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Cover Letters: Necessary or Outdated?

People offer to send me cover letters all the time.  I tell them not to bother.  My job is to provide notes to my client about each candidate so in effect, I am writing the cover letter for them.

But what about when you are applying to jobs directly?

It can be tricky to decide but whatever you do, cover letters need to be written individually.

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You can have a standard paragraph in the middle but the rest of it needs to be customized every time.

If you are applying to a position online and there is no mention of a cover letter, then you can probably get away with just your resume.  Many application systems have questionnaires as part of the application process.  That is the company’s way of getting most of what would be in a cover letter.

If you see a posting that asks specifically for a cover letter, then pay attention to what it’s asking for.  A lot of times, an employer wants you to lay out your goals, achievements or maybe why you think you are right for them/the role.

Take a look at the tone of the ad and also look at their website.  Try to get a feel for the culture and use this to decide the tone and format of your note.  If the company is really creative or casual, use that style but if it seems corporate and formal, then go with that.

If you are referred by someone, you definitely need a cover letter that explains who referred you, their relationship with you and why the role matters to you.

Two points to remember:

Keep your cover letter short and to the point.  It is not your life story.  It should talk about who you are, what you are good at and how to get in touch.  All of the other details are in your resume.

Double and triple check the spelling – especially the name and title of the person you are addressing.  Nothing gets your letter in the trash faster than misspelling someone’s name.

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How to Resign with Respect

You are beside yourself with glee.  You have just accepted an offer for a  fantastic new job.  It checks all the boxes: people, scope, location and money.  Yippee!

What to do next?

It is important to plan your next steps with care and respect.  How you leave a job can play a big role in managing your career and your reputation.

Think about how much notice you need to provide to your current employer.  Check your employment agreement.  Many stipulate two or three weeks.  You may want to be magnanimous by offering four weeks but in most cases, it is not necessary.

Then, write a letter of resignation.  Make it formal but friendly.  Thank your manager for providing such a great opportunity to learn and grow.  Lay out the details of your last day and offer to do what’s needed for a smooth transition.

Be prepared for anything and everything when you tell your manager and hand over/email the letter.  Managers do not like it when someone resigns.  It almost always catches them by surprise and then they look bad to their boss when they have to deliver then news.  That’s where counter offers often come in to play.

When faced with an unplanned gap in the team, suddenly there is more money to give you.  Maybe the leadership team really was thinking of promoting you but the fact is, they didn’t and now you have chosen to go somewhere else.

Be firm and resolute in your tone in that “I am leaving” conversation.  Think about (but don’t share) all the reasons you are going to a new and better place.

Once the initial shock wears off, they will figure out who will take over your tasks and life will go on.  That’s why a couple of weeks is almost always fine. It’s not like you can get involved in long term planning or that you will enjoy getting left out of conversations that might be proprietary.  It’s all part of the transition.

So you go.  Your colleagues and managers will wish you well and hopefully, some of them will take a few minutes on Zoom to raise a glass to your future success.

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Tips for Video Panel Interviews

It’s been a year and a half and most of us have adapted to meeting people over a video platform rather than in person. It has been a struggle for some and an easy transition for others but we are mostly there.

Meeting a panel of interviewers over video is another story. When you have a panel interview in person, you know where to look. You can sort out who is talking even when two people are talking at the same time and you don’t have to deal with any kind of techno-lag.

All those things are harder over any video platform, even the most reliable. There can be connection problems, weird noises, people off camera and all manner of other things that can throw you off your game.

Here are some tips to get you through.

Find out the platform that will be used (Teams, Zoom) and make sure that it is set up on your device of choice. A computer is best because it is large and stable. If you are using a phone or tablet, make sure you use a stand. Nothing makes a panelist more nauseous then the image shifting as you hold it in your hand.

If talking on group video calls is not something you do everyday, pull together some friends or family and practice. Give them questions to ask you and get their feedback on how you look and sound.

In your practice rounds, log on and off the call a few times. Nothing is more agonizing than waiting for a video call to connect. It’s only a few seconds but it can seem like hours and in a pressure interview situation, it feels even worse. The more comfortable you are with that, the better you will present.

The big advantage to a video call is that you can have notes around you. Think about the important skills, stories and experiences that you want to get across to the panel and make some sticky notes or index cards. You can have them on part of your screen or you can tape them to the side of your monitor. It’s a great way to provide cues for yourself.

Prepare the same way you would for an in-person meeting. Do the research about the company, the challenges ahead and background about the panelists. Think about how your experience would benefit them. Remember, it is not really about why you want this role. The panel will ask you about that but it’s not the key. The key is what problems will you solve and how you will help the grow.

