Effective Cover Letters/Poetic Love Letters – There is Something To This…

Beyond the obvious aspects of always being on your best behavior and trying to impress the person across the table there are interesting similarities to dating and job searching. Luckily for my boys I will not be using them as an example; instead I’ll use myself and my fiancé, Manuel.

In August of 2011 Manuel and I are getting married. This may not seem like a big deal to you, but trust me, it is. It took over twenty years, but we are back together and making those around us a little nauseous with our absolute devotion, admiration, love and respect for each other. We have even been told our pictures look like those fake ones companies put in picture frames, we just do not seem real because we are “too happy”. We courted all those years ago and continue to do so today.

When Manuel and I were dating at the ripe age of 18 we did not have cell phones or internet and we both had jobs. So when we first began to get to know each other we wrote a lot of letters. We took our time and crafted each one purposefully to share glimpses of ourselves, get to know each other; in other words we courted each other. Your cover letter should be approached in a similar way. Your cover letter is like a love letter without the ooey gooey of course.

Most people I speak to in my workshops hate writing cover letters and nine times out of ten the reason is: “I don’t know what to say.” Try thinking of the cover letter as a courtship letter or love letter to someone you do not know but that you are introducing yourself to with the hopes of getting to know them better.

If you send a cover letter that states something to the effect that you are attaching your resume because you saw their ad on Career Builder, well then you have basically said one of three things

1. “My buddy said you’re cute, want to get a pizza?”
2. “I like you, do you like me: circle Yes or No”
3. “I’m sorry to bother you, I’m sure you don’t want to go out with me anyway.”

Not too impressive.

Your cover letter must show there are similarities between the position and you. Show them that you have commonalities; you belong together – without going overboard of course. If you have nothing in common why on earth would they want to meet you? Do you have the exact qualities that they are looking for in a candidate? Then tell them, show them, explain it to them, court them.

Do they want someone with solid experience? Give them something to whet their appetite before reading your resume. Narrate an example of how you absolutely succeeded when dealing with similar situations, budgets, environments – lead them down the path to your door.

Do your homework, research the company, their core philosophies, their clients, the industry. Have they recently been mentioned in the news, expanded, reorganized, merged, had a recent success, does the company values resonates with yours? These can all be written into your cover letter. Manuel did his homework and knew yellow roses were my favorite: big bonus points when he showed up at my door with a beautiful bouquet. Research shows interest.

Do you really want to meet? Do not assume that they know you want the job and why. One of the complaints I hear from hiring managers and HR reps is that they have too many candidates that apply that do not qualify for the position. When they receive resumes, which are numerous, they are a little skeptical. They run across people that apply but only do so because they have to or just to say they did something. Make sure the recipient knows you want the date, the interview, and convince them that you are worthy.

Impress me. I am a huge baseball fan – specifically a huge Cubs fan. I’ve been a fan since Jody Davis was behind the plate, the Penguin was in the infield and Leon Durham dominated the outfield. Manuel impressed me by writing stories about when he played ball or teased me about my staunch belief that American league is not real baseball. (Pitchers should bat and National League is more defensive. But that’s another story.)

When writing your resume you should be thinking about accomplishments you can utilize to emphasize your abilities. When doing this remember to save something for the cover letter. If you give me a great example in your cover letter I am going to be excited to read more in your resume. If I am reading your resume and see the same example I will be a bit disappointed and possibly think, “This is all you have?” You are not one dimensional, neither should your accomplishments be.

Mind your manners. Use appropriate business language, remember this isn’t a note to pass in class; this is an important business introductory letter. Remember to express gratitude for the person taking the time to read your cover letter and resume. Show interest in following up with them to discuss your abilities, skills, added values in more detail at their convenience.

A well written cover letter will interest the reader into wanting to find out more about you and lead to them reading your resume. This in turn will, if written well, further intrigue or impress them to meet with you to find out more. Take your time, do your homework and remember to tailor it to each individual position for which you are applying. No one wants to receive the same love letter that their friends received! This takes time and practice. Over twenty years of writing love letters and Manuel can still take my breath away.

