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 If they really think this is what you do these days; if no one has informed this is an outdated practice, all the hard work they are doing distributing it isn’t going to result in the desired end goal.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.

 

 

Before Submiting Your Resume


Writing a résumé would seem to be something most people should be able to do on their own; which is precisely why so many people often take to doing it themselves. I mean, it doesn’t seem overly complicated requiring the services of a professional. It’s just something that many people feel they have the skills to do; it is after all just words on paper, and who knows a person better than themselves?

And to be fair, when one professional can’t agree with another about what to add, what to leave off, the layout and the formatting, one’s left wondering if the one they’d make themselves might not just work as well. While the best advice I have to offer is to enlist the help of a professional who will work with you face-to-face, there will always be those who insist on doing it for themselves and saving time and money into the bargain. (What they believe is the case at any rate.)

Over the weekend I had some time and went looking online for the help of a résumé writing service, not because I would actually employ their services mind, but to see what was on offer. This is what I do in part for a living myself, but I thought it might be interesting to see what services are out there. I started looking on Kijiji;  where I know  some people begin their search for such help.

It didn’t take long actually. Here was an ad which seemed to say a lot of the right things. It promised quick results, whether a person wanted a résumé, a cover letter or both. It mentioned three times in the ad that the writers are all English; which immediately made me suspicious. It was just an odd thing to add in an ad that is written in English to begin with. As I read on, the choice of words started to fit together less and less appropriately. It started sounding more and more like the writer spoke and wrote English as their second language.

The ad advises people to send them a deposit to get started, plus their old resume or all the things they’ve done in the past if they don’t have one. Then the service will send them a picture of the completed resume, and once the balance is paid, the completed document(s) will be sent; satisfaction guaranteed. They claim to have, “lot of happiness from others.” See what I mean? One can just imagine an entire resume with this rather crude sentence structure. The price? $40 per resume.

I also went looking at a few job search websites; seeking jobs that I’m not qualified or interested in applying to personally. I wanted to see what guidelines or expectations employers had in the resumes they expected to receive. One ad asked for applicants to include their hobbies and interests outside of work; something typically left off resumes these days. Another ad instructed applicants to apply directly via LinkedIn; so without a profile on that platform, don’t bother to apply. A third ad requested that applicants should clearly state why they want the job they are applying to at the top of the résumé.

So the advice I give you is before submitting your résumé, read the ad wherever you find it and carefully look for anything specific the employer requests. Failing to add or drop things as the case may be, could end up terminating your chances of success before you even send your application. Of course there are other guidelines to look for; send an accompanying cover letter or don’t, include a job reference number if one is provided, and instructions on whether resumes can be faxed, emailed, hand-delivered or mailed. Does anyone actually mail resumes anymore?

Employer’s websites often give specific instructions on the right font style and size they expect, the size of paper, number of pages permitted and whether they want every job you’ve ever done or just the relevant bits. I imagine at least some of the people reading this piece are still mass producing their single resume and distributing it to many employers in the hope that something sticks. By the way, stop doing this; it’s annoying and it doesn’t work effectively most of the time. Or continue to do this as you wish; sure, you might get lucky.

The bottom line of my message is that before you start a résumé – whether you do it yourself or you enlist the help of someone else, read the post and see if the employer has left you some guidance with respect to their expectations. You would be wise to go and read the employers website too if they have one. A lot of the time you can find information on their submission guidelines there; it’s like a reward for those job seekers who bother to check out the employer and separates these from those who don’t see the value in doing so. Resumes that don’t follow the employer’s expectations may be immediately trashed because after all, if the applicant can’t be bothered to even check out the employer’s publicly posted webpage, how invested are they going to be doing work for the company when they don’t invest in doing work for themselves?

Go at this résumé thing any way you like of course; it’s your future after all. Please don’t think you get what you pay for; not in this case.

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.

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.

This Is That Chance You Wanted


So you are out of work and are frustrated with your lack of progress. How frustrated? Well you stopped really looking on a full-time basis last year and told anyone who would listen that no one was hiring in December anyhow; you’d start fresh in January. Well it’s now January, and we’re actually already four days in.

Yes the second best time to look for work is right now. The best time to look for work was when you stopped going at – whenever that was; but that time is past so no point beating yourself up over that now. The key is right now; here today, at this moment. I don’t think it can be put any plainer that this; “Get going!”

