Pick 5 To Interview


Imagine for a moment that you’re the person responsible for looking at some job applications. You’ve got to pick some to invite into the interview process. If you’ve already applied the ATS software (Applicant Tracking System), the reduced pile in front of you already meet your stated qualifications. In other words, the key words you and Human Resources identified as must haves and preferences are already checked off. You’ve got a nice pile of winners here.

So having a pile of 10 before you on your right and 60 the ATS passed over on your left, you begin. Hang on a second, what are you looking for? If you’ve never had to actually go through this process of choosing people to interview, it’s not as easy as it sounds. If after all, each of these 10 applications have already surfaced as the cream of the crop, why not just interview the 4 or 5 on the top of the pile; random selection?

Well, I’m sure some employers do. I mean, it’s possible isn’t it? No one has to know what the person narrowing these candidates down actually did to select them. But for the majority of situations, what does that person do behind closed doors to pick their next potential employee?

Quick question before proceeding; how many readers don’t like the idea of some computer-generated software creating these two piles in the first place; the potential winners and the losers? I’ll bet a fair number of people would rather a human being look over their application rather than having their potential employment governed by a digital scan.

Here’s the thing about that software though; it’s programmed by humans to select the applications which on paper at least, most closely match the stated needs of the employer. That software selects and rejects solely based on what it was instructed to look for. If you didn’t know this technology existed before, you do now. Oh, and it’s not so expensive that only the big organizations can afford it. Like a lot of technology out there today, its come down in price, it’s affordable and it sure helps the employer when the alternative is having to set aside a huge amount of time going through more resumes and cover letters than they’ve ever received in the past.

Okay, so now the impartial and unbiased computer program has put these 10 applications before you. The next phase is choosing from the 10, the ones you’ll meet and make your interview list from. Most organizations set aside time for this process, and they might have to coordinate the schedules of the Supervisor, Human Resources staff, and a second person in Management. Just coordinating the schedules of these three people might take some doing, and they’ll need a couple of days perhaps to clear their schedules. Meanwhile applicants are waiting.

So whether it’s just you or you and one or two others, you’ve got these 10 from which to choose 5 to interview, as this is all time allows. So half of these will move on and half will join the larger pile of passed over/rejected applicants. By the way, no one in that pile will be contacted yet (if ever) to advise them they’ve been passed over. After all, you might end up going back to at least one of those who almost made it if none of these 5 you end up interviewing work out.

So now that human eyeballs are finally involved in the interview selection process, you and I need to understand one other thing. In addition to your eyes, you’re filtering these 10 resumes with some other things too. You’re applying your biases, preferences, assumptions, stereotypes, past experiences, gut feelings and knowledge. Still don’t like computer software? It doesn’t bring any of these to the selection process.

In the mind of the person selecting people to hire, they know the chemistry of the existing team this potential employee is going to join or lead. They have in their mind the personal characteristics they see as needed or desired. They might have a preference for someone who went to a particular school or who worked for a certain employer in the past. They might grimace at an incorrectly placed comma or run-on sentence. Then again, they may overlook grammatic errors and take that as a sign of authenticity, especially if the job doesn’t call for written communication skills as a top priority.

If the names are on the resumes before them, (some companies remove these from the applications so they eliminate human bias), these alone can potentially sway a person to choose or pass by an application. The presumption of gender too might be present. Is this a good thing or not? Perhaps an organization is intentionally hopeful they might hire someone from a specific segment of the population to better reflect the communities in which they operate. How could a gender, ethnic, age, or other characteristic dominated workforce become more balanced if such factors of applicants remain unknown?

You see it’s more complicated than just randomly picking a few or going through every single application received. This process takes time and expertise to do it well. While all this is going on, each applicant is wondering why they haven’t heard from the employer. What’s taking so long you might wonder?

After selecting those to interview and conducting those interviews, more narrowing done happens until one is remaining. May that person be you!

 

How Long Should I Wait After Applying?


One question I often get asked by job seekers I work with is how long should I wait to follow up with an employer after applying for a job.  So today, let’s look at this question from both your point of view as the applicant, and the employers point of view.

First however, let me ask you to honestly think about your own comfort level in general with picking up the phone and making the follow up call. Are you comfortable doing this and just want to know when, or are you uncomfortable making the call no matter when the time is right? You see, there are many applicants I’ve worked with who don’t really want to make that call and would put it off indefinitely unless I sat right next to them and gently pushed them to make the call. Okay, so you know deep down whether you’re likely to make the call in the end. Good.

As to when is the right time to make the call, I’m sorry to disappoint you but the answer is a very unclear, “it depends”.  Oh keep reading though, I’ll give you more guidance than that!

