Cover Letters Demystified

January 17th, 2017

One of the biggest benefits of a well written cover letter is its ability to connect the dots for a reader. In other words, the resume lists the skills you have, but it’s the cover letter that really explains to the employer why you are a good match for a specific role. To accomplish this, you simply need to select some key items from the job description and illustrate how expertise gained from past positions enables you to meet and exceed the prospective employer’s expectations.

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Admittedly, this part of the process is time-consuming because it forces you to customize the letter as opposed to simply sending the same exact letter for each application. However, this approach can have a huge positive impact on your likelihood of securing an interview. When you close the gap between the job description and your background, employers can instantly see you as a top candidate.

When you apply to jobs and craft multiple cover letters, save each one. As your collection grows, you’ll likely find that customization becomes faster and faster because many of the roles you apply to have similar requirements and responsibilities. And on another positive note, saving cover letters is a somewhat informal method of tracking the positions you have submitted resumes to. This is very helpful when you start receiving call-backs but can’t remember all the places you have applied.

And one last note about using templates and reusing old cover letters. You’ll always want to double check to make sure that you update the employer name, address, etc. on the letter. We have received cover letters accidentally addressed to other companies or that express interest in a specific position that isn’t available through our service. This proofreading step may seems obvious, but it’s actually a very easy mistake to make.

Other ways a cover letter can work in your favor
Aside from having great marketing potential, cover letters are also a perfect way to explain any possible oddities that your resume could reflect. For example, perhaps you just moved to a new part of the country so all your experience is miles away. You can quickly mention that you have officially relocated and are already in the area available for work. This would ease any concerns a resume reviewer could have in terms of your current physical location and readiness to interview or begin a new job.

Or perhaps this role would be a career change and you need to explain why you are choosing a new direction. In situations like that, you’ll want to explain the why but then also illustrate how your skills translate. If you end up applying to jobs that an employer could perceive as being a step down (i.e. you could be over qualified), they may want to know why you have interest in this position.

In any situations like these, the purpose of a cover letter is simply to make it less likely that your resume gets screened out based on assumptions the reader could make (i.e. applicant doesn’t live here, this is a step down for the candidate so clearly not a match, this job isn’t in line with this candidate’s career path, etc.).

New Year’s Resolution: Making It Stick

January 3rd, 2017

The New Year is frequently a time for new beginnings. For many, it’s a fresh start for health and wellness, careers, and mindfulness, just to name a few of the common areas in which we often hope to achieve growth and improvement.

And yet sometimes, we find that despite even our highest of ambitions, things somehow find their way back to old habits. Does this indicate that New Year’s resolutions are a waste of time that inevitably end up failing? No, not really. Taking a moment to create a fresh start for oneself is never a waste of time. The flaw tends to lay more with a tendency we have to make unreasonable goals (but with the best possible intentions, of course). Luckily, there is a fairly easy fix!

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For example, take a look at those making a major fitness commitment. For someone not working out weekly, a new commitment of just 3 days a week is actually a major change to one’s routine and lifestyle. But for most of us, 3 days per week doesn’t seem terribly ambitious (especially after copious amounts of holiday treats), so we all tend to gravitate more to the extreme and decide that 5-6 days per week should be reasonable enough. In reality, such a drastic change to one’s routine typically turns out to be rather difficult to maintain in the long-term, especially when we factor in full-time careers, school, children, family obligations, etc. So when our goals are unreasonable, they typically don’t work out quite the way we had hoped.

The simple reality is that no major changes ever take hold in one’s life unless allowed to become a habit. There are differing opinions out there as to how long that really takes, but sources seem to agree that it’s at least more than a month, with many claiming that it could be as long as 2-3 months. So if you go all-out 5 days per week, you may max out the honeymoon stage of your life change before a habit officially forms. It’s not impossible to create the habit after the honeymoon is over, but it certainly does take a lot more discipline. What often ends up happening is that frustration and stress set in and we end up abandoning our goal altogether—until the following New Year, at least.