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It is All in Your Attitude!

confidenceHave you ever heard the phrase “it is easier to get a job when you have one?” If I remember correctly the principle applied to the dating world, too (but that’s another story). Have you wondered why? Attitude. It comes through everything that you do. When you are accomplished and comfortable within your world other things open up to you more easily. Positive attracts positive. When you are stressed about finding employment, it can come across too.

Two tips I give at my workshops: when you have a phone interview do it in front of a mirror to make sure you are smiling and positive because it comes across the phone. Second: whatever your thoughts or mood when writing your resume or cover letter they will come across. If you do not feel confident, it will show.

It does not matter what my mood is before I speak in front of a group, whether it be anxious or lethargic, you will not see it when I speak. I get in the frame of mind that I am a damn good speaker, present with an abundance of energy and I will help or inspire someone in that room! Period. With that mindset I can go out and do what I do best. You won’t hear me whine that I do not feel good or that I am nervous, I save that for my wonderful fiancé at home. Poor guy!

When you are speaking to someone about a position whether that be in an interview, networking or casual conversation you need to be in that positive frame of mind. You are the best candidate, you are interviewing them for the job, they want you – there is not a challenge that you cannot answer! If you do not really believe that you can accomplish a task then guess what, it is going to come across. I love to study body language and intonation, they are so telling. Think back to when your kids were young and you knew when they weren’t quite telling you everything. You could tell even though they swore up and down they gave you the whole story. Others can pick this up on you, too.

Fake it until you feel it. Practice it in front of the mirror, with friends, with your dog – I do not care who your audience is, just practice, practice, practice that confidence! Soon it becomes second nature. You can’t sell it until you feel it, and let’s face it, you are selling your skills, your talents or abilities right now.

I love the quote from Henry Ford, “Whether you think that you can, or that you can’t, you are usually right.” So simple but so true.

Lisa K McDonald

Time Management

clockTwo words that can either express a great talent or two words that put you in fear of facing that you are less than diligent. Time management is a tricky thing. I remember when I was entering into the financial arena and had to get my stockbrokers exam, supervisory and a few more all while staring a new position and my son’s father was diagnosed with cancer – oh yeah, and caring for my young son. I don’t remember how I got through that year, but I did. I do remember the clock was not my friend. First thing in the morning getting my son to school, then to work, lunch was studying, after work get my son and off to the hospital, home in time for dinner time with my son then put him to bed, then two to three hours of studying. I earned five Series exam designations within 12 months, I excelled at the job, Jeff survived cancer and the horrendous treatments and recovery and my lovely son was wonderful and able to participate in all his activities with glee.

Then later in life I was between jobs. I had all this time on my hands and could not get a darn thing done! How is that? I think I finally figured it out, when it is your time you do not put the same value on it that you do for others. When I punched a clock I was determined to make the most of the time I was there, then when I left for the day I left it there. When it all bleeds into one day and there is no delineation we tend to not keep track of our time. It can be a habit so easy to slip into and a battle uphill to break. I know, owning my own business it is my biggest challenge. It can be the same principle when looking for a job.

Sometimes we volunteer and join so many networking groups that we are very, very busy but at the end of the day we can not determine what we have done for us, for our pursuit of a position. We really end up hurting ourselves by putting everything else first and ourselves last. Let’s face it, if you are looking for a job your first priority must be you and that is hard for some of us to do.

My advice, look at it as a business. Look at your activities – what is the return on investment? Are many of your events duplicates? Same people just different times and locations? Are some events not productive or worse yet involved negative people? Drop them. Just because there is a group out there it does not mean you have to join every single one of them! Be selfish, be honest and make sure what you are choosing to spend your time on is worth your time. Your time is valuable! If you do not believe it how will anyone else?

Make a list of all the activities that you participate in or attend. Next to each item write down their value. If it is your church group, that adds value, maybe not in your job search, but mentally and spiritually it adds value. If it is a networking group – what is the value for YOU? Is it a group coming together complaining or actively supporting and encouraging each other? Are you getting return on your investment of time. Next, think of each one and if you enjoy participating or attending. If you dread going or are not enthusiastic about attending then don’t! Make it a point to put you on the calendar and realize that you are a priority and should be treated as such.