Looking at the job ad, are there any indicators of a deadline date? When you know the closing date to apply to a job, you have to assess how close it is coming up or indeed if it’s past. Knowing where you stand on the calendar with respect to this date guides you as to what to say when you make the call. If the deadline date is another two weeks in the future, you can still call to confirm they received your application and you can go further and ask if you might be able to pick up a more detailed job description, additional information on the organization or perhaps an annual report. The smart thing of course would be to inquire about the more detailed job description prior to submitting your application so you can include more relevant information on your resume that others will not. Just a hint.

Should the deadline have passed just recently, you should definitely make the call now. You may not have ever been someone who hires for a company, but I have and I talk with others who do. Many employers receive resumes up to the deadline date and then wait a couple of days or more. Why are they waiting when there’s a position to fill you ask? While they sift through the applicants to determine possible candidates, they also heed who calls and who doesn’t. Their assumption is that the go-getters, the ones who are really hungry and want the job the most are the ones who will call. Not desperate you understand, but they are viewed as determined, professional, show initiative and the employers are then also able to hear the applicant’s voice, their ability to express themselves and now they have additional information which they don’t on those who just sit home and hope for a call.

I bet you’re argument however is that today many job postings clearly state no calls; that only certain applicants will be contacted. This is one frustrating thing for those who are good at following up and it’s the best argument possible for those who hate picking up the phone and talking to an employer. It levels the playing field for those who are glad not to have to call. Well, guess what? Do an experiment and call some employer’s anyhow. What!? Seriously? Fly in the face of the employer’s wishes and call when they ask you not to?

Here’s a strategy to try. (And after all, if your current way of going about things isn’t working, continuing to go about things the way you are up to now just might continue to end in no positive results.)

Determine that you’re going to call. When you do, don’t just say, “Did I make the cut?” and then hang up. That’s what the employer asked you not to do. Try this:

Hello, my name is ______ and I’m competing for the position of _____. I understand and respect your wishes not to be contacted for an interview, so I’m calling just to introduce myself so I stand out from the competition, and want to expressing how grateful I’d be for the opportunity to demonstrate my strong interest in person. If there’s any additional information you’d like, I’m only too happy to deliver that to you.

So, you haven’t actually called with the lame, “So, are you going to interview me?”, and you acknowledge you’re aware of their instructions not to bother them. Is it a gamble? Sure it is. So is applying for a job in the first place. You might like it and you might not; the whole application is a gamble. You will succeed with some employers in showing them how polite and professional you are – determined to succeed where others are not. Or you will turn off an employer who doesn’t want anyone to show initiative, tenacity, determination or resolve.

Keep track of the jobs you apply to and which ones you follow up with a phone call and which you don’t. Look for patterns and what works over what doesn’t. Do more of what works.

When you do call, be in a quiet place, resume in front of you, pen and paper ready, know your calendar. Good luck!

Working Hard Isn’t Enough Alone


Ever had a report card with the comment, “If only (insert name) would apply him/herself more” ? Well working harder and applying oneself more to tasks is a good start, but it’s not a guarantee of success. In fact, one can work really hard but still come up short. No, working hard is only part of it.

Success comes when you have the right tools, understand how to use them, then apply yourself to using those tools as they were designed. It’s not just working hard, it’s working smarter. All you weekend do-it-yourselfer’s out there ever used the side of a wrench as a make-shift hammer even though you have a perfectly good hammer designed for just such a task but you’re too lazy to go to the other end of the house to get it? Yeah, it’s kind of like that.

Looking for work today has changed significantly from the way people looked for jobs in the past. Yet not in every aspect. And so it is that because in some ways things stay the same, many make the mistake of assuming going about looking for work in all respects is something they know how to do. Hence, they go about job searching with sporadic bursts of energy, thinking they are making great progress, when in fact, it’s a lot of energy wasted. Take the person who makes a résumé on their own and hands out photocopied one everywhere. If they really think this is what you do these days; if no one has informed this is an outdated practice, all the hard work they are doing distributing it isn’t going to result in the desired end goal.

Older job seekers are guilty much of the time for lacking the awareness of how things have changed. Their resistance to technology is widely known – although to be fair there are many to whom this stereotype does not apply. Still, there are many who are still searching for that employer that will let meet them face-to-face and put in a days work on a voluntary basis, hoping that single days work will convince them to hire them full-time. Employer’s however will  generally avoid such antiquated practices. After all, if such a person injured themselves or someone else on that trial day, the insurance companies would have hysterics and raise that employer’s premiums to dizzying amounts.

However, the older worker is an easy target for the young, tech-savvy job seeker to point to and chuckle. Ah but such behaviour has its irony; for the young tech-savvy types themselves might know all about applicant tracking software and have their LinkedIn profiles and be prolific on social media websites that didn’t exist two weeks earlier, but they have their issues too. Just try suggesting they get off their tech devices and actually start a conversation with someone in the flesh. Suddenly their thumbs used for texting have no purpose, their gravatars fail to protect their identities, and what they’ve put little effort into developing – interpersonal skills and verbal communication skills, leave them exposed.