On the other hand, a more reasonable approach could be to ease into a new life change more gradually. In the case of the gym, let’s try 3-4 days per week and see how it works. Have fun; enjoy the honeymoon stage. Let your new lifestyle become habit before you lose your steam. Once it’s habit, everything comes easier. And if 3-4 days per week is a cinch, you can always add more days!

In any event, that’s just one example. The same concept really applies to any big change. Ambition and zeal are good things; they get the fire started. But if the fire burns too hard and too fast, it burns up all the fuel within a short period of time. So whether you’re looking to get back into shape, find a brilliant new career, or simply become a more positive person in the New Year, just focus on baby steps. They’ll get you to your goal.

And if you have a set-back, you can always regroup and try again. There’s no rule that obligates you to get it right the first time. And there’s no rule saying you have to wait for the new year to have a fresh start. Every day is a new day and a chance to make positive change in your life.

Written by Adam Lafield, Recruiter

A Common Interviewing Mistake You Must Avoid

December 13th, 2016

We understand. Sometimes the interview is intimidating! And in some cases, it would just feel better and easier if you could connect with the interviewer on a more personal level so the whole process just flows easily like a conversation. In many ways, that approach works! However, it can become problematic if one attempts to form that connection using topics that fall into the conversation danger zone. Let’s look a bit closer at what these subject areas are and why it’s best to just avoid them altogether.

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The classic controversies to avoid
We all know that we aren’t supposed to talk about things like religion or politics during interviews—or really in many of our daily casual interactions with others. The most obvious reason is simply the fact that you wouldn’t want to offend the person with whom you are speaking, especially since you’re hoping to receive a job offer! So needless to say, if you offend your interviewer with controversial talk, the odds of getting hired will begin to stack up against you.

However, it actually gets a bit more complex than just offensiveness. In fact, it’s quite possible for the interviewer to actually genuinely agree with your viewpoints but still consider this conversation to count against you as an applicant. That may seem counterintuitive, so let’s break it down.

If you were working for this company, you would automatically be a representative of the organization in all your interactions with the public. And with interviews in general, interviewers consider this to be a moment where you are putting forth your best professional self. If your most polished professional self is already breaking the rules here, interviewers may have doubts about your ability to stay diplomatic with customers, clients, etc. So while he or she could be comfortably chatting with you about their similar viewpoint, they actually could be wondering why you brought this up and what it means about your interpersonal skills.

None of this is to say that you shouldn’t engage in ANY personal conversations with interviewers! When trying to form the connection and make this a conversation, it’s important to find the balance; certainly form a personal connection, but you’ll want to do so while also maintaining the professional connection that is equally important. We are all human and enjoy interactions more when we can have meaningful conversations with others. It’s certainly acceptable to be yourself, make conversation, and form a connection. But with conversations that are also a business transaction of sorts, it’s just always advisable to use a bit of a filter and make sure none of those controversial conversations sneak in.

Written by Adam Lafield, Recruiter

The Value in Job Searching During the Holidays

December 6th, 2016

The holiday season has begun! In terms of the job search, this is typically a time of year when candidates step back a bit and focus their attention in other directions. Reasons for that vary, but frequently this happens due to the assumption that no one is really hiring during the holidays. If your life during this time of year gets so overwhelming that it really does command your full attention, then by all means, maintain that focus and set the job search on the back burner until January! However, if you’re taking a break from the search because you feel that employers aren’t hiring, you may be missing out on a chance to really gain some traction in the candidate market.

First, it’s of course true that some employers aren’t hiring this time of year. In some cases, it could be the end of the fiscal year, so hiring is on hold while everything is finalized. And then in other situations, there could be so many folks on vacations and out of the office that it just makes sense to hold off until things go back to normal in January.