The first thing you need to do is evaluate where you are in the job search in order to change the outcome of your 2016 job search vs. what you’ve done in the past. After all, if you go about your job search in the same way you went about it last year, your odds are likely to be about the same of ultimately being successful – and you weren’t were you? Hmmm…

In other words, if you’re using the same resume and it didn’t work last year, it likely won’t work this year. If you haven’t practiced and improved your interviewing skills, you are likely going to be eliminated from future competitions at that point just like last year. If you are still going about job searching by mass distributing your resume – well, that didn’t work last year so it’s not likely to work this year. Quite frankly, if you haven’t determined what it is you really want to do work-wise in 2016, you’re likely just as confused or desperate to do, ‘anything’ as you were in 2015; and ‘anything’ has yet to be found on a job board.

The best thing about undertaking any activity in the early days of a new year; in this case 2016 is the fresh start. This mental view of starting all over with a fresh new start erases all the failures and frustrations of the past year. If you plan on making significant progress over last year’s dismal failure, you usually need to make significant changes in your approach. After all, it’s not very likely that pounding away doing the same thing will result in positive changes. No, you need a different approach to the situation at hand.

First of all, evaluate if you’ve targeted a specific job; two at the very most, or are you looking for any old job. If you are looking for any old job, stop please. Do some self-assessments under the watchful support of a professional who can help you figure out what you really want. After you figure this out, by all means start a focused job search.

If you know what you want to do, find out how competitive you really are with your current skills and experience. No point going forward and applying for jobs you are underqualified for is there? This is just going to result in a lot of rejection. You need to talk to people in that industry or field and find out how you stack up. Listen to them and take their advice. If you need upgrading, go get it. If you have the skills and experience, let’s move ahead!

Now if you know what you want and you’re qualified and can compete on a level playing field, the next thing to do is see how you are marketing yourself. Here you need some objective feedback on your cover letter and resume. Do these two documents brand and market your abilities in such a way that you appeal to employers? Do you solve a problem for them, or are your resume and cover letter solely about you and what you want?

Marketing and branding yourself to appeal to employers on paper is one thing; doing it in person another. So, how are your interpersonal skills? How’s the self-confidence, the clothing, smile, handshake, listening and speaking skills? Yes of course you should be hired based on your skills and experience; but if you think that you won’t be judged or assessed based on your personal presentation skills, you’re sadly mistaken. If you need some dental work, get it done. If you’ve neglected your personal grooming and need a bit of a personal makeover, get it done. You’ll feel better, you’ll look better, and you’ll act differently too.

It would be a wise thing to look into some self-improvement classes and if there is a cost involved, think of it like an investment in yourself; you have to spend money to make money. In other words, it’s 2016 and you’ve got to look it. The clothes you wear might need some freshening up – maybe you got just what you needed for Christmas? If not, find a sale or two and take someone with some fashion sense with you; not your similarly unemployed best friend or mom. We’re talking change here.

Look if you’re going to erase the mistakes and plunders of 2015, don’t start the year by wiping the slate clean and then set out to make the identical plunders. This is your big chance to put some changes in place so that you get the results we both want for you in 2016. What changes are you making?

Signs Of A Successful Person


Back in late 2014, one of my co-workers shared with me that she had been applying for internal jobs in our organization, hoping to move from the ranks of permanent part-time to permanent full-time. This week she shared with me the news that she has successfully landed a full-time position, and how she went about it might provide you with an example if you are in a similar position.

When I first heard she was looking for employment, I asked her how things were going in order to get an idea of whether or not an offer of help would be appropriate or not from me personally. As it turns out, she mentioned that while she was getting some interviews, she would invariably not do well in the interviews themselves; sometimes wondering if she was saying too much, perhaps not really answering the question, and her anxiety coming through. Bazinga! A specific area I could help with.

So I made an offer to look over her resume and cover letter, help with a mock interview, whatever she wanted and felt she would benefit from. Now here’s the first sign of a successful person; she welcomed the offer of help. Within a 24 hour period, she provided me with her resume and cover letter, plus the job posting they corresponded to. Following through and delivering what she had been asked to provide me with was the second sign of a successful person. You see too many people nod their head and say, “Yeah I’ll get it to you”, but they don’t.

After I edited both resume and cover letter, we set up a time to get together. Working only part-time, she made the effort to meet after her own shift was done, and she followed through – another successful step. When I was going through her resume revisions, she leaned in, looked interested, listened, clarified what she initially didn’t understand, and was genuinely interested in understanding where it was weak and why, and how it was strengthened in replying directly to the employers stated needs. Again, the sign of a successful person.

The cover letter review was much the same. In overhauling what she initially gave me and comparing the before and after versions, she saw the difference. Was she ticked off, affronted, defensive? Absolutely not. In fact, she was appreciative, thankful and open to change. You guessed it; yet another sign of a successful person. The bottom line is get interviews and job offers, not protect her ego. And guess what? The more she was open to ideas for improvement, the more she received.

