A Quick Trip to the No Pile

Hiring managers often face a mountain of online applications so they are looking for a quick, efficient way to review the applicants and narrow down the pool of candidates to identify potential interviews.  Unfortunately many candidates make it easy for the manager to move their application to the no pile very quickly.  What at the doing wrong to move to quickly to the no pile?  Often the manager need look no further than the cover letter.

No cover letter provided.  The message to the manager is “I am not interested enough to take the time to prepare a customized cover letter.”  If you are not that interested, why should the manager waste valuable time on you?  It also forces the manager to do extra work by trying to determine how your experience aligns with the job.  With numerous applicants in the pile, why expend the extra effort on you?

Typos and other errors.  You can write all day about your excellent communications skills and attention to detail but it is more important to show the manager these skills.  Typos or grammatical errors in your letter can earn you a quick trip to the no pile.  Managers will use your cover letter as an example of your writing skills.

All about me.  Your cover letter should focus on the value you bring to the company and specific position and how you can make a difference for them.  It should not be about what you want or need.  Do not start every sentence with I or every paragraph with I.  Vary your sentence structure.  Read your finished letter from the perspective of the hiring manager to ensure that you address how you can meet their needs.

Too casual.  It should be a business letter, your name and address on the top in the same format as your resume, date, address block, salutation prior to the body of the letter.  Demonstrate your professional writing skills in your cover letter.  It should never be more than a single page.  Sincerely is the acceptable close, never fondly or other approaches.  Use “Dear Mr. Smith” not “Dear Joe”, or “Dear Joe Smith”.  Your letter should contain an introduction, body and then a strong close.  Do not just summarize your resume.  Focus on your transferable skills.  Avoid jargon or overly casual and informal language.

Failure to customize.  You need to customize every letter to the specific needs of the company and the specific requirements of the position.  Show them why you are a strong candidate for this job.  Most hiring managers can spot a template letter and it will quickly move it to the “no” pile.  Do not make careless errors cutting and pasting from a prior letter.  Getting the company name wrong or using the incorrect job title is a clear signal that you didn’t invest time in customizing the letter and that you are not paying attention to the details.  Demonstrate your knowledge of the company as well.

A strong customized cover letter increases the chances that you will be invited for an interview.

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Addressing Gaps in Your Resume

What is a job seeker to do if there are gaps in your resume?  This occurs most often when there is a break between employers.  Gaps often jump right out at the hiring manager reviewing the resume so prepare in advance to addresses these issues.

Honesty is always the best policy.  Honesty is not just the best policy but the only policy when it comes to your resume.  It is a factual history of your employment and is subject to verification in background checks.  Just the facts please.  Do not embellish or leave things off because you’d rather not talk about them.

Years vs. months.  Job seekers often draw unwarranted attention to their gaps by listing each employment by month.  It is perfectly acceptable on a resume to list years only.  This allows short gaps to go undetected.  You may have to provide specific months on an application later in the process but you haven’t drawn undue attention to it early in the process.

Be prepared.  Be prepared with a response to the question about the gap.  If it is there, someone will ask about it in an interview.  Address the gap honestly without focusing on the negatives or being defensive.  Talk about what you did during the gap.  Did you volunteer?  Enhance a skill?  Take a class?  Be prepared to address the issue head on.

Don’t rewrite history.  Because it is critical to be honest, don’t create an alternative universe where the situation was very different.  It is what it is.  It happened.  Be honest but do so in a way that is positive, professional and forward focused.  Do not be defensive.  If you were laid off, do not blame others.  Just state that the company was facing challenging times, reorganizing, etc. depending on the situation.  Often less is more when it comes to explaining the speed bumps in your career.

Job Search in the Holiday Season

For some the holiday season is far from jolly because they have just learned that their position has been eliminated or reorganized.  Being out of work at the holidays can certainly dampen one’s spirits but it can be the perfect time of year to jumpstart your job search.  While it is tempting to take the month off to “lick your wounds,” it is more productive to lay the foundation for a successful job search.

Prepare Your Tools

You need to be prepared for your job search journey so take advantage of the opportunity to update your tools.  Review and update your resume.  Ask others for feedback.  Practice writing cover letters for positions you may be interested in to get back in the groove.  If you do not have a Linked In profile build one, if you have one, update it.  Focus on putting your best professional foot forward.

Define Your Plan

You need a plan.  Identify the companies the fit your key criteria – industry, size, geography, etc.  Research the companies you are most interested in to learn more about their financials, plans, competitors, challenges, etc.  Review your network to identify contacts in those organizations.  Review their recent postings to see if there have been positions that interest you and review their qualifications for those roles.

Network Like Crazy

For many professionals, there is some quieter time at work around the holidays.  Unless they are closing the books for the year or involved in a significant time constrained project, this is an easier time of year to get on someone’s calendar for an informational interview.  Take advantage of this to network like crazy.  Talk to as many people as you can in your target companies to learn more about the companies, their hiring practices and the skills sets they seek.  Talk to people in the roles that interest you.