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But with that said, the hiring activity does not completely die off; there are still employers out there in need of top candidates to fill valuable positions within their organization. That’s the first key point here. But there is a great advantage that may seem less obvious. As we’ve already mentioned, many applicants stop applying for jobs during the holidays. So for whatever jobs that do become available, there is likely going to be a lower volume of incoming applications and less competition for those that do choose to apply. The holiday season could be a great opportunity for your resume to stand out even more than it would otherwise.

And last, the other reason to keep the ball rolling right now is that your competition will likely surge after the holidays are over. Once the New Year arrives, it’s a time when many are focused on new beginnings and a fresh start in several aspects of life. As a result, we typically see a huge influx of new applications during the month of January—making it the polar opposite of the volume that we see now. So if you have a little time this holiday season to keep the applications flowing, we encourage you to go for it! By grabbing every chance you have to stand out as a star candidate, you’re boosting your chances of starting off the New Year on a very positive note.

Adam Lafield, Recruiter

Habit 6: Synergize®

November 30th, 2016

SERIES: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
(Author Stephen Covey)

Habit 6: Synergize®

“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” Aristotle

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“Synergize”
The Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of synergize is “to cooperate with another or others, especially to remedy something”. From a medical perspective, it means “to increase the activity of (a substance)”. From a business perspective, synergy can be the life blood of a company that relies on a team to get the job done. The process of cooperating with others in an open and creative way can bring about results superior to those achieved by an individual.

How does this apply to my personal and professional life?
For those of us who work in a team environment, we know that it comes with its benefits and challenges. We each bring our own unique experiences, ideas, values, and personalities to the group. Working in a synergistic way with our colleagues requires a genuine openness to the insights of others. It is a willingness to suspend our own track of thought or set way of doing things.

At the heart of synergy is valuing what makes us different. Unity can exist even amongst the most diverse group of people. A diverse team is exciting, dynamic, and successful…If the members of the team value the unique attributes of one another. Synergy in a business environment can act much like it does in the medical world. It can “increase the activity of” a unit. When ideas, questions, visions, and even criticism can flow freely within a group, the natural outcome is greater productivity. A continual exchange of information and opinions will free minds to work incessantly at planning and improving.

What can I do?
Take a moment to look at the team you work with every day. What does each person bring to the group that you yourself do not? Does someone have expertise in a particular field that allows them insight into certain industries? Does someone else have a very logical mind and provide structure to complicated projects? Find a way to make note of and value the unique contributions of each person. Then seek out those individuals for their advice and thoughts on a regular basis. As individuals, we are capable of only so much. By tapping into the pools of talent around us and letting them flow into our minds and methods, we can achieve things beyond our own abilities.

~Erin Counter~

The Secret of Asking Questions During Interviews

November 22nd, 2016

You’re in an interview and it’s going great! You told them about yourself, discussed strengths and weaknesses with ease and tact, and you even aced the behavioral-based questions with applicable examples from your past employment. Phew! You’re just about to give yourself a well deserved pat on the back when out comes a question you weren’t prepared for. “What questions do you have for me?”

We’ve all had that panic moment. Actually, I had an interview once where I had finished speaking with the executive director and thought (with fairly good reason) that I was done. And then, surprise! I was suddenly having an impromptu meeting with a director of a completely different department and had absolutely no questions ready for this individual. Well, the good news was that I still got the job! So it’s not necessarily true that not having questions is an automatic disqualification. But with that said, it’s still certainly ideal to have something ready to go!

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When it comes to questions, it’s always better to have too many—-mostly because some of your questions will be answered during the course of the interview conversation. Also, don’t stress yourself out by trying to remember the questions. It’s more than acceptable for you to have a notebook and pen to not only jot down items of importance but also so you have your questions written down and won’t forget them in the heat of the moment. Furthermore, writing notes as the interviewer answers your questions shows that you do actually care about the responses and the information you’re receiving.