Now to the mock interview process. She mentioned that applying for these full-time jobs was very stressful. Each application meant undergoing a test of competency and face-to-face interviews. Working for a large Municipality, she was going to various departments for these jobs; Water Treatment, Works, Social Services etc. Similar office administration positions but in completely different sectors. She’d get excited and nervous, talk quickly and lose focus.

We first went over the non-verbal areas; posture, first visual impression, eye contact, smiling, hand gestures, etc. This woman is actually very good at being engaged in conversations, makes solid eye contact, has a beautiful smile naturally and her non-verbal body language is pretty good to start with – just a few small suggestions.

As I asked her my questions in our mock interview, I made notes as fast as I could jotting down exactly what she said without paraphrasing. After the last question and answer, we went over the questions I’d asked and her answers. Now, whether she gave me a good answer or a poor one, during all of my feedback, she sat there intent on learning, being open to the feedback, taking it all in. Yes another sign of a successful person.

Constructive feedback can mean what you hear isn’t all flattering. It should be honest, helpful, instructive and delivered as straight-forward as the person receiving it is capable of taking it in. It should never be delivered with an intent to ridicule, embarrass or demean. As we talked, she was so receptive to getting better, I had the green light to keep it coming and I got more invested in the process. A huge sign of a successful person.

All of this I am thrilled to say, changed the way she viewed the interview. Seeing it as a conversation; an exchange of information centered around both an employers and applicants needs, she improved. Her answers became stronger, the framework for delivering those answers tightened up her nervous babble, and using specific examples to prove her skills validated her as authentic and believable.

You know why I’m really excited for her? She’s a mid-twenties homeowner who now has a better income, benefits, vacation time, and a brighter future. She’s also done for the time being with the distraction and stress of job applications, tests and interviews. I’m going to miss her very much actually because she’s incredibly positive, helpful and genuinely helpful. A sign of a successful person. Our loss is someone else’s gain.

Take advantage of offers of help. Be receptive not defensive. Implement ideas for improvement with enthusiasm and be hungry to improve.

Finally, she did one last thing that marks her as a successful person. Though not required, she said thanks with a token of her appreciation. A beautiful compass with the inscription, “Life is about the journey not the destination”. For a guy who helps provide people with direction, it’s perfect and now treasured.

Let’s Talk Cover Letters


Do you use cover letters or not? It’s been my experience, (and I am opening myself up to some possible criticism here but nonetheless here goes) the cover letters are generally written more often by people with better vocabularies and higher education than those who do not.

Please however, instead of firing back a retort that speaks of me being judgemental, I tell you honestly I’m basing that opening statement solely based on what I observe and have experienced first-hand in both my professional life and personal life over many years. Let me run the risk of saying there are two other groups who don’t usually pen a cover letter and they are either ignorant of how to write one through no fault of their own, or they know how but can’t be bothered to write one.

A cover letter is essentially an introductory letter that sets up your resume. It introduces you to the employer, tells them what you are applying for, how adding you to their organization would be advantageous for them, demonstrates your understanding of the position and why you are a good fit based on the criteria, and in a good one, it prompts the reader to both read the resume and there is a plain request for an interview.

Now what if I told you that only 50% of employers actually read a cover letter? Would that fuel your argument not to write one if you never do? How can you be sure that the job you are applying for falls into the ‘don’t read them’ category? Truth is you can’t unless the job specifically states that cover letters are not to be included.

In a cover letter, you can also head off any potential concerns a reader might have who only looks at your resume, such as having an employment gap, or several jobs in varying fields which might cause an employer to wonder if you are committed to them if hired or not. Stating something such as you have intentionally sought out employment in different sectors to gain a diversity of experience and have now settled on the job you are applying for as a longer term career move might dissuade them from thinking otherwise you are a job-hopper and can’t be counted on to stay with the company even if they hired you.

And let’s clearly understand why some people with lower education levels stay away from cover letters at all costs; literacy plain and simple. If spelling and grammatical errors are a weak skill set, it is more than understandable that a person would shy away from exposing themselves as being unable to string together sentences with glaring errors of irregular capitalization, spelling mistakes and run-on sentences without proper punctuation etc. I get that entirely and that’s not a knock at all on the people for whom this is a huge challenge. They are in fact recognizing their weaknesses and trying to avoid giving the employer just one more reason to pass them over and that shows how smart they actually are.

