Is the Cover Letter Dead?

cover letter

If you do any reading in the jobseeker world you’ll quickly see there are a lot of divergent opinions about the humble cover letter. Some say they are old fashioned and you should not waste time on them. Others say they are an opportunity for keyword stuffing and you should bloat the letter up so it will make it through the AST programs. And still others say it is your chance to show your personality and creativity since the resume is so formalized. So who is right?

All of them. To a degree.

The cover letter is certainly not dead, but it has changed in terms of style and importance. I often make the analogy to a business suit. When I was growing up in the 80’s, my family owned a men’s clothing store so I got to see first hand the clothes buying habits of the typical worker. Every man in a professional job wore a suit, prided himself on his suit, even spent an inordinate amount of time matching ties and pocket squares to accessorize his suit.

Today, not so much. We now live in the world where heads of billion dollar companies show up in hoodies. But does that mean there are no business suits? Of course not. Mega stores like Gentlemen’s Warehouse couldn’t survive if that was the case. Men may now wear their suits less often, but they still keep a nice quality one in the closet for those occasions where it is required.

This is what the cover letter has become- it is the nice business suit you keep in the closet for those special occasions. So no, they are not dead, but you won’t need one as often as you used to. But just as most suit owners do not spend as much time latching ties and pocket squares, cover letter writers need to change their focus as well.

The modern cover letter has 3 distinct goals it must achieve, and ideally it needs to achieve them in 2-3 short paragraphs and a few bullets. First, it must name the position for which you are applying. This can be done in a single sentence. Second, it must explain why you are applying, and why you are a good fit. This generally takes another 3-4 sentences. Third, you need to provide back-up to your claim that you are the right person for the job. This can either be done in another short paragraph, or in a bulleted list. Then you just need to close out the letter expressing your desire to meet.

If you take the time to create a quality cove letter template then it can act like that good business suit you have hanging in the closet. Just as you may take out that suit and brush it off a few times a year, you cover letter template will need to be tweaked a bit to match each individual application. In the end, it is time well spent that just may differentiate you from the competition and lead to that next career goal.

 

The Best Productivity Hack for Jobseekers

Job seeker to do listBy now you should realize that looking for that next step in your career can feel like a full time job all on its own. If you are unemployed and looking then you can really throw yourself into the whole process with abandon. But what if you are still working? Spending and additional 15-20 hours a week on the job hunt can feel impossible after putting in 40+ hours at your current job.

This is where extreme time management come into play. Want to know the number one productivity hack that can both save you time, and keep you on track?

A To Do list

Seriously, as simple as this is, it is extremely important. Trying to take on a job hunt while employed, without robust to do list, is like trying to save for a new car without a budget. It will happen in fits and starts and take twice as long. But don’t just start writing up a list; thinking about what you need to accomplish is just as important as writing it down.

The key to creating a good job search to do list is to make it detailed and hierarchical. Whether you do this digitally in the latest and greatest app, or on a napkin, really doesn’t matter, as long as you do it.

What goes on your to do list? Here is a sample day for a sales professional-

LinkedIn
-skim through recent posts on Pulse
-share one good article as an update, make sure to tag author
-engage in job seeker & sales professional groups (at least 2 comments each)
-send connection inmails to 3 job leads

Search
-Scan recent postings in LinkedIn & Indeed
-Tag 3 positions to apply to

Research
-Google each of the 3 openings. Find the following:
+brief company history/outlook
+names of senior people to connect with on social media
+job openings listed on their own site

Resume
-Tweak resume for each opening
+Branding statement
+Skills list

Apply

Does this list look too intimidating? To some who have been job seeking without any structure it can be. But remember, these are the steps you need to take in order to get a new job. You should of course feel free to tweak it to match your exact needs, but the broad outline should stay roughly the same. If you are currently unemployed, look at this as a daily to do list. If you are looking while still employed, then try to get through the list 2-3 times a week.

