2016 Networking Tips #5

Ten Tips for a Successful Networking Meeting

Networking is the most critical thing you can to in your job search.  It is important to maximize the benefit of each networking meeting.  Here are some tips for success.

  • Be prepared. Prior to the meeting research the company and the contact.  Have insightful questions prepared prior to your meeting.  Preparation demonstrates interest as well as your work ethic.
  • The day before your meeting call to confirm the time and location of the meeting.  Ensure that you know exactly where you are going and allow adequate time to arrive about ten minutes prior to your appointment.
  • Networking Profile. Bring a couple copies of your networking profile.  This can make it easy for your contact to identify opportunities to assist you in your search.  Do not bring resumes.  You can always send one as follow-up if it is requested.
  • Business Attire. Dress as if the meeting was an interview.  Demonstrate that you are a business professional and that you are taking this opportunity seriously.
  • Anticipate Logistics. Be sure you have a photo ID available in case it is required by building security.  Have your business cards accessible.  Bring a small notebook or padfolio with pen so you can take notes.  You can also have your questions noted in advance.
  • Listen More Than You Talk. While it important for the contact to get to know you, be sure to ask open-ended questions and listen carefully to what the contact is willing to share.  You can gain significant insight on the company, the industry and the role based on your questions to the contact.
  • Open with Small Talk. Demonstrate your interest in your contact.  Break the ice and build a connection.  You may ask about something displayed in their office.  If referred by a common connection, you could start by talking about how you both know that person.  If the contact shares only professional information, do not start talking about outside activities.  Mirror the contact’s energy level.  Do not spend more than five minutes breaking the ice.
  • Be Prepared to Run the Meeting. Some contacts will take the lead but others will sit back and wait for you to drive the meeting since you were the one to request this time together.  Have your questions prepared and take notes on their responses.
  • Say Thank You. Be respectful of the contact’s time and bring the meeting to a close in the agreed-upon time.  Thank the contact for their time and insights.  Show genuine appreciation and interest.  If follow-up is appropriate, ask permission to follow-up.  Exchange business cards.  Within 24 hours of your meeting, send a handwritten thank you note.  It is a simple but highly effective way to differentiate yourself and be remembered.
  • Ask for Additional Contacts. Now that the contact knows a bit more about you, ask who they suggest you speak with and ask if they would be willing to introduce you.   A referral from a trusted colleague can open critical doors for you.

A special situation is the meeting with a contact who was referred to you by another contact.  In that instance, you should also send a thank you note to the contact who recommended the new contact or made the introduction for you.  Show them that you appreciate their support.  They may have other valuable connections for you as well.

Following these steps will help you maximize the value of your networking meetings and will help you identify further contacts.

 

Customized Cover Letter #1

You see the perfect job posted online and you can’t wait to attach your resume and hit send.  Resist the urge.  Take the time to create a customized cover letter and it will increase the odds of the hiring manager reviewing your resume.  A resume is a historical look at what you have done in the past.  The cover letter is an opportunity to focus on the specific position of interest while highlighting your historical and transferable skills to meet their needs.  Do not assume that the hiring manager will take the time to “connect the dots” between your experience and their needs.  Writing a customized cover letter does that for them.

Focus on Their Needs – The hiring manager has a business need to meet so focus on how you can meet their specific needs.  They really don’t care about what you need and want.  Be very specific in addressing their needs outlined in the job description and show them how you can address their specific needs.

Highlight Transferable Skills – You may not meet every requirement in the job description but you bring valuable transferable skills to the position.  Focus on what you bring and the value it has to them.  Maybe you never worked in that industry before but if you have successfully transitioned to a new industry before, leverage that.  If you never used the particular software they use but have learned new systems quickly in the past, highlight that.

Be Careful with the use of “I” – The cover is letter is about meeting their needs so be very careful not to overuse “I”.  Do not start every paragraph or multiple sentences with “I”.  Think about different ways to get your message across.  Keep it focused on them.

