well-acquainted…
OK, enough with this dull cover letter. You’ve probably read 50 of these smarmy, cookie cutter things already today and your eyes are glazed over. I’m going to go out on a limb and just be real for a change.
I am not just a proofreader. I am THE proofreader. I see the typos, misspellings and style inconsistencies that most people don’t notice – even on bumper stickers. I routinely re-write product descriptions I see while shopping online, then send my suggestions in to the company – just for fun. When a co-worker can’t spell a word or identify a font, he or she knows who can – me. I love that your company is producing materials that will make a positive impact on today’s youth, who are going to be tomorrow’s leaders whether we like it or not. Don’t get me wrong, I loved writing copy for the Bratz fan club, but telling 9-year olds how to apply make-up and pick out color schemes isn’t going change the world a whole lot. Your product is. I want to be a part of that.
I’m good at what I do because I love my job, and my 5+ years of professional copywriting, copyediting and proofreading experience highlight this success. I’m presently seeking a permanent, full-time position with an employer who will appreciate the enthusiastic attitude I bring to work each day, my dazzling leadership abilities, and the way I can proofread a booklet, brochure, catalog… like the pro that I am. Print out my resume, take a look at it – I’m exactly what you’re looking for, trust me. Feel free to call me at your earliest convenience, or better yet, call me right now so we can schedule an interview where I will absolutely wow you, especially after I take the proofreading test.
Thank you for your time and consideration and I look forward to hearing from you soon!
Now on the one hand, I would say never send a cover letter like this. Human resources people are allergic to “creativity” and “cleverness.”
On the other hand — I love this letter. Cover letters are supposed to provide a quick glance at who the applicant is, and why he or she should be brought in for an interview. And this letter does that.
It could be argued that the content in this letter, the attitude and the sales pitch, are more appropriate for the interview itself than the cover letter. That’s true. But in this economy, perhaps going outside the bounds is the only way to get noticed.
What do you think — showy creativity or professional restraint? Let us know in the comments!
Posted by Erik Even on May 28, 2009 in Advice
, Job Search
Interviewers love to throw difficult questions at applicants. Some people just like to see you squirm.
But it’s mostly a way to see how prepared you are; it’s also an attempt to get an unrehearsed answer.
The solution? Rehearse your answer.
What kinds of people do you have difficulty working with?
First, don’t point out that the interviewer ended a sentence with a preposition — that won’t go over well. But absolutely do not get drawn into the trap of complaining about people with whom you have worked. The interviewer will sympathize, laugh at your stories, and then not hire you.
Instead, tell the interviewer that you have had issues working with people who don’t communicate well, such as a manager who doesn’t take the time to keep in touch with people outside his or her group. Explain that by going out of your way to initiate contact with this person, and showing genuine interest in his or her issues, you brought this manager around and established a great relationship.
Now you sound like a problem solver with great people skills.
Why do you want this job?
This is a difficult question because the usual, true answers — I’m unemployed and need to pay the rent; I hate my current job; this job pays more; I need to move closer to my boy/girlfriend — are not what the interviewer wants to hear.
What they do want to hear is, why do you want this particular job? And any good answer will specifically address both the position and the company. This position represents the best next step for me in my career. I have researched a number of companies, and this company will offer me the best opportunities. I believe in what you’re working to accomplish, and I want to be part of that.
Sounds like you’re sucking up? News flash — that’s what a job interview is.
What kind of salary are you looking for?
It’s a perfectly reasonable question, and it’s grueling. Say something too low, and you either lose the job or get paid less than you’re worth. Mention too high a figure, and you’re out of the running.
Here’s the trick — turn it back around. I’m afraid I’ll need more information about the precise title and responsibilities. What is the budgeted salary range? Ahah! Got ‘em!
I’m looking at your resume, and don’t you think you’re overqualified?
Worst. Question. Ever. Fortunately, there is an answer, if you haven’t already been asked why you want the job, because the answer is the same. Focus on the position itself, and that you would find it enjoyable and meaningful. Talk about the company, and how much you want to be part of it. Tell the interviewer that unlike less-experienced hires, you will hit the ground running and bring added value to the firm.
Posted by Erik Even on May 27, 2009 in Advice
, Job Search
If you’re like me, an oxygen-breathing hominid, then searching for a new job while you are still employed causes you a lot of stress. It shouldn’t — especially in this economy, workers need a job in which they can feel secure. Many of today’s job searchers aren’t looking for a better wage or title. They want greater job security.
But certain mistakes can reduce your current job security, or even get you fired. While employers should take an employee’s job search in stride, most don’t. And many managers will fire you if they find out you’re looking, even if you’re only passively searching.
So keep your job search secret at work. And here are some things you should not do.
Don’t discuss your job search with your “friends” at work — even the trustworthy ones. Remember the young woman who admitted an affair with her boss to a co-worker “friend?” What was her name? Monica Lebowski? Feel free to discuss your job search with your work buddies — after you get a new job.
Don’t conduct your job search on your computer at work. As I’ve mentioned before, your employer has the legal right to monitor everything you do on your work computer, even if it’s personal business or your personal web email. Conduct your job search at home.
Don’t mention your job search on social networking sites. Believe it or not, some employers actually know that Facebook and LinkedIn exist. Use these sites to network — but get a hold of possible job contacts via your personal email, from home.
Don’t talk to your current employer’s clients or competitors. I know, this can make it very hard to find a new job. But there’s a very good chance these people will contact your boss and report that you are job hunting. You can never know who your boss hung out with at the national convention last year.
Don’t go to job fairs. There’s too a high chance that one of your boss’ friends, or someone representing your own company, will see you there.
Be careful where you post your updated resume. It’s okay to have the latest version of your resume on LinkedIn or a resume hosting site. But you don’t want your boss to see your resume on Craigslist or some other classified ad site — it implies you are actively looking.
Don’t forget to ask anyone you interview with to PLEASE not call your current employer. I’ve never personally known a potential employer to call a current employer without express permission. But mistakes happen, so make sure the recruiter or potential employer understands they should not call your boss. Provide three alternate references, at least one a former supervisor.