I have watched however many people put together a resume for a job with a vague opening and not use a cover letter, and I then ask them to play the role of the person receiving it at the other end. “Suppose you are the person opening the mail at the other end and the company is looking to hire 5 people including a Janitor, Clerk, Cashier, Stock and Inventory Worker and Cafeteria worker. Would you know what job this person was applying for and which Hiring Manager to forward this resume to?” The answer is that it isn’t always obvious unless the person reads the resume. And that is sending this message to a Receptionist in many cases: “You have lots of time on your hands. Read my entire resume, figure out what I’d be good at in your opinion and pass my resume on to the right person please.”

If you are putting your hopes for an interview in this persons hands this way, no wonder no one is calling you for an interview as that Receptionist doesn’t have the time or sometimes the skills to figure out what you’d be good at and for what you are applying. That’s your job not his or hers.

What to include? The date, your contact information, the name and title of the person to whom you are writing, one line stating the job title you are referencing all before you begin the first paragraph. Now open with a statement telling them clearly that you are applying for the job, followed by how you meet the stated requirements, and how your background makes you a solid, perhaps unique fit. Demonstrate what you know about the company and how you will add value but most important of all ask for the interview clearly and plainly. Don’t go all soft at the end and make the request for a meeting sound implied.

Good advice? Proofread it slowly then repeat. Get someone to look it over who writes them themselves and can give you some pointers. If you ask a friend who has a similar literacy level as yourself, they may easily miss errors despite giving it their very best. That too is understandable. This is an important document and worth your time to write.

Cover letters also demonstrate you’re putting in some real effort instead of a minimal effort. Good luck out there.

Your Job Application Says More Than You’d Think


Over the course of any given month, I’m scheduled to supervise a drop-in Resource Centre where people can come in and have use of a computer hooked up to the internet, photocopiers, fax machines, telephones and even get free paper and envelopes. While they take advantage of all the above, only seldom do they take advantage of the Employment Counsellor with years of experience there to help them.

Now if I went into a brake shop and there on the wall were a number of brake pads, grinders, rotors and a car hoist, I might be able to tinker away and eventually leave with something that may or may not stop my car on the road. However, if there was a licenced professional brake installer standing there just waiting to help me for the asking, wouldn’t I be much better off asking for his or her expertise? I’d like to improve my chances of stopping.

Unfortunately, many people think they can put together a job application. They usually see the cover letter as a lot of effort and don’t do one at all, or if they do, it broadcasts all kinds of things about the person who wrote it that the person is oblivious to and wouldn’t want known. And the resume? Sorry folks but resumes are usually poorly composed without some second opinion.

So take yesterday. I’m watching a guy photocopy a number of documents which, in my experience tends to be a resume. Just as he was finishing this, I engaged him in conversation. I asked him if he was doing a resume and he was. Then I asked him if his job search was going well or if he was pretty frustrated and got the answer I expected; frustrating. Next I took a chance and told him he was going about the job application process the way that worked way back in 1995.

You see anytime someone is making multiple copies of their resume, I know it’s not specifically targeted to a specific job and this same resume is going to be sent out to different employers. It will never match up the best for any job, because it’s going about things backwards. The first step isn’t to make a resume and then find a job, it’s to find a job and then make a resume. “A” resume, as in singular.

Now as it turns out, he was pretty cautious about me looking over his resume. Most people I speak with out of the blue who don’t know me in the Resource Centre open up immediately and accept my invitation to look over their resume or cover letter and give them some advice. Others like this fellow are more guarded and I change my approach with them.

Here’s something I find pretty basic yet I see more often than I’d like. At the top of the resume I almost always see the person’s name. There is nothing else on the first line, just the name. That makes sense to me. You wouldn’t for example put, “Name:” to the left of your name because it’s obvious right? So then why is it some people will put the word, “Email:” and the beside it put their email address? Isn’t that obvious too? If someone can’t figure out what your email address is just by looking at it, then putting the word, “Email” just before it probably won’t help either. And the same goes with the phone number. Just put the number without announcing it’s a phone number. The employer is smart enough to run a business and can probably identify a phone number without you pointing it out.

In the case of the person I was speaking with, he sheepishly grinned a bit when I pointed this out, and a connection was starting. I could see the first glimmer of his trust forming. What he was really doing was visibly showing me that he recognized he had something to learn from me. Now he asked me for more.

And let’s be honest here. Resume Experts and Job Coaches don’t know everything about everything. If the person leaning against the wall watching me install my brakes came over and pointed out something I didn’t catch at first, I’d certainly ask them for pointers too. But even in the job searching industry, no one person knows everything, least of all me. Things change and so does the job application process.

