Why Networking Matters

US Department of Labor reports that 63% of new jobs are secured through networking.  They report that as of July 1, 2014 there were 4.6 million job openings and approximately 80% of them are never advertised.  The average number of applicants for a given job is 118.

The numbers are staggering.  If you are currently conducting your job search behind your computer searching job sites, you are missing a significant number of opportunities.  Your efforts are further hampered by companies using talent management software that screen out approximately 50% of all resumes submitted before a human ever sees them.

What is a job seeker to do?  Network!  It is more critical than ever that if you hope to land that next position, you need to be networking.  While initially networking is a valuable source of information, you can build a network of supporters who can transform your job search.  Supporters can forward your resume to the hiring manager to increase the likelihood it will at least be reviewed.  Supporters can offer a recommendation which is valuable to the hiring manager.  Supporters can provide insights on the hiring process at the company, the particular position and the team.

General rule of thumb for a successful job search, spend ten times more time networking than sitting behind your computer.  In the face of the data from the Department of Labor you can’t afford to avoid networking.  It is the single most important thing you can to ensure a successful job search.

2016 Customized Cover Letters – Top Ten Cover Letter Mistakes

A well-written, customized cover letter can move your resume to the top of the pile but common errors on your cover letter can result in a quick trip to the “no pile.”  To avoid the dreaded “no pile”, avoid these common cover letter mistakes.

  • Overuse of “I” and “my”— Resist the temptation to start every sentence with “I” or “My”. Your focus should be on meeting the employer’s need to address a business issue.  Vary your sentence structure and keep the focus on them.  Too many “I”s comes across as self-centered and cocky and demonstrates sub-standard communication skills.  Your cover letter is considered an example of your business writing so put your best foot forward.
  • Typos and Grammatical errors – Proofread your letter and least twice and have someone else read it for you as well. Do not rely on spell check to identify all the errors.  Hiring managers expect your cover letter to be error free and will often immediately move a candidate to the “no pile” if there are errors in the letter.  The worst is a sentence highlighting your attention to detail which contains errors.
  • Form Letters – To be effective, a cover letter must always be customized to the specific position and company. Hiring managers who read cover letters often can spot form letters very quickly.  Phrases such as “this position” and “your company” scream form letter.  Candidates often
  • Tentative Language – In your cover letter you want to be confident but not cocky. Avoid tentative language such as “I think”, “I feel”, “seems like” or “I had to.”  Be honest but always project confidence when sharing your experience.
  • Inconsistent Bullets—It is acceptable to use bullet points in your cover letter to highlight the experience you bring to the job. Ensure that bullets are consistent in format.  Don’t start some with verbs and others with nouns or mix tenses.  Consistency is important.  Also, don’t use the same bullet points as on your resume.
  • Arrogance—Avoid phrases such as “best candidate” and “perfect fit” when describing your capabilities. You are really not in a position to make that assessment and it comes across to the reader as arrogant.  You want to be positive and confident but cocky is a turn off.  It is best to demonstrate your capabilities with examples.
  • Lack of Professional Format—A cover letter is a formal business letter. It should have your contact information on the top with the same heading as your resume.  It should then have a date, an address block and a salutation.  “Dear Mary Jones” is not appropriate for a salutation.  It should read “Dear Ms. Jones”.  Failure to follow official business letter format gives the letter an inappropriate air of casualness.  Demonstrate that you are taking this seriously and that you can compose a proper business letter.  This is also a sample of your written communication skills for the hiring manager.
  • Failure to Connect the Dots—Hiring managers know what they are looking and for and you know what you have done. Don’t assume they will take the time to connect the dots.  Use your cover letter to clearly identify how your experience and skills meets their needs.
  • Limited Language – Do not use the same words repeatedly in your cover letter. Use a thesaurus if necessary.  Using the same words and phrases implies that you don’t know other words and that your communication skills are limited.
  • Use of Acronyms – The hiring manager does not know your hiring company. They will not have a clue what the XYZ project is for the ABC system.  Explain your responsibilities in clear language that anyone could understand.  Don’t let your accomplishments be lost in the acronyms that only insiders understand.

A carefully crafted, customized cover letter can move your resume to the top of the pile for consideration.  Avoid these common mistakes to stay out of the “no pile”.

Job Search Advice for New Graduates

Congratulations you’ve graduated but now what are you going to do?  The clock is ticking on your students loans and mom and dad keep asking you about your job prospects.  What is a new graduate to do?  Finding a full-time job needs to be your primary focus and priority.  Resist the urge to perfect your tan or spend the summer travelling.  Finding a job can be a full-time job in itself so you need to get focused and get started.  Here are some suggestions:

Create a plan – You need to define your goals and a specific plan of how you plan to achieve them.  You can’t get there if you don’t know where you are going.  Assess your skills, strengths and interests.  Think about the type of work you enjoyed on internships, part-time jobs or even on campus.  Document your plan and measure your progress against it.  Set weekly goals and hold yourself accountable.  Reward yourself by doing something you enjoy once you’ve accomplished your goals for the week.