Use your social gatherings during the holiday season to learn more about where people work and what they do so you can identify targets for additional informational interviews.  This is the perfect time of year to expand your network.  Be sure friends and family members know you are seeking a job and help them understand the types of companies and roles you are seeking.  They may have contacts who can help.  You will never know that their next door neighbor works at your top company if you don’t ask!

Maintain and leverage your current network by reaching out to people you may have worked with in the past to let them know you are back in the job market.  They can offer suggestions, advice and valuable connections as well.  You are not in this alone – leverage your resources.

Most professional associations have social events at this time of year.  Identify appropriate groups for your profession and attend an event or two to meet others in your field.

Timing Matters

While it may feel that this is the worst possible time of year to be out of work, there is a silver lining.  Many companies are on calendar year budgets and with the start of the new year they often have new headcount in the budget.  There is typically a surge of hiring activity in the first quarter.  To take full advantage of that, prepare your tools and build your network now so you are poised for success in the new year.

A productive December of research, planning and networking could position you for great success in January when positions open up.

 

Resume Trends for 2015

If one of your new year’s resolutions is to search for a new job in 2015 you should be sure your resume is ready for the job search of 2015.  Here are some key trends for your consideration:

Your Resume Content

  • Summary – Your resume should always start with a strong summary. Employers expect this and often use the summary to determine if they will read further.  This is not an objective.  It is not about what you want.  This is the sales pitch of you and how you will meet the needs of the prospective employer.  Focus on your key transferrable skills.
  • Core Competencies – Employers also expect to see a core competencies section where you highlight at least four and not more than eight critical core competencies. Ideally you will customize this to each position for which you are applying so you can focus on the key skills you offer to meet their specific needs.  Core competencies will often increase your chances of being found in a key word search.
  • Technology Skills – Listing Word, Excel and PowerPoint on your resume is no longer a differentiator. Those are the expected skills for most employers.  They will likely ask specific questions in the interview to determine you proficiency level with these critical tools.  If you list technology skills on your resume you should focus on unique skills you have acquired beyond the standard expectations.
  • Higher Expectations — Employers have high expectations when it comes to resume.  Typos, grammatical errors or gross exaggerations of your experience are likely a quick trip to the no pile.  Don’t talk about attention to detail and then have errors in your resume.  Five years on the job does not equal extensive experience.  Sell yourself but do it honestly, professionally and with the highest attention to detail.

Beyond Your Resume

  • Linked In – While employers still expect a traditional resume they also expect candidates to have a professional presence on Linked In. Increasingly companies are relying on Linked In to identify candidates.  At a minimum they are looking at your profile and comparing it to your resume.   Your full employment and educational history should be reflected accurately and consistently in both mediums.  Be sure to have a strong summary on Linked In.  Update your photo with a professional headshot.  Save the informal photos for Facebook.
  • Video Resumes – If you are in a more creative field, you may be asked for a video resume. These can be challenging to produce and throwing something together at the last minute will not make a positive impression.  Find out through your networking if you are likely to be asked for a video interview so you can prepare in advance to put your best foot forward.
  • Cover Letters – Just because a cover letter is not required in the online posting, don’t overlook this critical tool. This is your opportunity to connect the dots between your experience and the needs of the employer.  Take the time to craft a customized cover letter addressing the specific requirements of the position.  This can significantly increase the chances of someone reviewing your resume.
  • The Ultimate Goal – Reviewed by a Human – Most online applications are reviewed by computer software as a first step with applicant screening applications. Special formatting such as lines, multiple fonts, centering etc . can result in resumes being rejected by the system.  In most instances you are never notified of the rejection but your resume never advances in the process to the point that a human reviews your application.  Eliminate risky formatting for your online applications.  Additionally be sure that your resume contains critical key words from the posting to ensure that the system finds a match to advance you in the process.   Of course, the most effective way to have your resume reviewed by a person is through networking.  While you still have to apply online, having an internal connection who can pass your resume to the appropriate hiring manager makes a huge difference in your likelihood of success.

Master the Art of Email

Whether in your job search or on-the-job, your email is a reflection of your personal brand.  Employers are judging your communications skills by looking at your emails.  Feedback from employers is that new employees have a lot to learn about appropriate business emails.

General Advice

  • Correct grammar, spelling and punctuation are expected
  • Professionalism should always rule
  • If you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, don’t say it in an email
  • Be concise and to the point, attach supporting documents if necessary but they should be able to quickly read the email to assess the situation and identify your recommended action steps
  • If you refer to an attachment, be sure it is attached

In Your Job Search

  • Accuracy matters – spell the person’s name correctly, use appropriate grammar and punctuation, avoid slang, emoticons, etc.
  • Be professional – put your best foot forward, show them your communications skills
  • Make it personal – don’t send a group thank you if you interviewed with multiple people, send each one a customized thank you (and still send a handwritten note)
  • If you say the resume is attached, be sure it is there and in a format someone can open

On the Job

  • Know when to just pick up the phone or walk to someone’s office, don’t go back and forth over details in email when you could quickly resolve the issue with a phone call. Email chains can be frustrating and annoying and they waste time.
  • Don’t send an email in haste when you are angry or frustrated, cool off and reread it before sending it
  • Don’t send anything you wouldn’t say in person
  • Don’t play games with cc or bcc to higher ups, they are not impressed and more often will be annoyed.  If you need management intervention reach out to them and ask for their help explaining the situation and what needs to be done, don’t threaten the person you are dealing with by ccing the boss and don’t irritate the boss who isn’t clear on what you expect him to do
  • Maintain professionalism and accuracy

Holiday Networking

After a busy fall semester students are excited to have a holiday break.  While it is great to have time with no homework to enjoy with family and friends, it is also a valuable opportunity for critical holiday networking.  Students should have a strategy to maximize their holiday networking efforts.

