Monday, August 25, 2008

Put Some FEVER In Your Cover Letters

Forget the drab; one size fits all cover letters that you may have used in the past. And please ignore the letter samples in publications and on web sites that go on and on with paragraph after paragraph, essentially providing a condensed version of your resume. These types of cover letters are not effective because the people you want to read them (internal and external recruiters and hiring managers) DO NOT WANT TO READ THEM. The first type is just too generic and the latter contains far too much information.

Remember that, like a resume, a cover letter is a business document. And a key rule for business writing is to make the document concise – GET TO THE POINT! If the resume is going to garner 7-10 seconds of attention from the reader on first glance, then the cover letter may actually get less. But you need a cover letter, so make sure that it is on point and delivers a message with impact.

So how do you construct a top notch cover letter? I recommend you put some FEVER in your letter!

F – Craft a document that has a very clear FOCUS on the type of opportunity (including associated titles) that you are qualified to assume. Don’t try to send the message that you will consider several types of positions within the organization. There is a very real risk in stating that you can be a manager, or an analyst, or a project leader, or whatever they need you to be at this time. The reader may decide that your flexibility actually represents a lack of clarity regarding your strengths and experience.

E – EMPHASIZE why you believe that you will be a strong fit for the position, the team and the organization. Do some homework and learn about this employer’s culture, environment, structure and work dynamics.

V – Provide the reader with a very clear sense of the immediate VALUE that you can bring to the organization. Your content should answer the question, “Why should I consider you for this position?”

E – Interject several bullet points to solidify in the reader’s mind the EXPERTISE that you offer. Don’t regurgitate all the bullets from your resume. Rather, include several select words/phrases to express some of the key skills, core strengths and expertise you hold; and these should align with the qualifications for the position you are seeking.

R – Close your letter with a strong REQUEST for a personal interview at the reader’s convenience. Convey that you are ready to answer targeted questions and explain your background in detail.

If you invest the time and effort into crafting your cover letter with FEVER, you send the message that you are a professional who is focused, efficient and serious about your interest in the position you are seeking.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Psssst...I Have a Secret - The Hidden Job Market Isn't Really Hidden!

You may have come across a blurb in a publication or on a web site that brings up the subject of the hidden job market. And you've probably asked yourself "why is it hidden and how can I find it?" Well I have good news for you. The hidden job market isn't really hidden; but it will take creativity, resourcefulness and determination to access. The hidden job market is really just another name for a proactive job search. Gone are the days when looking through the Sunday paper with highlighter in hand would consistently result in promising job leads. And if you're waiting by the phone for hiring managers and recruiters to contact you after posting your resume on one or two popular job boards, make sure you have access to a bathroom - it will likely be a very long wait!

I'm not saying that you shouldn't check the want ads or the popular job boards, just don't make them the foundation of your search. Take into account that you, along with thousands of candidates (even tens of thousands in major cities), are using these same obvious sources. Check them every once in a while or set-up an automatic search agent so the job boards will send you an email with posting matching your criteria.

So how can you take control of the search process? Consider the following list of resources to be your map and you set out to discover the hidden job market.

Networking: Reach out and contact family, friends, professional contacts (peers and colleagues), academic contacts, community contacts, etc. and let them know you are looking for a new opportunity. Be clear and concise about the type of position you are seeking and be prepared to send your updated resume.
Print Ads in Industry Publications: Remember to look at the career postings in the newsletters and journals you receive through memberships to professional associations.
Meta-search Job Boards: Try sites like or to search multiple job boards at once, based upon key words and location.
Specialty Job Boards: The idea is to move well beyond the obvious and identify job boards that represent your location, occupation, industry, etc. Job boards with a niche focus will likely provide a greater percentage of qualified leads. Some of these may require a monthly subscription. So what? It’s an investment! Sign up for a few months, take a look around and cancel if you’re not getting the leads you expected.
Researching Companies of Interest: Access information from industry directories, Chamber of Commerce directories, online databases for company research, and advertised lists of top companies. Compile a list of the top 25, 50, etc. companies that are of interest to you, then jump to the company web site and explore postings on the site’s Careers page.
Professional Associations: Join groups that represent your industry and/or occupation. Then make the effort to attend lunch meetings, workshops and roundtable discussions. These groups offer you an opportunity to reconnect with colleagues and meet new peers, thereby expanding your network.
Alumni Associations: Remember these? Instead of throwing away the newsletters and magazines from your alma mater, check out what the alumni career services department has to offer in terms of free or low cost job search, company research and networking resources.