Prepare your tools – If you are planning a trip, you pack your bags.  As you embark on your job search journey you also need to make sure you have the appropriate tools.  Do you have your resume up to date and ready to go?  Have someone else proof it for you just to be sure there are no typos or errors.  Practice writing customized cover letters and ask for feedback.  Consider developing a networking profile to share during networking meetings.

Think about who you could use for references and collect their current contact information.  Ask their permission to use them as references and tell them you will notify them when you share their information with a hiring manager so you can brief them on the job.  Having the right tools won’t get you a job but it can get your foot in the door so you have the opportunity to sell yourself for the job.

Develop a Target list – What companies are you most interested in working for?  What industries are of greatest interest to you?  Start your list with your current preferences and then begin your research to identify other companies or industries that are similar and need your skill sets.  With a variety of online tools you can do significant research into these companies to prepare you for networking meetings and interviews.    Your target list will help guide your job search efforts.  Do your research on which companies have opportunities in your field and who has been hiring.

Network, network, network – This is the single most important thing you can do to be successful in your job search.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics nearly 80% of all jobs are filled through networking.  Online postings often receive hundreds of resumes in response to a single posting.  To stand out and be noticed you need an internal contact to pass your resume to the hiring manager.  Networking helps you build and identify those internal contacts.

Networking is NOT asking for a job.  It is meeting someone at the company to learn about the company, the industry, the types of roles they offer, the skills they value  etc.  Networking involves a significant amount of listening.  Start with friends and family and explore who they know at target companies.  Do your neighbors or your friends’ parents have any connections to those companies?  What about former co-workers or classmates?  Sign up for the alumni network at your school and leverage the alumni database to identify contacts.  Most people will give a fellow alum a few minutes if asked.  Sign up for Linked In and identify contacts there as well.

Ask each networking contact for at least three other contacts.  Always thank the contact and keep track so you can follow up when you see an opportunity at that company.  Challenge yourself to make at least five networking connections each week.  It does make a difference.

Prepare, Prepare, Prepare – When you are invited in for an interview be sure you thoroughly prepare.  Utilize your career services office to help you prepare for interviews.  Ask for a mock interview with feedback.  Research the company thoroughly.  Prepare questions in advance to ask your interviewers.  Demonstrate your interest and passion for the job by coming well prepared.

Always say thank you – Interviewers remember which candidates sent a hand-written thank you note.  Stand out from the crowd.  If the timeframe is quick, send an email thank you but still send a handwritten note.  It can break the tie between two finalists.

If you need to work part-time- Maybe you don’t have the luxury of dedicating yourself full time to your job search.  If you need to work part-time or on a temporary basis, be extremely selective.  Think about skills that you need to develop and focus on a job that helps you develop or refine those skills.  Look for ways to gain exposure to an industry or company of interest by taking a temporary or part-time position to gain experience and visibility.  The enhanced skills and experience will help you further your job search instead of only putting money in your pocket.  If your goal is to work in an office, try to find office experience rather than becoming a store cashier or a waiter.  Focus on transferable skills.

Add value to your resume, volunteer – Can you volunteer a few hours a week to add value to your resume?  A non-profit may be happy to help you gain some much needed experience while they gain coverage for summer vacations etc.  Find an organization you care about and explore opportunities to help.  You can gain office, finance, marketing, sales, communications, technology or other experience while helping them address a critical need in their organizations.  Not only does this add value to your resume, it also shows the employer that you care about giving back and that you showed initiative and creativity in gaining some experience.

Protect Your Social Media Presence – Some potential employers will check out applicants online before making an offer.  Be careful of photos or descriptions of activities you might not want an employer to know about.  Put your best foot forward on all fronts to maximize your chances of success.  Be careful with your security settings.

So, plan your journey.  Get out from behind the computer and start networking your way to a successful job search.  Enjoy the interesting people you meet along the way and all you will learn about different companies, functions and roles.

 

 

2016 Top Ten Resume Mistakes

While your resume alone will never land you the job, it is a critical component in getting you the interview and an opportunity to sell yourself.  To increase your likelihood of success, avoid these common resume mistakes.