If It Doesn’t Fit – Don’t Wear It

Mom & Jake blog picShort, shorty, tiny, pint-size, munchkin – these are all words that I forbid my son from calling me since the age of seven. I knew he was going to be over six foot tall and well, I’m five foot. Maybe a half an inch or inch more, but really, at this size it does not matter. I also made two other rules when he got taller than me: 1. Never pick me up and 2. Never, ever pat me on the head. Trust me this is a daily struggle for a 16 year old kid! And now that I have a 13 year old step-son, well, the fun just keeps coming…

I am petite, plain and simple. And the fact that I have a short torso and very long legs, well I think it is funny looking. When I first entered into the professional world all those years ago, I would wear long jackets thinking they elongated me. Ok, I know, at this height nothing makes me taller. What I did not realize is they made me look smaller, almost like I was a little kid playing dress up.

I finally realized that I needed accentuate my figure and embrace my pettiness. I bought suits that had short jackets and had them tailored. Huge difference! Now I look like a petite business woman, not a girl playing in her mother’s closet. The point of this drawn out story…is your resume fitting you?

Styles change, skill sets change, strengths change – is your resume changing with you? Or is it still wearing the god-awful 80’s hair band style? The one rule I will share with you on resumes: there are very few hard fast rules. Some things do not change, i.e., do not include salary information on your resume, a picture of yourself, any mention of race, religion or age. On the religion front, yes, it is acceptable to list your activities within the church. See, there are always exceptions! But the point is, are you updating your resume for your current style?

Your resume is intended to do two things. The first is to be your personal sales pitch. The second is to help direct the interview. If your resume does not fit you, absolutely like a glove, then it is worthless. If you have to review it before the interview to make sure you are in line with what it says, then there is a problem. It is not you.

I can write you one heck of a resume, but if it is not you I am really doing you a disservice. Shame on me. This is where I surprise a lot of my clients. I insist that we review the drafts together. They must be an active participant. If they say they like something I ask them why. Let me be honest, I am not presenting your resume so to solely trust one person for all decisions and direction would be a mistake. But do not get me wrong, I will guide and steer you to the direction that I think best fits you – but that is another discussion and I do not want to do a sales pitch here.

The point is whether you write your resume yourself or hire a professional, please please please make sure that it represents you well. The last thing you want to do is to be in an interview and be reading directly from that resume like it is the first time you have seen it. Your resume should be a compilation of your greatest skills, accomplishments and history. You – the very best that you have to offer an employer, what do you bring to the table, what problem are you solving for them, how can you make them money, how can you save them money, how can you improve client service – see where I am going here?

If you are asking, “Alright, shorty, how do I know if it fits me well?” I’ll tell you, but really, there is no reason for name calling here. Have someone else read your resume. Once they are done, ask them what they think are your biggest accomplishments and best skills. Does this match up with what you were trying to get across? Good! If not, then what did they read that was different. Did you really emphasize that you are accurate but they got the message of good time management skills? Then there is a disconnect. Is it a matter of choosing different words or a matter or highlighting other examples of your work? Go at this like a High School English teacher who is red pen happy. I know what I am trying to get across in this blog, but it is your interpretation that counts. Same with your resume.

Now you might have the questions, “You mentioned presentation – what is a helpful hint on that?” I will give you an example of how you can think of this in a different way (and thank you for no short names here).

Think of it as a really flowery outline from which you give your speech. Remember your note cards in Speech class? You could not put your whole speech on those cards so you had to put the highlights and fill it in when you were in front of the class. Your teacher graded you on not only content but eye contact. Same principle. You should know intimately every detail listed on that resume so you can give your speech without referring to it during the interview. There is nothing wrong with jotting a couple of key words or phases on your notepad that you take into the interview, but to be best prepared you should know your subject inside and out. After all, it is all about you!

Now, if you will excuse me, the 16 year old just got home. Let the short name parade begin!

Make the Most of Your One Play

jakes catch at hseMy son plays football. The first game he played offense and defense all game. Two touchdowns, an interception for 40 plus yards and was named Offensive Player of the Game. The next game they brought in a couple of receivers to give them some time, he was not pleased, but he was going to play defense all game. Before the game I told him he might get a play or two on offense so make the most of it. He went in for one offensive play. He was a receiver, caught a 35ish yard pass. He also was a maniac on defense and was named Defensive Player of the game. I would say he made the most of it.