Do not use a generic letter – Most recruiters and hiring managers can easily recognize a template cover letter.  It typically does not relate to the specific job or even the specific  company.  Don’t waste the hiring managers’ time by sending generic letters.  Worse still, avoid the cut and paste errors of referencing the wrong company or position.  That is a guaranteed trip to the “no” pile.

Attention to Detail Matters – Be sure your letter has been proofread for spelling and grammar.  Most employers will consider it a sample of your business writing.  Worse still, don’t cite your attention to detail as an attribute and then have glaring spelling or grammatical errors in the letter.  That is a quick route to the “no “ pile.

A successful job search is the result of strategic effort.  It is not about how many positions you can apply to online.  A successful candidate is one who identifies the right positions and then submits a flawless resume and customized cover letter.  Further success comes to those who have also networked at the company in advance.  Don’t let the lack of a cover letter or a poorly written cover letter prevent you from advancing in the process.  If the job is worth applying to, it is worth the time to create a customized cover letter.

2016 Networking Tips #4

You’ve read that networking is critical to your career and job search success and that information interviews are a valuable way to build your network.  So take a deep breath and commit to starting the process.  It is not as scary as you may think.

  1. Identify and prioritize companies on your target list.  Be sure to identify companies of different sizes in your target industries.
  2. Identify contacts in each of those companies using LinkedIn, your alumni networks, etc.
  3. Reach out to introduce yourself either by phone or email. If you are an alum of the same school mention that.  If you share a common friend or connection, refer to that.  If you are a student, let them know.  Express your strong interest in learning about their career and their current role with the company.  Ask for 20 – 30 minutes for an informational interview.
  4. Wait three days, if there is no response, reach out again. If still no response, give it one more try a week later.  If you reach out three times with no response, stop pursuing this contact and more to another.
  5. Agree on a date, time and location for your meeting or telephone call.
  6. Do you research in advance so you have background on the company and the individual. Prepare questions in advance.
  7. During the meeting take notes. It demonstrates interest and provides valuable reference material for your search.
  8. Be sure ask the contact who else they think you should talk to in order to learn more about your areas of interest in the company.
  9. Always say thank you at the end of the meeting and send a handwritten thank you note within 24 hours.
  10. Keep the person updated on your progress. If you have a successful meeting with someone the recommended, say thank you again.

You will learn a great deal about your target companies, how they hire, what competencies they value and what work is like in the functional area of interest to you.  Later when  you see a position posted at one of the target companies, ask your contact to forward your resume and cover letter to the hiring manager.  While this does not replace the need to apply online, it greatly increases the likelihood that someone will look at your resume.  Informational interviews are a great investment in your career so get started today.

2016 How You Leave  a Job Matters

How you leave a job makes a lasting impression with those you worked for and with at the company.  Since you will likely need a reference from that job at some point in the future,  you want to leave on as positive a note as possible.  It is also an amazingly small world these days and you could easily cross paths with those former colleagues in the future.  Best policy is to NEVER burn any bridges.

How do you tell your manager and colleagues you are leaving?

  • Be sure to tell your manager before telling anyone else.  Give your manager the courtesy of letting him/her know first.
  • Be honest without being overly negative or critical.  Tell them a bit about the exciting new opportunity and what you will be doing.  Give them highlights of what caused you to consider other alternatives.
  • Once you have notified your manager, submit an official resignation letter for HR.  State that you are leaving and share the date, not the reasons.
  • If required, schedule a formal exit interview with HR.
  • Thank you manager for the opportunity you have had there and what you have learned.  Ask if he/she would be a reference in the future.
  • Ask how you can best spend your last two weeks – suggest documenting processes and procedures, documenting outstanding projects, training others on the team.
  • Always give at least two weeks notice. If you are higher in the organization and have been there many years, you should give a one month notice.
  • Ask your manager if it is ok to tell your colleagues.
  • When telling your colleagues, stay as positive as possible.  There is little be gained by bashing the manager or the company and it could seriously hurt you in the future.