Working hard at the things you already do well is very good for keeping those skills used and ready. However, failing to understand that the job of looking for a job might just require some tools you don’t even know you’re missing in the first place can be a critical mistake ending up in repeated failure. Then all the hard work in the world won’t result in getting what you’re ultimately after.

The problem with this is when you’re taking stock of your skills, it’s one thing to know you’re not using a skill and consciously be okay with that. It’s another to not know in the first place what you lack; then you haven’t even got the option of using it or not.

There’s the added problem too of finding something new and then wondering if this is a fad or a trend. Fads come quickly and disappear just as quick. If you mistake a fad as a new trend and invest a lot of your time and energy in them, you might be one of a handful, and in the end find yourself mislead into thinking you’re on to something. To follow a new trend however, you’d be on the frontier, and then you hope the employers to whom you apply are savvy enough themselves to accept what you offer.

What makes it hard is knowing whom to trust when they say, “Trust us; we know what’s right and what’s hot out there. Do it our way and you’re in good hands.” Ultimately it comes down to you and whom YOU trust.

I suppose good advice continues to be to ask yourself if you’re getting the results you’d expect based on the effort you’re putting in. If you don’t put in effort to begin with it doesn’t matter at all of course. But if you’re working hard at getting a job and getting nowhere, stop doing what you’re doing. Open yourself to changing something in your approach and then applying yourself to actually apply what you learn to your search. Then go ahead and put in the hard work. Now you’ve got a recipe for greater success – you’re working smarter and harder.

 

 

You Need Acknowledgement, Progress And Success


Talk to anyone looking for a job and you’ll find what they expect at the minimum is to have their efforts acknowledged and feel progress is being made towards ultimately being successful.

If a person applies for work repeatedly without any acknowledgement from employer’s, or if they feel stuck without making any progress, their effort will likely ebb and flow at best, or they will give up altogether.

Now, depending on your personal circumstances, your motivation for seeking this new job and the results you are achieving, can have a significant impact on your self-worth, self-esteem and your confidence. Although very similar, they are different from one another, and all three are critical to your self-perception. You do want to feel good about yourself, feel valued; that you have something to give which others recognize and appreciate. When we feel appreciated, we feel better about who we are and that positivity  carries over into other aspects of our lives. Without feeling valued, we can start to feel doubtful, our ability to contribute suspect, and our worth as a person comes into question.

Acknowledgement and progress lead to success no matter what the situation. Were you to buy some carrot seeds and plant them in the garden, you’d feel optimistic when you laid them in that shallow trench. With the first sightings of some fragile green leaves popping up through the soil, you’d feel encouraged. As the plants take root and sprout, the higher the green leaves grow, the more you believe the orange carrots below are getting bigger and thicker. The promise of successfully harvesting some vegetables becomes stronger. When you do dig up those carrots, there’s satisfaction in washing them up and eating them.

However, without any seeds germinating, you wonder what went wrong. Not enough sun or water? Planted them too shallow or too deep? Bad soil? Bad seeds? Or maybe you just say you obviously don’t have a green thumb. That lack of progress in seeing something grow can put you off trying again. If that lack of success happens not only with the carrots but also the onions, potatoes and tomatoes, you might believe you’re not cut out to be a Gardener. In short, you’ll give up.

The thing about growing your own vegetables is that if you’ve never done it before, you might ask others with more experience or at the very least, read the instructions on the packets you buy and follow the directions. When you do this, you’re taking advice from professionals, and you do this because you trust their experience and want to give your seeds the best chance of ultimately being successful vegetables.

When it comes to applying for jobs, you’d be surprised how many people don’t follow this same pattern of behaviour. No, a lot of people – perhaps yourself – go about applying for work as best they can figure out on their own. It’s ironic don’t you think that someone will buy a package of carrots for $1.50, read the instructions and follow the advice to the letter, but then ignore the advice that’s available from professionals when it comes to finding work that could potentially bring in tens of thousands of dollars a year?

As I’ve said in many articles over the years, job searching without success is frustrating. That’s got to be a major understatement of the obvious. However, job searching with progress or even basic acknowledgement is even more disheartening. Resumes and cover letters take time to make, applying online takes time as does even finding the right jobs in the first place. You feel your time is valuable, and the last thing you want to do is put in a lot of time and get nothing in return. For some, even just being acknowledged by an employer that they’ve received your résumé would be nice.