Something as simple as a list can make the difference between feeling adrift in your search and feeling like you’re following a plan. And a plan is always better.

The Cold Hard Truth about Job Hunting

Jobseekers have so many amazing tools today. Just think back a single generation, to about 35 years ago. If you were looking for a job then you would be typing your resume, maybe even on an actual typewriter. Even if it was on a computer the word processing of the early 1990’s was nothing like it is today. After that you would be combing through the your local newspaper’s want ads. Then you’d go buy some nice resume paper and professional envelopes and start mailing your resume out in answer to those ads.

And then you’d wait by the phone. Or constantly check your answering machine.

Now compare that to how we job search today. There are a variety of templates and software packages that will help you craft a beautiful and functional resume. Because everything is digital you can easily tweak it for each individual opening you apply to. Then, because of advanced search algorithms you can go online and find job openings from all around the globe in a matter of minutes. You can quickly find out additional details about the companies and sometimes even find out who the person reading your resume will be. If this is the case you can reach out on social media and connect with them in some fashion before they have even read your resume.

And then you just make sure your cell has notifications turned on and you wait.

But just because the tools have become more sophisticated doesn’t mean looking for a new job has really become any easier. The technology we use everyday has trained us to expect instant gratification; or if not instant, then still pretty darn quick. But job hunting has never been that way, and just because our tools have changed, the overall process hasn’t. In fact, in a cruel twist of irony the process is actually a bit slower now, and it is likely because of all our fancy tools.

Because of the ease of applying nowadays on average 250 resumes are received for each corporate job opening. Now granted a lot of those applicants are not good fits for the position. But someone still has to sort through all of those resumes to determine that, right? Well, actually no. Technology has an answer for this too. Enter ATS, or automated tracking software, that can combing through documents looking for key terms that are directly related to the position. So now, in order to make it through this first part of the screening process you have to be able to write for the machine.

Let’s assume you made it through the fist stage, now you’ve made it to the smaller stack of resumes that will be looked at by the recruiter. But this is still a pretty large stack, which means she is not going to be able to spend a lot of time digesting each one. In fact, multiple studies have shown that the average amount of time spent reading a resume at this stage is anywhere from 4 – 6 seconds! Clearly no one is reading a resume i that time. They are skimming and looking for a few key elements that are dependent on the position. Maybe it is education, or length of time on the most recent job, or a specific skill set.

But you made it through the second stage and now it is on to the third item of the job search gauntlet. the social media check. Again, multiple studies have shown that up to 75% of recruiters will check a candidate’s LinkedIn profile at this stage. So while all of the social media we have access to certainly makes networking easier, it also means that is one more place where you need to make sure you are putting your best professional foot forward.

And remember all of this is just to land the interview.

But I haven’t written all this to discourage you. After all, people are still hired every day. What I want to emphasize is that it is not easy. Job hunting is work. Hard work. Don’t be passive about. Attack it just as you would any other difficult task. Invest time, effort, and if you can resources to get professional help. You can and will find your next job if you’re willing to work for it.

The First Question Every Jobseeker Should Ask Themselves

As someone who bills himself as a job search mentor, a lot of people, from jobseekers on LinkedIn, to people I meet, to friends and family, come to me with their career questions. If I get lucky enough to have one of them decide to work with me, that process just intensifies. My clients come to me looking for guidance and that often comes in the form of questions. Questions like-

How long should me resume be?

How do I go about networking?

Should I be using job boards?

Does anyone even look at cover letters anymore?

How long will it take me to find a job?

What the heck is ATS?

These are all valid questions, but they are not the key question. The key question needs to be answered long before we consider any of the others. You see, most people ask process questions, which is all well and good. Process is important, and I can certainly help with that. But process isn’t what leads you to professional fullfilment. In fact, most of us just keep pushing forward with process and it gets us stuck. According to the most recent report by the Conference Board, over 50% of Americans feel dissatisfied with their jobs. This is where the focus on process gets us.

So, what is the better question to ask? The key question.