Finally, have a list of questions you want to ask the panel. Open ended questions are best. Ask why they chose the organization, what qualities do successful people have, what big projects are coming up. Getting them talking will give you real insight into who they are and whether they are your people or not.

So take a deep breath and click Connect. They can’t see you sweat on video.

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It’s a Funny Story…….

Over the last few weeks I have been asking candidates how they got into their professions. And more than two thirds started their answer with “well, it’s a funny story”.


Then they proceed to talk about the seemingly unrelated series of events that took place and culminated in them landing in their current role.


This gives me great cause for optimism. I read a lot about workplace transformation and AI and jobs disappearing. And I worry. I worry about how people will be able to keep pace with the shifts in the workplace.


But if so many people fall into jobs that they never could have imagined when they were in school then I guess there is a certain amount of hope that they will continue to follow new paths.


I have read about journalists who are working in digital marketing, an English grad who is working in software development and a music student who ended up being a great project manager.
Many of their initial opportunities came from networking. Often it’s a former colleague or a former manager who reached out or made a key suggestion.


The takeaways:

Keep your network warm. Make sure they know who you are and what you care about. (Not just your title and company).


Be open to listening to ideas and evaluating them as you go. If you are always “way too busy” to consider a new opportunity, they will cease to come your way.


Read a lot. Read about your industry, the tools you use, the news of the day and a bit about the economy. Keep your world broader than your desk.


Basically, if you keep your eyes open for ways to explore and learn about the future, you will be ready when it arrives.

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Small Bits to Reduce Burnout

I am burned out from reading articles on being burned out.  The theme is dominating mainstream media and all my social channels.  Frankly, it’s exhausting.  Fixing burn out is not easy but let me offer up some suggestions on how to refresh, even if only for a few minutes.

One of the sources of burn out is not attending to small, personal matters.  You get into bed and realize that you still did not call the dentist or drop off the Amazon package you are returning.  Trying to fall asleep while you are berating yourself is pretty tough.

Pick one of those small tasks.  Only one.  Look at your calendar for tomorrow.  Find 15 minutes.  Make a meeting that includes not just the thing you need to do but also the details.  If the task is calling the dentist, make sure the phone number is in the meeting. 

When that times comes tomorrow, do the task.  Feel accomplished.  Add a task for the next day.  See what you did there?  Getting personal shit done without disrupting your business life. 

The other big contributor to burn out is the loss of random social encounters.  Remember when we could bump into someone at the coffee machine or in the elevator.  Just a 10 minute catch up put a real bounce in my step.  It was out of routine.  It was positive.  It had a great return on investment. 

Think of a couple of people you have not spoken to in a while.  It could be someone you see on Zoom group calls but never get a chance to speak to or maybe the person with the new puppy who works in another department.

Pull up the old calendar and create a meeting. Drop their name in the attendees section and then open the Scheduling Assistant.  Find 30 minutes when you are both free.  Make sure it is not a day when you or the other person have back to back to back meetings.  That is certainly not conducive to a catch-up call.  Use “Catch Up Call” or “Miss You Call” in the subject line.  That way they know there is no agenda and nothing to prepare. 

Maybe you like it so much, you set up a once a month call.  How wonderful would that be?

These two strategies may be small, but they pay big dividends in restoring your mental energy and zhuzhing up to your outlook.

Thank you to my excellent colleague, Nancy Gore, for some great suggestions on this topic.

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Proximity or Performance – how will you manage your career?

There is a lot of talk right now about how work will work as we come out of the pandemic and settle into the new ordinary.  Will we all be together? Will we continue to be remote?  Will we have an office or a communal space?

Most companies are still in the planning stages which means they likely have more questions than answers.  It is stressful for sure.

I have read several articles about companies that are committing to a hybrid model.  Some are going to have employees commit to a permanent schedule of in and out of office days. Others will leave it flexible.

Several companies are going back to the office – everybody, all the time.  One rationale is that remote workers may get passed over for promotions or miss development opportunities because they are not physically present. 

That sounds like a cop out to me.  I just don’t buy it.  It’s no different than people in the old days who worked in branch offices or people who worked late or people who went for smoke breaks together.  Those situations and relationships provided the exposure to people outside their regular circle which can often be the catalyst for a new opportunity. 

There are other ways to get facetime with managers and colleagues outside your immediate group or team.  Working remotely means you aren’t going to bump into someone at the coffee machine or in the elevator.  (You might bump into your spouse at the coffee machine but that’s not likely to lead to a promotion).   You need to cultivate new connections. 

This could mean volunteering for a new project or program.  Many companies are asking for volunteers for diversity initiatives – that would be a great way to connect with new people. 

You want to find a common connection and then reach out for a conversation.  Maybe you are working on the same account but in different regions.  Maybe you are both super users of some software.  Maybe you liked a post that they shared on LinkedIn.  Don’t just punch the “like’” button.  Pick up the phone and give them a call.