Look, you have to decide what’s best for you personally. That has and will never change. If you are getting regularly acknowledged and are getting interviews, you might feel progress is being made and success is imminent. However, if you feel stuck and you’re losing momentum or have no progress whatsoever, what are you going to do about it? Your choice would seem to be keep doing what you’re doing and hope for a different result, or change what you’re doing and hope for a different result.

Changing what you’re doing is almost impossible if you don’t consider advice from others who have had success in what you’re trying to do – get a job. Without learning how others have gone about it, you’ll just be guessing about what you need to change or how to go about things differently. For all we know, how you’re going about looking for a job now might be like buying a packet of carrot seeds and planting the packet while still in the envelope or scattering the seeds on gravel. There’s always a chance one or two might grow, but the odds are slim.

By all means, do what’s best for you. Hammer away doing the same thing or enlist the help of a professional who can share some ideas on how to improve your odds of success. It starts with having your skills and experience as well as your applications acknowledged, moves forward with feeling you’re making progress as interviews start coming, and ultimately you’ll be successful when the job offer is made.

Writing A Cover Letter


No the cover letter is not dead; nor has it fallen out of practice. Yes you will come across job postings that ask that you only include a résumé, but don’t take these directives as justification for not writing one as your usual practice when applying for a job. Put in the effort required and include a cover letter as the rule.

The first thing to look for in a job posting is whether there is a job number to quote in your cover letter. Typically an ad will instruct you to put this in the subject line of an email when applying, and likewise it’s good practice to put this at the beginning of your cover letter and underlined for prominence. This courtesy just ensures your application gets to the right hiring people for the job in question as it may be just one of many they will interview for.

The question now comes up as to whom the letter should be addressed. ‘To whom it may concern’ might be your standard opening, but I strongly discourage this generic opening. We have social media, company websites and of course the phone; do some digging and get the name, proper spelling and job title of the person you want your cover letter and resume to end up with. Sure some employers go out of their way to hide this information from job seekers, but do your best. If this information can be tracked down with a phone call or a visit to their website, applicants who address their letter to the person in question stand out from the pack right off the top.

Now, how to begin? Well, let’s put ourselves in the place of the reader of your mail. “Who is writing me and what do they want?” Two obvious questions. Your name at the top and bottom of the letter will explain the who, so your opening line should get right to your motive for contacting them. You do after all, want the résumé and cover letter you submit to lead to a job interview, correct? Right; so ask for one.

It is with genuine enthusiasm that I request an interview for the position of _______.

Oddly enough some people think this is too aggressive. Well, it’s not; it’s assertive yes, and it respects the time of the people who read the cover letter, right from the Receptionist, Human Resources staff and the specific Hiring Supervisor. Everyone who reads your opening knows what you’re after. Please don’t dance around what you want and dither about just hinting at what you want. Too often I see people write things like,

Please find my attached resume. I believe I have the qualifications you are looking for and I would appreciate the chance to meet and discuss how we can benefit each other

There’s just so many things wrong in a paragraph like the one above. The language is passive and weak, and if you can’t just come out and tell them what you’re after, that’s an issue. After all, you do want an interview don’t you? Of course you do!

So what’s wrong with that opening? Okay, first off, why are you asking them to find your résumé? Did you hide it? Do you have the qualifications or don’t you? If you do, then saying, “I have the qualifications you are looking for” is the right thing to say instead of inserting the word, ‘believe’ which literally means you’re not sure you have the qualifications needed, but you think you do. While we’re at it, substitute the word, ‘opportunity’ for the word, ‘chance’. This is an opportunity – for both you and the company. ‘Chance’ sounds risky, and you don’t want to sound like a risk at all. Finally, while it’s true that both you and the company will mutually benefit each other if/when hired, in your opening greeting, you should concentrate on what you’ll do for the company and not speak about what you’ll get out of things.

Okay so you’ve asked for the interview right up front. Now move to their needs and how your combination of skills, education, experience and attitude fit their needs. Research you’ve done will clue you in about what to speak to. Without some digging, you’re just guessing.

Your cover letter should include words from the posting but not just be a rehashing of what’s in the resume itself. Consider speaking to your motivation here, possibly stating why you’re entering the workforce, returning to your field of choice, you’ve just relocated to the area, etc. but whatever you speak to, don’t place yourself as a charity case; it’s not about what they can do for you but rather how your background qualifies you uniquely. Sell and market yourself to their needs.

When you do close off your cover letter, reiterate your request for an interview.

As stated in the opening, I am requesting an in-person interview to best demonstrate my strong candidacy for this opportunity.

Anyone skimming your cover letter can’t miss your intention. Assuming they know why you’re writing and that’s it’s obvious or a given would be a mistake. If you haven’t the courage to simply state what it is you want, how will you perform if they actually hire you?

When you close off, stand out. Drop the, ‘sincerely’ and ‘yours truly’.