Great things to ask during an interview
What do you love most about the company you work for?
What does a typical day in this position look like?
What are you looking for in a candidate?

Things to avoid during the initial interview(s)
Basic questions about the company
Doing so implies that you haven’t done any research on the company, which makes interviewers wonder why you have interest in a company that you don’t know much about. Instead, do some research on the company and then ask questions based on the information you found.

Salary, benefits, paid time off, etc.
If the interviewer brings it up, then certainly discuss it. But if they don’t mention it, it’s best saved for a later part in the process and let this interview be all about the opportunity itself.

How long before you can bid on other jobs?
It’s great to be excited about the chance to grow with an organization! In an interview, it’s a good idea to ask about the advancement opportunities. When wording your question, just avoid asking for specifics about how long you have to stay in the current role. It can make an interviewer feel like you don’t really have interest in the job and want out as quickly as possible.

In short, the best questions are those that show you have interest in the company and that you’re very interested in learning more. And it’s ideal if those questions show that you have done your homework on the company and have really given a lot of thought to this position and the opportunities. The ideas given here certainly are just the beginning. Good luck and happy interviewing!

Written by Adam Lafield, Recruiter

Accepting/Rejecting Counteroffers–The Quick and Easy Way to Decide

November 8th, 2016

Great news! You got the job! It’s everything you were looking for, right down to the easy daily commute. All you have to do now is give notice to your current employer, which you nervously but professionally take care of. But behold! They put a counteroffer on the table, leaving you entirely unsure how to proceed. You had no doubts in your decision–until now.

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During this sometimes clouded moment of judgment, it’s usually helpful to simply break down the situation into logical pieces and see what makes the most sense. First, ask yourself why you wanted to look for new opportunities. Next, compare that answer to the details in your counteroffer versus the details of the new job offer. Simply put, if your original reason for searching out a new job isn’t resolved by the details of the counteroffer, accepting said counteroffer likely will not satisfy your needs—at least not for very long.

Not that it’s a general rule that one should never accept a counteroffer, but most counteroffers can only accomplish one or two things—additional money and/or a new title. If strictly about money, a counteroffer that involves a rate increase certainly could do the trick! In that case, accepting the counteroffer could make all the sense in the world and make you very happy for an indefinite period of time. However, accepting a counteroffer that leaves the original concern unaddressed often results in that concern creeping back up, leaving that individual looking for jobs again.

Contributors
Adam Lafield, Recruiter
Tiffany Appleton, Director, Accounting & Finance Division

Employee Retention Rules You Should Break!

October 25th, 2016

Monday mornings are difficult enough as it is, and then an employee you never expected to leave, gives their notice, what are you to do? Typically a world of thoughts will fly around in your head and you want to save the employee. You may even ask “what can we do to keep you?” And before you know it, a counter offer is made. But is this the best way to proceed?

adobe-spark-1Data shows more than 90% of employees who accept a counter offer still leave within one year. Typically they have a reason for initiating a job search in the first place, whether it is more money, a better work-life balance, shorter commute, promotion and/or growth opportunities, different supervisor, or improved company culture. On the fly, the only thing you probably have the ability to change is to offer a raise to incentivize the employee to stay. Money does talk! Combine this with the fear of change and this is why people often accept a counter offer and then realize shortly after nothing else that concerned them has changed.

Instead of a counter offer, some companies will ensure the employee knows they are eligible for rehire. Every so often after an employee leaves, they realize the grass isn’t greener and they inquire about returning. This can work well because the returning employee knows what they are entering into and makes a commitment for the long term before rejoining the company.

So maybe next time you are caught off guard with a resignation notice, instead of a counter offer allow the employee leave on good terms. Be sure to let them know you are open to a conversation down the road if they realize your company was where they were meant to be.

Written by Tiffany Appleton

Spruce up your job search this fall!