This might sound like networking 101.  It is.  Whether you are working in the office or not, you need to connect with new people and nurture your relationships if you wan to keep the opportunities coming. 

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You Still have to Dress for an Interview

I know it’s been a while since most of us dressed up for anything.  Why would we?  In most places, there is nowhere to go, so we might as well be comfortable while we are stuck at home. 

But there are reasons to get dressed; to put on a shirt with buttons and a jacket and maybe even a scarf or tie. 

An interview is one of those reasons. 

A meeting with a hiring manager is the same in person as it is on Zoom.  The handshake may be missing, but the respectful attire should not.  Respect is the guide rail on how to present yourself in a hiring situation.

There are industries that are more mature and have long-standing traditions about how you should present yourself.  If you are interviewing for a banking, real estate or insurance role, a shirt and jacket show that you understand that history and those traditions.  If you are interviewing for a “transformational” position within one of these companies, you can push the traditions and wear a jacket and a plain, neat T-shirt or the ever-popular black turtleneck. 

More modern industries like tech startups and software companies built their traditions on different values, and showing up in a shirt and tie will be just plain awkward.  A t-shirt and a hoodie or jacket might work well in that situation. 

There are places to get clues on how to present yourself. You can look at the company’s website or find company employees on LinkedIn.  Their profiles may give you some tips. You can check Glassdoor but take everything you read with a grain of salt.  Usually, it is people who are super happy or super miserable who post content on Glassdoor.     

The bottom line is that you need to invest time in researching how you want to show up.  Even on video, you only get one chance to make a first impression.

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Stop Apologizing for Your Salary

This week’s recurring theme was the “salary apology”. Time after time, I asked candidates about their salary objective and their responses went like this : “Um…well…I am paid pretty well and I just want you to know that I could be flexible. Money is not that important to me.”

Ack!!!

That is not the way to answer that question – especially when a recruiter asks. You know what we come away with? You are flexible and will take any old, low-ball salary.

You are paid what you are paid. You have done the work and now you earn that much money. The only reason to deviate from this is if you are looking to move to part time work or get into another occupation. That’s really the only time to drop your expectations.

You can offer to be flexible but definitely don’t lead with that. If you really love the sound of the role or if the commute is going to save you a ton of time or money or the company is offering a bunch of non-salary perks (like a car or a house), you can offer a salary range that gives some potential wiggle room.

If there is a big difference in what you are making and what the job is offering, chances are there are other things that will be misaligned as well. The company may be much larger or much smaller or the role might be much broader or much more narrow.

Then there is the perception a weak answer gives to the hiring manager. If they hear you say you would take less money for their role and that is something they would never do themselves, they will wonder what is wrong with a) you or b) your present situation.

Maybe the most important reason to be clear on your salary objectives is this: it is absolutely heart breaking to get through the interview process, learn that you are one that has been selected for the role and then get presented with an offer that is 20% lower that what you make now.

So be clear and honest about your compensation objectives. It’s for your own good.

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Vacations, Staycations & Fake-ations

I learned last summer, that taking vacation can be complicated. Essentially, vacation should be about having a break from your every day routine. Now that we work from home offices and Wi-Fi gives us email access everywhere, taking a break requires a concerted effort to disconnect.

My first week off last summer was not a break. I was planning to use the week as if it were six Saturdays in a row. I was going to catch up on house chores, run errands and gorge on Netflix. Because I was feeling pretty low key about it, I did not plan appropriately.

I didn’t tell my clients or make arrangements to hand over my projects to my capable colleagues. I don’t think I even put my out of office notifier on.

Guess what happened? I worked every day. Not all day, like I usually do, but every day.

Halfway through the week, my husband declared that I was not on a stay-cation but rather a fake-cation. (And in his opinion, I was fooling no one!)

But I learned my lesson.

I am planning for my summer time off now. I am blocking the time on my calendar and sharing it with my colleagues. When the time off gets closer, I will work it into project plans and let my clients know who will be driving while I am doing other (non-work) things.

I will make plans for each day – special stuff that I would not ordinarily do. I’ll leave some flex time so that I could take advantage of any particularly good weather. The only things that will be outlawed will be Zoom, Teams and Slack.

It feels good to make some plans. Go ahead and make some of your own.

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Take a Mini Break

There has been a strong theme in my conversations this week. People are tired. Not tired from lack of sleep but tired as in weary. The novelty of staying home has long since worn off and we are aching for the chance to get out and do at least some of the things we used to do.

So there are no career tips or interview strategies today. Instead, I am gifting you with five minutes. Look straight ahead and close your eyes and if anyone interrupts, tell them you are reading something important and you will be right with them.

Go.

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