With enthusiasm,

Enthusiasm after all is the number one trait employers want.

The Purpose Of A Job Interview


As I regularly speak to groups of unemployed people, I often ask them how they feel about job interviews. While a few look forward to them with genuine enthusiasm, most tell me they dread them. Given that an interview of some kind takes place before hiring, let’s look at what an interview is, the purpose it serves and of course how you can perform best.

So what is an interview? Do you see it as a mandatory meeting called where you’re to be drilled, interrogated, the truth sweated out, then evaluated, judged and ultimately rejected as undesirable; sometimes with no explanation whatsoever provided where you went wrong? Gee, no wonder you dread the interview process!

A job interview is really conversation between two or more people, where everyone agrees the discussion will be focused on an opportunity. It is an opportunity for both you the applicant and the employer to see if you’ll be a good fit for the job and equally if the job and the employer are a good fit for you. Sure they’re offering a job, but you’re offering yourself as a solution to their needs. If they had no needs, there’d be no job to apply to.

The purpose of the job interview then is to find the fit. To have received the offer of an interview, you must have impressed them enough with your résumé and/or cover letter. So this meeting is really about finding out what’s not on the résumé. Your attitude, personality, beliefs etc. are all of interest to the employer to decide how you’ll impact on the chemistry in their workplace and with the team of people you’ll potentially work with. It’s also a chance to elaborate on your experiences, so the employer can gauge how you’ll do in the future.

If you want to improve on your interview performance, do your homework. Research the company, find out who the interviewers will be ahead of time and look them up on the company website and/or their LinkedIn profiles. Find out how the organization is performing, current challenges, recent successes and something of their culture – what it’s like to actually work there.

Now this is going to put some people off because this sounds like a lot of work with no guarantee of a positive result. Consider however that if you do put in this effort, you’re ahead of those who don’t bother and it will show in the interview answers you give, and the comments and questions you pose yourself. Imagine putting a lot of time into researching ahead of 4 job applications/interviews; 3 of which don’t turn into a job offer, while the 4th one does. You’ve had fail, fail, fail followed by success. This investment of your time sure beats the energy and time you’ll put into applying for 40 jobs, doing no research and wondering why no one will give you an interview. That’s fail x 40.

Now you can improve your chances of performing well in a job interview if you go into it ahead of time having prepared yourself with specific examples that respond to the questions you’ll be asked. You CAN predict with a high degree of accuracy what you’ll be asked before you even step in the interview room. How? Read the job posting, highlight what it is they are looking for, what you’ll actually do in the job and especially look for anything that is repeated in the posting. If problem solving comes up 3x in a posting, it stands to reason that’s a significant part of the job.

Okay so you’ve highlighted what they want. Great start! Now, to prepare yourself, start writing down the details about times in your past work experiences where you’ve actually done the things this new employer is looking for. In other words, write out a specific time when you solved a problem, making sure you include how you sized up the situation, what you actually did and include the positive outcome such as keeping an angry customer, getting praise from the boss or selling something in addition to the original purchase. Don’t generalize how you usually do things; specific examples are so much more believable.

Of course your answers are huge, but don’t overlook the importance of making a strong visual presentation. In other words, let’s not overlook your appearance. Do what you can NOW to improve on your looks. Get a haircut, shave, get into proper fitting clothes, the type of which would be a step up from what you’d wear to the job. Your choice of clothes tells the interview at a first glance how seriously you take the interview and a degree of your intelligence and respect for the process.

Walk with purpose, stand with both feet equally planted on the floor, not off-balanced on one leg. Sit slightly forward, show interest and enthusiasm for what’s being discussed, smile, look people in the eye, extend your hand and be friendly. Basics for sure, but not to be overlooked and assumed as common sense.

A conversation with an employer about an opportunity is again how I suggest you go into the interview. This should be a positive exchange of information. You’ve got more control in this whole process than you might imagine, right up to deciding if you want the job or not. Your performance influences the outcome, and in a nutshell, that’s the point of this meeting.

No Job Interviews? Here’s Your Problem


So the assumption here is that you’re applying for jobs and you’re not getting anywhere; no interviews. Without being invited to the job interview, you’re not getting offers, and so you feel increasingly frustrated and discouraged. It would seem to make no sense at all to just keep on plugging away doing the same thing and expecting different results. To see a change in things – the result being you land interviews and do well enough to get offered a job – you’re going to need a change in how you go about things.

If you don’t like the idea of doing things differently from what you’re doing now, stop reading. So we’re clear here, a change in things means putting in the work to get the outcome you’re after. Hence, if you’re not ready to put in that effort, again, stop reading here.