Your resume has one chance and maybe 10 seconds to make the most of you. Someone reviewing your resume will scan the top quarter of your resume and decide in those 10 seconds or so if they are going to continue. You need to make the leap for that catch – put yourself out their early to let them know you are here to play the game.

So often I read through resumes and they include really good information. Information about accomplishment, money saved, increased clients, improved client satisfaction employee retention or money made. But these things are hidden further along in the resume – many times on page two. You are making yourself second string.

Once you have your strong Objective or Mission Statement follow that up with your accomplishments. Put the proof behind the words. Not only can you state that you are successful in increasing client base and sales, follow that up with your statistic of doubling sales boosting bottom line over $2 million in less than a five year period. If you state that you implement time and cost savings strategies, follow that up with how you implemented a new project management tracking system that linked all contributors and averaged a time savings of over 20% per job equating to cost savings for company and clients. Pretty good numbers to throw out there, huh?

Putting good solid accomplishments front and center allows you to make the most of your sales pitch (your resume) and gets you noticed more quickly. It also confirms that you have the talent and ability to back up your Objective or Mission Statement. Just like catching that one pass when is most needed. You increase your chances of being put in the game.

Lisa K McDonald

KISS – Keep It Simple Silly

girl yawning readingOkay, so that is not the original acronym, but hey, I am trying to be family friendly and not insult anyone with the first line of my blog! I stress over and over again to make sure your resume is written clearly so those that are not in the position to hire you but are reviewing your resume can understand your amazing qualities, and spot them quickly. The reason – most people have a tendency to skim read. They begin reading and think they know what you are saying so they fill in the blanks if it is too rambling.

My son proved this point to me again this weekend. My son is not a patient person – I take full responsibility on that trait! He definitely did not get my short gene, but he did get my impatient gene. I was on the phone with his grandmother when he walked in my office and started mouthing a question to me. I pulled out a pad of paper and pen and we had a conversation this way. To make a long story short, he got snippy and walked out. After I finished my conversation I called him back into my office and asked in that oh-so-gentle-motherly way what his problem might be today. Turns out he skimmed something I wrote and completely misunderstood what I said. So, again, in that supportive, kind motherly way I sweetly showed him exactly what I wrote and asked him to read it slowly out loud word for word. Hmmm, error found.

When you are writing your resume, you do not have to be flowery and go on and on because quite frankly the reader is going to lose interest and mentally fill in the blanks. I will repeat what I frequently say: teenagers are the best audiences because their attention span is that of a Nat. If they can understand what you are trying to get across or at least read the whole sentence, you are on to something!

Make your works impactful, your thoughts clear and your abilities stand out. For the company for which you are submitting your resume highlight how you can make money, save money or improve their customer satisfaction/retention. Know your audience, what is important to them and communicate that clearly through your resume. And always, always keep written communication between you and your teenager – you never know when it will come in handy!

Practice Makes Perfect – but what if you have bad form?

4487_1096621469122_1634166193_208878_1206885_nOne of my greatest joys is watching my son play baseball. One of my greatest frustrations is watching him drop his back shoulder in the batters box. His warm up swing is great, but once he steps in that box – BOOM, he drops it. Oh, he had been told about this, but he kept doing it – over and over and over again. I finally video tapped him at a couple of games and at the batting cage. I also video taped his warm up to show him the difference. You see, I’m just a mom, what would I possibly know about baseball swings? So I had to show him proof positive. He finally realized that he was practicing at the batting cages dropping his shoulder. We’ll see how it translates when the season starts…

My point is this, you can have an elevator speech and practice over and over and over again – but what if what you want to come across is not coming across at all? The man in the mirror is not going to tell you that. Practicing does not come by just telling your speech to someone else, it comes with asking questions. “What does that say to you?” “Did it feel too long?” “What was your first impression?” “Did I leave you wanting to ask a question?” You must practice on another person and ask for their feedback. As uncomfortable as it is, you must ask.

If you are not going to ask someone for feedback, you might as well practice with your dog. Who will pay very close attention, but then want a cookie for listening. And if your listening partner says, “Oh, that was fine” then you ask them questions. They may feel uncomfortable with giving their opinion, so you must let them know that constructive criticism is what you are striving for here. One question to ask them after the “fine” comment is “so what do you think I do?”