At Northeastern’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business MBA Career Center, we work closely with our students to prepare them for successful holiday networking.

Employer Holiday Networking Event – We just hosted a holiday networking event for employers, alumni and students on campus.  We spent the first hour in structured rounds of networking to help people make as many connections as possible in a short period of time.  We then opened it up for more informal networking.  The room was buzzing all evening long and valuable connections were made.

Insider Insights Sessions – Employers regularly join us on campus to present Insider Insights sessions to our students.  These sessions give students an opportunity to learn more about the company, their hiring needs and the skills required for success.  They also provide valuable networking connections for our students.

Leverage Family and Friends’ Connections – Use the holidays to explore your target list with family and friends.  See who they know at your target companies.  Check Linked In for alumni and former colleagues who may now work at these companies.  As you socialize be sure to ask people where they work, you may identify a great connection for a further conversation.

Seek Informational Interviews – This is the perfect time of year (in most professions) to ask for an informational interview.  Leave the accountants alone while the close the books for the year but others may have more flexibility to schedule an informational interview.  Do your research in advance and have questions prepared so you can maximize the value of your time together.

Professional Association Events – While professional associations are always a great source of networking connections, many groups plan holiday social events.  This is a great opportunity to gather with professionals who share a common interest, to expand your connections.  Attend an event and see how many interesting people you can meet.

Enjoy the holiday spirit while expanding your professional network by taking advantage of great holiday networking opportunities.

Have a Holly Jolly Holiday Party

‘Tis the season for holiday parties and gatherings with both business and social contacts.  These activities can help you advance your career if you use them appropriately.  It is important to avoid any negative impact on your career.

Holiday Office Parties

  • Network like crazy. This is an amazing opportunity to make connections outside the group you with work with every day.  Try to meet as many people as possible and ask about what they do.  Keep track of people you want to follow-up with back in the office.  Use this informal opportunity to make a positive impression and build your connections.  Remember spouses and significant others can be valuable connections as well.
  • Use Every Opportunity to Connect. Resist the temptation to hide in the corner or spend the entire evening with the people you work with every day.  Take advantage of the opportunity to network as much as possible.  Talk to people waiting in line for the bar, the buffet or even the rest room.  You have something in common already so use the opportunity to introduce yourself and learn about what they do.  You may be pleasantly surprised by who you meet and what you learn.
  • Keep it professional. Yes it is a social event but it is still a business event.  You have to face these people on Monday morning.  You do not want to be the talk of the office on Monday morning.  Do not do anything to stand out in a negative way.  This is not the time to overindulge, make unwanted advances, bad mouth the company or take over the microphone for karaoke.  Keep it professional and you’ll have no regrets.  Drinking too much at the party could be a career limiting move.
  • Dress professionally. While it is fine to get in the spirit of the festivities and dress up a bit, keep it professional.  Avoid anything suggestive, revealing or inappropriate.
  • Social Media Considerations. Resist the urge to post FaceBook photos of an out of control colleague at the party.  Do not tweet inappropriate comments.  Even if someone is acting inappropriately it doesn’t make you look good to be the one highlighting their bad behavior publicly.  Keep photos and tweets professional.

Professional Holiday Gatherings

  • Network Constantly. Many professional and business organizations plan holiday events.  These are great opportunities for networking with peers in your field.  Use each gathering as an opportunity to meet new people and learn a bit about what they do.  For those with whom you wish to have a more in depth conversation, ask if you can follow up after the holidays.  Most people like to talk about what they do so just ask and you’ll be surprised by what you learn.
  • Share Your Focus. If you are seriously looking for your next opportunity, let people know what you are looking for so they are able to identify opportunities to help.  They may have contacts at your target companies.  Don’t spend the entire event pressing people for contacts but bring it up as appropriate in your conversations.  You never know what valuable connections may result from a casual conversation at a social event.  Be interested in others by asking what they do, where they work, what they like most about their jobs.  You will be amazed by how much your can learn.
  • Behave Professionally. Make a great impression so people will remember you positively and will want to introduce you to their contacts.
  • Make Introductions. Help others meet people at the event by offering to make introductions.  They will appreciate the connections and they will value your support.

Enjoy the holiday festivities with colleagues but remember, these are still a professional events.  Be on your best behavior to avoid regrets on Monday morning.  It is a valuable opportunity to meet other colleagues outside your daily interactions and to meet the interesting spouses and significant others of your colleagues.  Networking is great – just don’t try looking for a new job while attending your company party!!!