October 18th, 2016

Fall is officially here, so what better time to add some zip to your job search by reflecting on your process to ensure that all your ducks are in a row? This way, you can be sure you’re running your search in the most efficient way possible, which bolsters your chance of getting a call for an interview!

Update your Resume
Super important! Did you recently change your phone number, address, or email? Imagine the frustration the recruiter will have when they just can’t wait to speak to you on the phone but the number is no longer active. Don’t let it happen to you!

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And if you recently moved, some resume reviewers are looking at geographical location to see how far of a commute you are from the position. You may have recently moved 5 minutes down the road from the company, but they may still think you’re 45 miles away based on the resume.

And it never hurts to double-check to make sure your most recent position is totally up-to-date. Make sure you have all your responsibilities listed. Maybe you received a promotion since your last resume update? Be sure all that great information gets in there! Also, if your most recent position has already come to an end, go ahead and update the dates for that job. Some recruiters are looking for applicants who are ready ASAP, so they may pass on your resume if it looks like you’re still working.

Job Requirements
This is a tough one because we always want to plant lots of seeds and hope that maybe someone sees potential in our resume even though we don’t technically have all the experience. For best results (and for the sake of your sanity!), try finding a balance with this one. Check out the requirements and see if you have any of them on your resume. If you don’t have any of the requirements, it may be something you want to hold off on applying to.

The biggest reason really is that you’re going to spin your wheels and waste a lot of your precious time. When applying to all kinds of jobs where you don’t have any of the required experience, the chance of getting return on investment of your time (an interview) are somewhat slim. This job search process is time-consuming, so it makes lots of sense to work smarter not harder. With that said, if you have some of the requirements or there are very clear transferable skills (which you can make even more clear with a brilliant cover letter), then apply!

Have References Ready
If you haven’t done so already, definitely check out our 3-part series on references! But in the meantime, have your references ready before you begin the search process. This often-forgotten part will become very important in the near future.

Written by Adam Lafield, Recruiter

Are You Doing Interview Follow-Up the Right Way?

September 8th, 2016

To follow up or not to follow up! This is the question we all ponder while sitting next to the phone, patiently waiting for a callback after an interview. While the answer on this question can vary from one interview to the next, there are certainly things you can do and rules of thumb to follow as a guideline.

During the interview
At some point in the conversation, the interviewer will ask if you have any questions. Of course, you’ll ask whatever brilliantly thought out questions you may have. However, one of your questions can and should be about the next steps in the process. And as part of that, include a question about when it would be a good time to follow up.

Never be afraid to ask! It’s not an unusual question and you aren’t stepping on anyone’s toes. They’ll let you know roughly where they are in the interview process and about how long they anticipate the process taking. And since you so eloquently asked, they’ll inform you as to when it would be appropriate for you to contact them to request an update. With that said, be sure you have a phone number or email (we’ll talk more about the email shortly) before you leave.

And last, it’s uncommon but possible for them to request that you not follow up with them. In that case, you would naturally accept that and simply wait to hear back. And if they do make this request, it’s not necessarily a negative sign at all. So never fear! Just take a breath and wait it out.

Rule of thumb
Forgot to ask during the interview? Don’t sweat it! A basic guideline to follow would be to check in about a week after your interview. If you got the sense from the interviewer that they plan to move really quickly on making a hire, you could possibly check in sooner. Just be careful with that as you wouldn’t want to come on too strongly. Being eager and excited about the position is a very good thing and will be appreciated, but coming across as pushy can certainly be a turnoff.

Saying thank you
In the days of email, this little step is so often forgotten! In a previous section, we emphasized getting an email address from the interviewer. This is so you can send a thank-you email after your interview. Back in the day of paper and pencil, a couple days was an acceptable timeframe. But now with email at our fingertips, it really should be within 24 hours. And to be honest, it doesn’t need to be anything lengthy or complex. It’s simply the thought, and interviewers really do appreciate getting these!

Adam Lafield, Recruiter