To begin with, you need an independent and objective look at how you’re going about applying for jobs. If you’re mass producing a single resume and submitting it to all the jobs you apply to, the good news is we’ve quickly discovered one major thing you need to change. That was how you applied for jobs back in the 90’s when there were more jobs and fewer people to compete with for them. Today you need a résumé that differs each and every time you submit it. No more photocopying; no more mass printings.

As I’ve said time and time again, employers are generous enough to give away most if not all the job requirements in the job postings you’ll find these days. Any résumé they receive and check must therefore clearly communicate that the applicant has the qualifications, experience and soft skills they are looking for. It’s no mystery; a targeted resume (one that is made specifically for the single job you are applying to and never duplicated for another) will advance your chances.

Now are you writing a cover letter? This is something you’ll get differing perspectives on from Employment Coaches, Recruiters, Company Executives and Employment Counsellors. Some will say you should include them while others say the cover letter is dead. Unless the employer specifically asks you NOT to include one, my vote goes with including one. Why? The cover letter sets up the résumé, shows your ability to communicate effectively, tells the reader both why you are interested in the job with the organization, what you’ll bring, how enthusiastic you are about the opportunity and why you’re uniquely qualified.

Whether or not you go with the cover letter, please make sure you get your résumé and / or cover letter proofread by someone who has the skills to pick out improper spelling and poor grammar. Also, even if the grammar and spelling are correct, it might not be communicating what you really want to say. Unfortunately then, it could be doing you more harm than good; especially when applying for employment in positions where you’d be creating correspondence yourself, such as an Office Administrative professional.

Once you have applied for employment, what else – if anything – are you doing to stand out from the other applicants you’re up against? If your answer is nothing; that you wait by the phone for them to call if they are interested in you, well then you’ve just identified another area you need to up your game. Following through with employers indicates a sincere personal motivation to land that interview. After the interview, further follow-up is advised to again separate yourself from those who do nothing. In other words, how bad do you want it?

Recently, someone I know applied for a job and then took the steps of actually job shadowing someone in the role with a different organization so they could gain first-hand experience themselves. While this is a great idea, they failed to communicate this to the employer they were actually hoping to work for. So this initiative went unknown, as did their sincere interest in landing the job. In short, they just looked like every other applicant; applying and then sitting at home waiting.

Look, there are a lot of people who will claim to be resume experts, cover letter writers extraordinaire and so it’s difficult for the average person to know the real professionals from the pretenders. Just because someone works with a reputable organization doesn’t make them immediately credible. Some pros charge for their investment of time working on your behalf while others offer their services free of charge as their paid via the organizations they work for. You don’t always get what you pay for as I’ve seen some $500 resumes that had spelling errors and layout issues that won’t pass software designed to edit them out of the process.

Do your homework. More important than anyone you might enlist to help you out is the effort you yourself are ready to invest. If you’re happy to pay someone to do your résumé and you don’t have an interest in sitting down with them to give advice yourself and learn from the process, don’t be surprised if you still don’t get the results you want. Should you actually get an interview, with no time invested in learning how to best interview, you’ll likely fall short of actually getting the offer.

Applying for employment today takes time and effort, but the payoff is the job you want. Make the effort; put in the work.

Cover Letters: Passive vs. Assertive


I often have the opportunity in my line of work to look over and review cover letters written by job applicants. One of the most common trends I notice is the tendency to use passive language; words that often communicate a different message than the one you intend.

Let me give you a few examples; phrases you might be using yourself and may wish to avoid using in the future.

“I would like to express my interest in applying for the position of…” This sentence, or some version of it is often one I read that starts off a cover letter. So how does it appear to you? Any problem with it? As I read it, I always think to myself, “Well, if you would like to express your interest why don’t you?” In other words, re-word it to read, “I am expressing my interest…” By removing the words, ‘would like to’, the sentence shifts from a passive indication of what the writer would like to do, to an assertive statement of what they are doing; in this case expressing interest in the job.

Another example is, “I believe I have the qualifications you need.” Once again the sentence is not as strong as it needs to be. If you drop the first two words of the sentence – ‘I believe’, the sentence suddenly becomes more assertive. “I have the qualifications you need.” This isn’t in doubt anymore; I have what you stated you need. The first statement leaves room to question whether the writer has the qualifications or not; sure they believe they have the qualifications but they might be mistaken.

Let me provide one more example at this point and it’s a classic. “Please find my attached resume.” Really? Applying for this job is extremely important to you and you are asking the employer to go find it? Did you hide it somewhere? Why make it sound like you’re playing hide and seek? “I have attached my résumé” is actually the case, and therefore why not just indicate so? This is one of the most annoying phrases apparently when I’ve listened to employers tell me what they find irritating in the cover letters they receive.