  • Spelling and Grammatical Errors—Your resume represents your professional brand to perspective employers so you want it to be flawless. You need to proofread it several times and then have someone else proofread it for you.  Many hiring managers will automatically eliminate resumes with spelling and grammatical errors.  It reflects poorly on your attention to detail.
  • Focus on Listing Responsibilities— Your resume should not be a listing of your job responsibilities. This is not a job description.  You need to focus your resume on your key accomplishments to demonstrate the value you brought to the company by being in this role.  How did you make a difference?
  • Lack of Quantitative Data—Where possible you need to quantify the results you achieved to put them in perspective. “Reduced costs by 20%” is more significant and impactful than “reduced costs.”  “Designed and executed an online promotion campaign which increased market share resulting in increased revenue by 30%,” gives the reader a sense of what you did and the result.  For companies that are not well known, it is helpful to give some perspective.  “A technology company with $250 million in revenue.”  Also add perspective where it helps someone understand the role and scope of responsibility, “hired and trained a team of 20 customer service representatives.”
  • Reliance on Acronyms—Avoid acronyms that are commonly used outside the company. Use English to explain the system or program  you worked on instead of company acronyms that no hiring manager will understand.
  • Focus on Your Goals—Do not start your resume by stating your goal or professional objective. The hiring manager really doesn’t care that your goal is to achieve a financial management position within five years.  Focus instead on a summary of your transferrable skills and competencies.  Capture their attention up front to make them want to read the rest of your resume.  Focus on what you can do for them.
  • Lack of Customization—Often candidates are pursuing opportunities in different lines of work. In those instances it is important to have multiple versions of your resume to demonstrate your relevant transferrable skills.  Your job history is the same but you may want to emphasize different skills and accomplishments depending on the type of position for which you are applying.
  • Inconsistent bullet points and tense— You should always use present tense for your current position and past tense for all prior positions.  Your bullets should also have a consistent structure and be easy for the hiring manager to read.
  • More is not better—Hiring managers are quickly turned off by long resumes. Seven years or less of professional experience should always be kept to a single page and resumes otherwise should not exceed two pages.  You should have more bullets for the current and relevant positions and significantly less detail on older positions.  The resume is meant to summarize your professional experience not provide a detailed accounting.  A resume that is multiple pages can quickly end up in the “no pile.”
  • Failure to use action verbs— All bullet points on your resume should start with an action verb.  Avoid phrases such as “responsible for” or “worked on”.   Use a thesaurus if needed to identify strong action verbs to convey your experience.  Be careful not to overuse the same action verb in multiple bullets.
  • Not enough white space – Some resume writers get very creative and cram as much as possible on the page by narrowing the margins and shrinking the font. This results in a resume that is difficult to read.  Many hiring managers won’t make the effort to carefully review a resume that is hard to read.  Better to focus on the key points and leave some white space so a reader can see the true value you bring.

Investing the time and energy to create a focused, flawless resume will pay off in your job search.

2016 Custom Cover Letters #2

A cover letter serves as your introduction to the company as well as a sample of  your writing skills.  The cover letter gives you the opportunity to clearly state your skills and experience that apply directly to the position they posted.  Rather than hoping they can connect the dots between their needs and your experience, the cover letter enables you to do that.

“So, my skills and experience are what they are so there is no need to customize a letter.”  I often hear that lament from students but they are clearly missing the point.  The cover letter is your opportunity to focus on the relevant skills and experience for the specific position to which you are applying.  You have best chance of success with this position if you are able to tie your skills and experience to the specific needs of the position.

Generic cover letters will never yield the same results.  Most hiring managers can easily spot a generic cover letter. Even when students try to cut and paste the company name and the specific position into a generic cover letter, it is usually obvious that it is still a generic letter.  This also opens the opportunity to miss a cut and paste with the result being a letter with the wrong company name or position title.  That careless error most likely results in a trip to the “no pile.”

Demonstrate your strong interest in the position and the company as well as your professionalism by crafting a customized cover letter for each position.  If the job is worth applying to, it is worth taking the time to customize the cover letter.

2016 Resume Considerations for Career Changers

Resume Considerations for Career Changers

So, you have decided to make a career change.  Your first challenge is how to structure your resume to fit the career you desire when your work history fits your previous career.  If you don’t put the effort into carefully focusing your resume, you will be lost in the pile of resumes from candidates who already have the relevant prior work experience.

Here are some considerations to ensure that your resume is noticed for those positions in your new career field.

Research and Networking

Don’t overlook the importance of research and networking to gain insight into the critical skills in your desired new role and the industry terminology to support it.  Understand what skills are expected or even desirable in the new field so you can objectively evaluation your transferrable skills.

Summary

Be sure to make your career objective clear in your summary.   Without stating a specific goal in your summary, think about how you describe yourself and your skills.  You are rebranding yourself with this resume so be sure you have a strong summary to capture the reader’s attention by clearly focusing on your most valuable transferable skills for the positions you aspire to hold in the future.  Remember, you are selling yourself.

Professional Experience

Your prior work experience is what it is.  You have to accurately reflect employer names, job titles and dates of employment since that will all be verified later in the process.  Instead of focusing on all past accomplishments, highlight the most relevant accomplishments for your new career direction.  Focus on the skills most critical in the new position.  Quantify your results whenever possible.  Avoid the temptation to include extraneous, irrelevant information.  Focus on your major achievements.

Other Skills and Activities

Employers want to hire a complete person.  Remember to include technical skills as well as language proficiency as relevant.  Also include volunteer activities or unique interests.  If you list an interest such as reading, be prepared to talk about the last book you read and what you found most interesting.  Often it is a unique interest that captures an interviewer’s attention.

Throughout the resume be use to accurately describe your experience and accomplishments but wherever possible use terminology that is relevant to the new career direction you have identified.

 

 

 

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.