I meet people every day who want me to help them with their resume but they are afraid. It is not that I am scary (I am not!) but they are afraid to ask. They do not want to come across as not knowing what they think they should. You have performed certain skill sets for a number of years; you know your skills and how to do your best. But that does not automatically mean that you can translate that in the written word. We speak differently then we write – at least we should! The hardest thing in the world is quantifying ourselves into a mini sales pitch on paper. For me, that is why the first thing that we do is talk. Same with your elevator speech, you know the lingo, but maybe it is not translating to the rest of us.

This is what I would like for you to do today: find a friend, a neighbor, a relative, a former colleague, a teacher – someone that you can say this first sentence to: “Hey, could I ask your help with something?” Just tell them that you have your elevator speech and you really want to know what it sounds like on the other side. People generally do want to help, but you have to ask! Then, thank them, and start practicing not dropping your shoulder.

Lisa K McDonald

Resumes – Break it Down to Get Rid of Dust Bunnies

cleaning houseI hate cleaning my house. With a passion I hate cleaning my house. It just seems overwhelming to me. I start with one thing – “Today I do all the laundry”. In sorting the laundry I go into the bathroom to gather anything that did not make it into the hamper and I notice that I have not put away the girly things in the bathroom, so I straighten that. Then back I go to the hamper in the closet and notice that I haven’t put my shoes away and there is one in there without a match – so off I go to search for its match, which I find by the bed. But then notice the bed isn’t made so I have to make the bed, then I notice there is stuff on my nightstand that needs to be put away. So I start putting that away and notice there is a glass that needs to go down to the kitchen, so off I go to the kitchen. Do you see where I am going here? One thing leads to another and another and another – I meander from one room to another stopping and doing little things here and there but never really cleaning. Things on the surface look okay, but please do not look closely, there are dust bunnies hiding everywhere. But I am a grown up with teenage boys, dogs and a fiancé – so I have to suck it up and clean. No matter how hard I hope and wish those damn cleaning fairies just never show up in the middle of the night!

My best friend Jackie on the other hand – total Betty Crocker Super Mom! She is awesome and amazing and I want to be her when I grow up. She is focused, organized and an amazing housekeeper – with pre-teen kids, dogs and a husband. How does she do it? She determines what part she is going to do and sticks to it, she goes into the closet, sorts the cloths, gathers them takes them down to the laundry room and gets it done. Does she see the other stuff, yes, but she stays focused on one task at a time. She breaks her house down to little components, makes a list and is able to check things off one by one.

How does this relate to your resume? Take Jackie’s approach. We tend to get so overwhelmed by the entire process that we spend little time on each section but then it reminds us of something else in another section so we start working on that and we end up with a product that is may look good at a quick glance, but then when we begin to look at it closer we see dust bunnies. (And as a side note – why on earth are those called dust bunnies? I think Dust Tumbleweeds is more appropriate, but I digress…)

Remember when you are writing your resume, you know what you are trying to say, but to another person there is vital information missing. I recently sat down with a woman who was a purchasing goddess. She saved over $350k in less than six months just in evaluating a department and the internal system. This was one of her highlights and she stated it as she manages purchasing departments to run more smoothly and effectively. I asked her what does that mean, how does she contribute to making it more efficient? She explained that she would evaluate the people working in the department and their responsibilities making sure that their strengths matched up with the tasks at hand, she was also responsible for training individuals on the internal processes, recruit people, perform internal testing to make sure there were no duplicate procedures – she did a lot more than just “manage”. We talked about how to incorporate the key factors that she did to highlight those in her bullet point.

Instead of “Manage Purchasing Departments to run more smoothly and effectively” we stated with “Manage Purchasing Department systems, controls and personnel by effectively evaluating processes, procedures and individual responsibilities to incorporate time management, system efficiency and development of individuals resulting in a cost savings of over $350,000 in six months.” Now that is something you can work with! You can take that into two different strengths – the development of the individuals incorporating the evaluation, hiring, training and development and the management of the systems and processes.