Now the biggest concern for job applicants when writing assertively is the fear of coming across as aggressive. Take the phrase, “I would like to apply for the position of…”. Somehow it seems aggressive to some people to just drop the, “would like to’ and replace them with, ‘am applying’.

This feeling of being aggressive is even more pronounced in another common cover letter-writing  tendency. Let me set it up first by asking you one question. Do you apply for jobs for which you meet the stated qualifications? I assume you do. While every so often it’s good to stretch yourself and apply for positions where you meet most but not all the employers stated needs, more often than not I imagine you also apply for jobs where you tick all the boxes of what is being asked for. So why then is it seemingly difficult to actually state this in the cover letter and let the employer know that you meet all their stated needs?

Consider writing the phrase, “Having read your stated needs in the job posting, I am confident in stating I have all the qualifications you need. In short, I am the candidate you’re looking for.” Wow! Could you write that? Does it sound like you? Many applicants I work with get a little gun-shy about using this phrase because to them it sounds like boasting. Or, it sounds like they are better than other job applicants. My rebuttal is, “Well aren’t you?”

Now it’s not boasting if you are truly qualified. You can see on the job posting exactly what the employer has stated they need from those applying. If indeed you check all their needs, and if you really want the position, then shouldn’t you believe you are in fact the candidate they are looking for? Of course you should! So why be hesitant to say so?

It probably harkens back to what mom or your primary school teachers said over and over, “Don’t think too highly of yourself. Nobody likes someone who boasts about themselves.” But this isn’t boasting. This is self-marketing; stating that you do indeed have what they are looking for. And quite frankly, should you ever apply for a job where you believe you aren’t the best candidate? Wouldn’t that be a waste of your time? Sure it would. So if you really do believe you have the right combination of skills, experience, education and the right personality to match, I say be assertive and communicate so in your writing.

This need not transform you into some pompous, arrogant know-it-all who will rub the employer the wrong way. I’m not suggesting you change your character and pretend to be someone you’re not either. That’s disingenuous and will always turn out poorly. Writing with assertiveness however just accentuates your position.

Here’s my last point; please ask for the interview. That after all is the thrust of the whole cover letter isn’t it? “I am requesting an interview to best show my strong  interest and suitability for the position of…”.

Re-read a cover letter of your own slowly and see if you can strengthen your presentation by using some of these tips.

How Do I Start A Cover Letter?


Not every employer out there wants you send them a cover letter, and some make it clear in the job posting by asking you not to send one with your resume. However, 50% of employers do read the cover letters they receive, and the ones that do take your ability to communicate effectively into consideration when deciding whether to have you in for an interview.

The trouble for many people is how to begin the actual body of the thing. “What should I say?” many wonder. My advice is to start by thinking of things from the perspective of the person who is going to receive your letter at the other end.

Whether your cover letter is going to be sent by email, as part of an online application, hand delivered or in the post, it’s going to ether start by being received by only one of two people; the right person or someone who needs to pass it on to the right person.

In either case, unless they aren’t going to look at it at all go right to the resume, either of the two people are going to ponder, “What’s this letter all about?” at first glance. So if it lands in the Receptionists mail, he or she will have to open it and read enough in order to know who to forward it to in the company based on the contents. If it first lands in the inbox of the person making up the short list of people to interview, they’ll be wondering what it’s about on first glance too, as the job you are applying to isn’t the only thing they’ get mail about.

Make the assumption these are busy people with a lot to do in a day. Time is money; that kind of thing. The time they are now spending reading your cover letter is precious time to both you and them, so you should be thinking as you write your first few words, “Get to the point right away.”

I’m going to make two essential suggestions. Once you have the date of your letter at the top and some contact information just below that, put what the letter is regarding next in bold and underline it quoting any job competition number provided. It might look like this:

RE. Senior Bookkeeper/Account #16-537 

Remember how I said your cover letter might be read by someone who has to forward it to the right person? This information clearly and boldly stated just above the content of your letter gives the person enough information right there to get your cover letter and application moving to the right person. Let’s face it, after the time you invested in writing this cover letter, you don’t really want to put your chances of a potential interview in the hands of a Receptionist, expecting him or her to really read the entire letter without this and then figure out who to pass it along to. They are too busy and you’re not helping yourself.

The second suggestion I have is to start the first sentence stating what it is you want. What do you want? An interview of course! Why so many people are uncomfortable actually asking for an interview when that is precisely what they are applying for in the first place is beyond me. It’s not aggressive, it’s not rude, it’s actually exactly what the interviewer appreciates because you save them time.

“I am requesting an interview for the Senior Bookkeeper/Account  position. Having reviewed your desired qualifications, I am confident in stating my qualifications, experience and skills are an excellent match making me an ideal candidate.”