“What would I like to do if money were no object? How would I really enjoy spending my life?”

I know, at first glance this looks like one of those inspirational quotes written over a seaside sunset image that you’d see on Facebook or Instagram. However, in this case, the question really is important, and if used the correct way can help you- write a better resume, network with the right people, create a dynamic cover letter, and yes, get you a job that both pays the bills and is professionally fulfilling.

Now, forst off you have to put aside answers like, “I’d sit on a beach drinking things with fancy umbrellas in them all day.” That isn’tthe kind of fantasy we’re talking about with this question. (Besides, just how long could you really do that before it just got monotonous?) When you ask yourself how would you enjoy spending the rest of your life you need to think in terms of being a productive member of society. What would make you happy, challenge you and have you feeling fullfilled?

The trick is not to think too concretely about the answer to this question. Don’t think, “I’d like to work in sales.” Instead think-

I want to work with a variety of different people on a day-to-day basis.

I want peace and quiet to solve complicated problems.

I want to lead and inspire others to build something.

I need to be creative

Once you have answered the question, then your job is to marry the answer to something within your profession. For instance, if you want peace and quiet to solve problems then you probably don’t want to work for a start up that is going to require you to wear a lot of hats. Even though the “romance” of working at these types of companies is alluring, once you’ve figured out your answer you can see how you’d end up frustrated there. On the other hand, if you want to lead, then taking a job a a huge traditionally structured company might not work for you. You’d likely be happier working somewhere smaller where there is more opportunity for growth and chances to lead.

Once you have answered how you really want to spend your time then the options become clearer and your chances of landing in a job that satisfies your needs raises exponentially.

3 Things I Wished I’d Known When I Started Writing Resumes

While today I market myself as a virtual jobsearch mentor and offer a pretty wide array of services to job seekers, in the beginning (13 years ago, I’m getting old!) my business just focused on writing resumes. Back in those days it was very much a learn-as-you-go experience. I’d always been a decent enough writer and I am/was a certified and active English teacher, therefore I had thought starting a side business as a resume writer made a lot of sense. So I got busy educating myself.

I read a number of books on how to craft interview winning resumes. I joined some professional forums where other resume writers gathered. I reviewed and studied lots and lots of samples and templates. After a month or so of research I felt ready to start taking clients.

And I was. But at the same time I wasn’t. You see this post isn’t just biography, it is also cautionary tale. Even after weeks of studying the process I still had not mastered the art. If you are trying to write your own resume learn from my mistakes. Here are 3 things I wished I’d known when I started.

1. Fancy doesn’t equal better
One of the first things I did when I decided to start this business was to learn everything I could about Microsoft Word. While the program is admittedly bloated, the functionality is pretty amazing. The things you can do in terms of formatting are nearly endless. And at first I wanted to show off. I tried writing documents that had so much “presentation value” that clients would be impressed. But as time went on and I made more connections with HR people and recruiters, I realized all those fancy flourishes were hurting my clients’ chances. You see hiring managers want something easy to read and follow. They don’t want flourish. And worse, sometimes that elaborate design actually gets misread by ATS programs. So lesson one learned: Keep it simple.

2. Less is always more
Clients came to me with impressive backgrounds and I wanted employers to see all of those amazing accomplishments. But I also knew that you were supposed to keep a resume to 1-2 pages. So I played with margins, I crowded fonts and I generally just crammed a lot of text in there. And the resumes looked bloated. There was little white space and no natural flow to the text. Employers reading them must have felt like they’d gone back to high school physics class and had picked up those too-dense text books that make your eyes glaze over. What I should have done is focused on the accomplishments that were directly related to the positions my clients were applying for. I should have written succinctly. I should have left white space and made a document that was just as pleasing to the eye as it was full of information. Lesson two: write with your reader in mind.