How should you spend your last weeks on the job?

  • If your current responsibilities are not already well documented, prepare as much documentation as possible.
  • Compile a list of any outstanding projects or issues.
  • Provide a list of where to find critical files on the computer.
  • Organize and label for your files so others can find what they need easily.
  • Work with your manager to identify any training you need to do with colleagues to provide coverage.
  • Coordinate with your manager how you should notify customers or vendors you work with to ensure that they know who to contact once you leave.
  • Don’t leave any personal items in your desk or your office.  Leave your work space clean and well organized.
  • Participate in an HR exit interview if requested.
  • Clarify how you want to be contacted if there are questions once you leave – home email?  Phone?

What do you do your last day?

  • Ensure that everything above has been completed.
  • Turn in any keys, ID tags, passwords, etc.
  • Update your voicemail and email with appropriate contact information for whoever will be covering.
  • Address any outstanding questions with your manager and colleagues.
  • Graciously say goodbye and thank you for the experience.

Unprofessional exits are remembered long after the person leaves the company.  It is a small world, and you will likely need references someday.  Resist the urge to let them know what you really think and exit in a professional manner.  You will be glad you did down the road.

2016 Networking Tips #3

You know you need to network to be successful in your job search.  You’ve had informative informational interviews.  You’ve identified contacts in your target companies and in your field of interest.  You have even joined a couple professional associations in your field.  Congratulations.  You are off to a great start but you still haven’t seen the full power of your network.

Imagine this.  You check the job postings each week at your target companies and finally this week when you look, Company A has a job posted which is your ideal job.  What do you do?

Prepare Your Resume and Cover Letter.  Review your resume in context of the job description.  Make any needed final changes and proofread carefully.  Have someone proof it as well just to be sure you have no errors.  Develop a customized cover letter addressing how you meet the specific requirements of the job.  Do not summarize your resume.  Instead “connect the dots” for the hiring manager by showing them how your experience would add value to their company in this role.

Apply Online.  While this does not do much to ensure your success, it is often a requirement by the company.  Many hiring managers are not allowed to speak with candidates who are not officially in the system.  Follow directions carefully and apply with your resume and customized cover letter attached.

Leverage Your Network.  Once you have applied online, reach out to your contact at Company A.  Tell them you saw the perfect job posted and that you have applied online.  Ask if they would do you a huge favor and share your resume and cover letter with the hiring manager.  Send your resume and cover letter to be forwarded to the hiring manager.

What’s a Hiring Manager to Do?  The hiring manager receives hundreds of online applications and doesn’t even know where to start.  If trusted colleagues within the organization share a few resumes and cover letters, those are most likely the first ones the manager will review.  If they see a possible fit, they start the interview process with those candidates.  Going to the mountain of resumes is often a last resort.  You want to be sure you are in the short pile and that is what a networking connection can do for you.

Increase Your Likelihood of Success.  You have to get an interview to have a chance of receiving the offer.  To get to the interview stage, someone has to see your resume and believe there is a fit.  Your networking connection can significantly increase the odds of getting your resume seen by the hiring manager.  Sometimes you get lucky and your connections give you a heads up that a position will be posting.  Networking makes a difference.

2016 Resume Tips #3

In order to have a resume which has maximum impact on potential employers, you should carefully consider everything you include on your resume.  Allocating space to on your resume tells the potential employer that you consider it important.  Be sure you are focusing their attention on the things that matter most to them.

Keep the Employer Perspective in Mind – Yes, it is your resume and you need to tell them about you but you have greater impact if you prepare your resume with the employer in mind.  You will likely have more content than will fit on one page so when making decisions about what to include, keep the employer perspective in mind.  You should focus on the skills and experiences that are transferrable and most relevant to the employer.  It should be about what they need not what you want.  Consider how you can make a difference to a company and help solve their problems.