“But I can’t say that!” at least some of you reading this are gasping! Well, other readers will be happy to hear that because they are already revising their cover letters and just improved their chances because you’re reducing yours. You want an interview right|? The point of your cover letter and motivation for writing at all is immediately clear right? The time of the person reading it is respected right? It’s all good.

You see when your letter gets into the hands of the right person, the job you are applying to may not in fact be the only job they are interviewing people for. Not to mention of course they get a lot of other correspondence; bills, invoices, requests for charitable donations, business letters etc. Again, as they open your letter they first ask themselves, “What does this person want?” You are doing them a favour.

Scared of the direct language that says essentially you’re the right person; the best person for the job? Afraid that’s boasting? It’s not and in the forthcoming interview you are asking for, aren’t you going to be making the best case you can as being the best person for the job? The one they should hire? So where’s the conflict?

Here’s the clincher; at least for me. If the cover letters you’re writing were effective, you’d be getting calls for interviews on a regular basis; assuming you are qualified in the first place. If you’re not getting those calls, don’t be timid and afraid of changing your approach in order to see if you get a different result.

You are undoubtedly good at what you do; maybe even very good at whatever it is you do. This is in my area of expertise; take it or leave it but think on it.

Dear Recruiters, Interviewers And Those That Hire


If you are one of the people who advertise for help, decides who makes the short-list to interview and ultimately hires people based on their interview performance, this post is primarily for you.

Let me first share my Employment Counsellor title; so you know the perspective from which I write. I’m not a job seeker, but would really like to have your take and feedback after reading this blog for the benefit of those readers who are searching for employment.

It must be challenging for you as you go about your job these days; what with all the professionals providing job seekers with resume assistance and interview coaching. I can imagine that as you receive so many applications whenever there is a job posting, you must be quite overwhelmed trying to narrow things down, looking in the end to hire that one best candidate. I suppose in the end you hope to decide amongst several excellent candidates; for this way no matter who you choose, you’re getting a strong employee.

What would you like people who are applying for jobs to know about the application process to make your job easier and their chances of being selected better? Do you have any advice from your side of the table during an interview that in your position either enhances or detracts from a person’s chances of getting hired?

As the writer of a blog focusing on providing helpful advice for those looking for work – or looking to keep the work they have – most of my writing is addressed to and focuses on the employee and the applicant. You can see however that here I am opening up a discussion (and I do hope you take the time to express some of your own thoughts however brief or lengthy) to get your perspective first-hand. Even if you don’t identify the company you are employed with, it would be most helpful to job seekers and you of course, to chip in with your thoughts.

Now were I in your role, I’m sure I’d wish people who were best qualified to answer my job postings. It takes time and money after all to go through the process of hiring someone in an organization. There’s the job posting itself – which before it even goes up has to be reviewed to be up-to-date. There are conversations with the actual Supervisor of the potential person to determine their needs. Then the gap of time between the posting and the closing where applications come in and from those that do you must rank them in order to end up with your list of potential interview candidates. How many applications would you receive by the way?

Once that short list is made of people to approach, you have to contact these people and set up interviews; all the time knowing there is still a vacancy and your organization isn’t as productive as it should be without someone doing the work you are looking to have done. How many of the people you do connect with and offer an interview to actually take you up on it? I mean, do you have people who decline an interview because they’ve accepted jobs elsewhere, changed their mind or just don’t respond to messages you’ve left? I wonder too how many times you find yourself impressed with someone and want to interview them based on what you found on paper, but then when you call them, you either can’t leave a message because there is no space to do so, or you find the number not in service.

It must be frustrating at that point, wondering if you have the time to call back a second or third time to offer someone an interview that came across on their resume as an excellent possibility. Do you? I mean do you call back two or three times or do you just move on for the sake of time to another person?

I bet you’ve seen all kinds of behaviour when it comes to interviews too. What for you are the keys to a successful interview that would lead you to extend a job offer? Oh and conversely, what are the behaviours or comments that in your view cause a person to remove themselves from the hiring process? Remember please that you’re the expert my readers would love to benefit from hearing from first-hand. I know that your time and job requirements would be best spent interviewing strong candidates. I’d like to think that reading the thoughts of Recruiters, Interviewers, Human Resources personnel and Hiring Managers would be mutually beneficial for you and for them.

In our times, do you feel overwhelmed with job applications and therefore appreciate and use applicant tracking software or do you have a preference for scanning all those resumes personally? What kind of layout do you prefer? What makes a terrific resume or cover letter – and speaking of cover letters, do you read them? What if you do, are you looking for in a good cover letter?

Beyond these questions, feel free to pass on your thoughts, advice, suggestions and ideas as they pertain to the job application process. Job applicants would love to hear how to improve their chances of getting hired, and you of course would love, I’m sure, to get better quality applications from which to choose.

Thanks for your anticipated input and comments. The floor is yours.