There are actually several more resources in addition to those listed above. Rather than dividing your time and effort among all the possible resources, do your homework and then select 3 to 4 resources that you believe will be the most promising for your specific search. If a proactive job search sounds like a lot of work…you’re absolutely right! In a competitive market, the candidate who is willing to put in the time and effort, while being a bit more creative and tenacious, will likely have the advantage. Or you could just use the same old, obvious, tired resources and wait for the phone to ring…and wait, and wait, and wait.

Why not take control, kick it into gear and uncover promising leads each week? If you need help getting organized, staying focused, updating your marketing materials, or preparing for interviews, then contact a career coach for assistance. There is some truth in the old adage that we make our own luck. So what are you waiting for? It's time to get busy and find that best fit career opportunity!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Case Against the Functional Resume

Popular bookstores and Internet sites offer publications, examples and tutorials on how to craft the perfect functional resume. This type of resume is also known as a skills-based resume. There is a tremendous amount of information in support of the functional resume. An old rule of thumb is to use this type of document to downplay frequent job changes, as if the reader will be so dazzled by the style that they will ignore the dates of employment! I willingly admit that the functional resume looks good, de-emphasizes employment dates, and provides a nice overview of an individual’s areas of expertise. But if you are actively conducting a job search, please DO NOT waste your time and energy preparing a functional resume!

Why should you avoid this type of resume? Because hiring managers, internal company recruiters and external recruiters HATE the functional resume. Yes, I know HATE is a strong word, so let me clarify…they truly HATE the functional resume. Hiring managers and recruiters are extremely busy people and they are dedicating a portion of their work day to the review of resumes, lots and lots of resumes. They want to be able to visually scan a document and quickly get an overview of a candidate’s strengths, areas of expertise, career titles, achievements, and length of tenure with each employer listed. They compare this information to the profile of the preferred candidate for the position they are looking to fill.

Imagine you are engrossed in a really good book and truly enjoying what you are reading. Then suddenly you reach a page that is printed upside down and every third word appears backwards. Would you find this odd and somewhat annoying? You would have to stop, turn the book upside down, start reading and then stop each time you need to decipher a word printed backwards on the page. Well this is what it is like for the hiring manager and recruiter when they encounter a functional resume in a batch of incoming documents. One after another they read through the chronological resumes and then they stop at the functional document. Why do they stop? Because they have a quick decision to make; do they invest the time to connect the dots in this document, or just set it aside (or ditch it all together) and move on?

The functional resume often requires a greater investment of time and energy from the reader. The chronology is often somewhat concealed (intentionally) and it can be unclear just when and where the candidate applied his skills to produce his accomplishments. The reader must try to extract the essential details, piece the data together and then compare this to the critical elements in the job posting. And most hiring managers and recruiters do not have the time or patience to devote this kind of attention to a first scan of a resume. They may decide to skip this functional document all together and move on with their review of the incoming resumes.

So as a career coach my advice is simple…give the hiring managers and recruiters what they want. Give them a clear chronology that focuses on skills and achievements and be sure it includes a brief statement to explain any gaps in the timeline. For those individuals who are in love with the functional masterpiece they have crafted, I will offer a compromise. Produce a hybrid resume to provide a summary of skills and career highlights, but be sure to include a strong chronology of academic and employment history in support of major achievements. There are no guarantees for the job seeker. But if candidates give the reader what they are looking for, and it is packaged in a document that is content rich and visually appealing…odds are it will be reviewed.