3. There is no such thing as “a” resume
When I started out I was a resume writer, which meant I assumed when a client came to me and said they wanted a resume that allowed them to apply to a few different types of jobs I needed to craft one that left as many possible doors open as I could. I was wrong. There is no such thing as “a” resume, there are only “resumes”. You see, each one needs to be laser-focus on one particular opening. By creating a jack-of-all-trades type of document I was making sure that the resume wasn’t specific enough to match anything. This is when I learned that to be a good resume writer I also needed to become something of a coach. My clients needed me to educate them just as much as they needed me to write for them. Lesson three: at heart I am still a teacher, whether it is at school or working with a client.

This then is how I become a job search mentor and not simply a resume writer. And 13 years of experience has taught me the difference.

4 Habits Every Jobseeker Should Develop

Everyone knows the danger of having bad habits- smoking, drinking too much soda, obsessively checking your phone. Most people make an effort to curb those habits, at least at the start of a New Year. But even more important than getting rid of bad habits is cultivating good ones, and for the jobseeker this is no different. Job seeking can feel like climbing a mountain that grows taller with every step for even the best candidate, but if you can build these 4 habits of mind that mountain won’t feel quite so steep.

1. Perseverance
Job hunting is hard and often discouraging. If you are going to be successful then you are going to need to stick with it for the long haul. This means doing a lot of grunt work without much initial gratification. In fact the whole idea of delayed gratification is key to a successful job search. You’ll need to be mentally prepared to be patient. Persevere even when things look hopeless. Because they are not, it just feels that way when you’re in the midst of it.

2. Letting go
Disappointments will come. You’ll tailor your resume and cover letter perfectly to the ideal position. You’ll make it through that initial screening. You’ll have a brief phone interview. They’ll say they’ll let you know soon about coming in for a face-to-face. And then days, and weeks, will go by and you’ll hear nothing. What happened? This is the hard part- you’ll probably never know. But you can’t beat yourself up about it. You need to keep pushing forward. Let go of the things outside your control. Focus on what you can do, and that is moving onto the next application, the next interview. Always forward.

3. Planning
It is so easy to get lazy if you are actually out of work and looking for that next job. The first week or so your are amped up and you do all the things. You write your resume, you get busy reading every job seeking article on LinkedIn. You start combing through the job boards sending off application after application. But inevitably after a week or so your ambitions falter and Netflix looks like a great idea. You can always network tomorrow, right? But here’s the thing, jobseeking is a full time job in and of itself, but it is one where you are the boss and lone employee. If you don’t do the work no one else will. You need to plan your weeks just as if you were an entrepreneur. Live by a schedule. Can you plan on some down time and fun? Of course, but only after you’ve put in the day’s work.

4. Putting in the time
This habit is closely aligned with the one above. Plans are all well and good, but they are only successful if they are followed. If you are unemployed and looking, you should be spending close to 40 hours a week on the hunt in one form or another. If you are employed and looking then the hours drop to 15. (You still have to sleep after all). This can look intimidating, but remember, the goal is to find the next step in your career. The one that will not only bring you greater financial freedom, but also greater personal satisfaction and self worth. Isn’t that worth a month or two of hard work?

Develop these 4 habits of mind and the whole job seeking process will become a little less of a mountain to climb.

Job Search as Evolution

“Looking back over evolutionary ‘family trees,’ it appears that adaptations—such as changes in skin color or beak shape—occur in spurts… And those spurts seem to occur when new species arise… These times of supercharged evolution are separated by long stretches with relatively few adaptations, according to the study, which looked at genetic histories of plants, animals, and fungi.” – National Geographic

I want to use the above theory as an illustration of how we think about moving forward in our careers. Too often we spend our time working on and measuring the in-between parts, imagining that this is where the important growth happens, but it’s not. It is in the “supercharged” transitions between one part of our careers and the next when real growth happens. These are the moments of transformation and possibility when we feel most alive.

So, if you are currently between jobs or are looking to make that next big move in your career, embrace the experience, even if it feels a little bit painful. This is the time that you’ll someday look back on as one of those moments when you evolved from one level to the next. Pay attention.