He asked me if I could guarantee I could get him a job with a resume and I said that I couldn’t. For a moment he almost reverted to his original protectiveness, but he didn’t retreat all the way. I pointed out that the objective here wasn’t to get a job at all, it was to get an interview. The resume was really just one tool needed to get an interview that would be the next step in landing a job. The better the resume the more the odds swing in his favour.

This column is way too short to tell you how to make an exceptional resume. And this post isn’t an advertisement to drum up business for myself. The point is this: Get your brakes installed by a professional, or do it yourself only after having been instructed by a professional. Likewise, get your job application (cover letter and resume, social media profile etc.) looked over by a professional in the Job Coaching/Employment business. Then you’ll be skilled enough to do it on your own with a good chance of success.

Be Honest On The Resume


I was reading last week an article that was providing results from a survey of Canadian employers, and what they looked for on a resume, the formatting choice, the desired length etc. One of the key results was employers overwhelming desire that applicants be honest on their resume and indicate why they left employment positions.

That information struck me in two ways. On the one hand, I could definitely see why an employer would want to know the circumstances under which an applicant for a job they were posting left other employers. There could be patterns of quitting or being fired, or a string of contract jobs, or things beyond the applicants control.

Yet, for the applicant themselves, they may have extenuating circumstances that preceded their decisions to move on. If indeed they were fired from a job, their last job; they might be better off gaining the interview by leaving this out on a resume, and hoping to win the employer over in a face-to-face interview. The resume after all is only designed to get you in the interview chair, but it does become the center attraction in the interview and the point of reference both parties should be referring to.

A long time ago, I can remember the days where each job did have a, “reason for leaving” line by each job. When you left one job for another, as in the case of a promotion, or to re-enter work in your field of academic education, it was never a sore point with applicants. But for the person who was fired or terminated with cause, it was like putting a rope around your own neck and simply asking the interview to please kick out the chair you were offered in the interview upon which to sit.

To be clear here, you could hardly give reasons for leaving some jobs and not others. That would only look like you were covering something up (which you were), or you had terrible attention to detail and were inconsistent. No, the advice you’d likely get would be to leave all the reasons for leaving off your resume.

There’s another kind of applicant that could benefit possibly from giving reasons for departing employers on their resume, or even in the cover letter. This is the applicant who has had numerous jobs, often referred to as the job-hopper. While on the negative side it might look like a person is in front of you who can’t hold a job for very long, it could also be that their plan up to now has been to accumulate varied experiences, and they’ve settled on a long-term career and plan on making just such a commitment to you if hired.

Now is leaving out reasons for leaving any job dishonest? I for one don’t see it that way. In my own cover letter, and those I help others write, I almost always make a statement about WHY I want to work for an employer, and why I’d be a good fit. That, ‘good fit’ usually draws on my past experience, and that experience is specific to me and makes me unique.

Up for discussion are the reasons behind the past decisions I’ve made to leave employment; and it could be that some of those departures were for reasons beyond my control; lay-offs, closures, re-locations, changing requirements of employers etc. So knowing that I haven’t included such information on a resume should have me ready to answer such questions in an interview.

Surprisingly, I often sit down when working 1:1 with a job seeker, and when I ask them why they no longer stayed employed with various employers, and it’s telling to either hear them give a short and confident answer, or look uncomfortable and stumble along in the answer. Can you tell from that observation which jobs they left on good terms and which they left on poor terms? Sure you could; and if you were an employer you could then too.

So right off the bat, make sure you have a good solid answer to the question, “Why did you leave your last job”? heading into an interview. If you left on poor terms, (you were fired), you would really benefit from sitting down with an Employment Counsellor and telling them the complete truth – no omissions. Then together, construct an answer that is truthful, but concludes with a positive; what you learned from the experience, how it was a bad fit right from the start outside your traditional field of work etc.

I once had for example a guy I was working with to prepare for employment. “Why did you leave your last job?”, I asked. “Went to jail.” That was his entire answer. In that instance, we looked at what he’d done, why he’d done it, the circumstances surrounding the situation he was in, and the likelihood of repeat offending. Then we ended up with an answer that was truthful, but instead of a 3 word blunt statement with nothing positive, he gave an answer that was honest but ended on a positive and repaired damage from the initial statement. He was also given multiple options for answering the question; it being his decision on how to answer based on the interviewer.

Sure, be honest on your resume; especially if you have, ‘honest’ as one of your strengths on it! But understand that you have control over what you share and don’t on the resume, and what you leave out doesn’t make you dishonest.