Don’t let it stand alone —  General rule of thumb for a successful job search, don’t ever send your resume alone when applying for a job.  If the position is worth applying to, it is worth preparing a customized cover letter.  This gives you an opportunity to clearly “connect the dots” between their specific needs in the job posting and your experience and expertise.  Don’t expect an employer to take the time to do that themselves.  Show them how you can add value in this role.  If you are applying online, be sure you follow all the steps required in the posting.  Don’t give them an easy opportunity to eliminate you.

Life Outside of Work – It can certainly be appropriate to show employers a glimpse of your life outside of work.  If you have volunteer experience, you can include a volunteer section.  Identify the organization, your role and the dates.  If you were involved in an organization that could be unpopular or divisive, carefully consider how important it is to include it on your resume.  If you have unique hobbies or interests, you can list those as well.  Sometimes these unique items make someone want to talk to you.  Avoid “spending time with friends and family” since that clearly doesn’t differentiate you.

Consider Having Multiple Versions – For most job seekers, a single resume is not enough.  If you are pursuing opportunities in different fields, consider having separate versions of your resume to focus on the most relevant skills in each field.  Depending on the specific job you are applying for, you may want to emphasize different accomplishments from your previous experience and you may want to update the key words in your summary to better align with the job description.  Yes, this is additional work but it can increase the likelihood of an employer wanting to know more about you.  Your work experience overall remains the same, but you can choose to highlight different accomplishments and skills depending on the specific opportunity.

You are the Product – In a job search, you are the product.  This is the most important sales role of your life.  Be sure your resume is the best possible reflection of you – your skills, experience, accomplishments and expertise.  Make employers want to meet you.  Make them want to have you on their team.

2016 Do I Really Have to Write a Customized Cover Letter?

I am often asked this question.  It is so much easier to just send a resume.  Is it really important to write a customized cover letter?  Yes, if you hope to be invited for an interview.  If you don’t want the job, don’t bother but then why even send your resume?  If you are interested in the job, a cover letter is a critical component.  The cover letter may well be your opportunity to stand out from the mountain of online applications.

Why is the cover letter so important?  This is your opportunity to connect the dots for the hiring manager.  You read a job description and said “this is good job for me because…”  You need to make those connections obvious to the employer.  What do they gain by hiring you?  Focus on your relevant experience and transferable skills.  Differentiate yourself in the process with a strong cover letter.

How professional should it be?  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.  Do not over use the word “I” and be careful not to start most sentences or paragraphs with “I”.  Focus on the needs of the company.

What are some of the current trends in cover letters?   An alarming trend is the number of candidates who do not bother to write a letter, this tells the employer it wasn’t worth the applicant’s time and effort.  Many applicants focus their cover letters on what they want and need when the focus should be on how you can address the needs of the employer.  Many applicants over use the word “I” in their letters.  Do not start every paragraph with “I” and do not start every sentence with “I”.  Do your first draft and then go back and eliminate half the “I”’s by restructuring the sentences.  Your letter serves as a professional writing sample so demonstrate strong grammar, proper structure, correct spelling etc.  Lack of attention to these details is a quick route to the no pile.

Does it have to be customized if my resume stays the same?  Yes!  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 use a template and Beware of cut and paste – Most hiring managers can spot a template letter very quickly and then move it to the no pile just as quickly.  Generic language and no focus on the specific job tell the employer you were not interested enough to prepare a customized letter.  Even if you think you are being careful cutting and pasting into a template for minimal customization, errors occur much too frequently.  Employers lose interest very quickly when your letter refers to the wrong company or position.  You can talk about your attention to detail all day but if you make these types of errors in your cover letter no one will believe you.  Demonstrate your skills and your interest with your letter.

A strong customized cover letter increases the chances that you will be invited for an interview while a poor letter earns you a quick trip to the no pile.