Take a look at your resume – copy and paste one section, one job or one highlight and paste it into another document. Underneath that statement or section start making notes on what exactly that means. How did you add value, save money, save time or increase client satisfaction? Really break it down. Do not try to put it into pretty resume language, just make notes. Again, just talk plain English as though you are explaining it to someone who knows nothing about what you do. Do not worry about proper grammar or sentence structure, just write. Once you have done this then you have a lot of material that you can work with.

Ask a friend to read your original statement and ask them what that means to them. Is it coming through loud and clear what your strength is in that statement? If not, start to read your notes to them then ask them if it defines what you were attempting to say. More often than not they will tell you that it is much clearer picture.

It is a long and difficult process, but staying focused and breaking down each section bit by bit will create a much stronger resume, one that communicates more clearly what your strengths are and leaves room for an interviewer to ask you follow up questions. And there will be no dust bunnies!

Lisa K McDonald

But What Do You DO??

yawnHave you ever met someone and in polite conversation ask them, “so, what do you do?” and their answer leaves you completely dumbfounded?  Either they are really cute about describing themselves using very creative metaphors or use so much technical jargon that you stifle a yawn and begin to wonder if there is a bar nearby, where it is and what is the quickest way to get there.  So you end up eyes glazed over, smiling nicely, nodding and saying, “wow that sounds interesting.  If you’ll excuse me I just saw someone call me over”.  No need to tell them that someone is Jim Beam….  Have you received that look?  Then, please, read on.

 

Let me step back and paint a picture (no bars in this one.).   My computer broke and I am an IT idiot.  I know “reboot” and that’s about it.  Seriously.  So when I had to take it to the computer hospital I told them I do not want to know all about my operating system and the complexities of it, really I don’t.  My position was: Make it work awesome IT guy, tell me what buttons not to hit again, explain to me as you would a six year old how to get it up and running – that’s all I ask.  Make it simple for me, please.

 

It is similar to when someone asks you what you do – please do not tell them what certifications you hold or the amazing letters after your name, to us lay-people that means nothing.  No, wait, I correct myself, to me that means my brain shuts off (not on purpose) but because you lost me.  I might pick up on a word or two, but I doubt I am going to ask for clarification because I am completely lost, period.  As bad as this will sound for me, you must tell me in simplistic terms what you do or you will lose me.

 

Let me clarify one point – I am not talking about during an interview when you are asked your qualifications or what you have done.  Then jargon away – they will understand you!  I am talking about casual conversation.  Grocery store, party, at the ball game – those types of scenarios.  Networking happens any time, any where, any day – there are no vacations from networking.  You must be prepared to tell anyone what you DO. 

 

So, to the main point of this – when someone asks you what you do, answer them as though you are talking to someone completely unknown to your field.  Explain in a short, simple response your current job responsibilities or what qualifications you are bringing to the table.  Be sure you give an explanation that will invite your conversation partner ask you to tell them more. 

 

And for the record, I admire anyone in the IT field, I really do.  My cousin is an IT person and he is amazing, intelligent and awesome.  And I will not pick on IT any more, not that I was really picking on you, but it was an easy target for me – remember I’m an IT idiot.  So I will use myself as an example from now on.

 

In a former life I was a Senior Branch Operations Manager in the financial industry responsible for all Compliance oversight for our area’s Banking, Brokerage and Trust Departments.   Does that tell you at all what I did?  No, it tells you that I had a long title that you could make it into the acronym “BOM”.  (My son had fun with that one.)  When someone would ask me what I did I would tell them something similar to: “I am a Manager in the financial industry partnering with Brokers and Bankers for your accounts”.  This told people what field I worked in and with whom.  Nine times out of ten people would ask me how I partnered with Brokers and Bankers or what that meant – because I added “for your account”.  It kept the conversation going and gave me a chance to explain a bit more.  I would then ask them if they had an investment account and proceed to explain my responsibilities in correlation to their personal experience.  It was less intimidating, more interactive conversation and people actually understood what I did because I could break it down to something they related to personally or through someone else. 

 

In this difficult time we get so anxious to impress others with our qualifications and hope that translates into a good networking contact that we overstate ourselves.  Just remember, someone cannot be impressed with you if they have no idea what it is you do.  Relax, guide us gently through what you do, even better if you can relate it to something we might know, and we will remember you – not for all the jargon, but for your outstanding qualities!