Monthly Archives: December 2013

How to Make a Cover Letter Address Hiring Manager Needs

guy reading letterIn the many years I have advised individuals on creating attention-getting cover letters, the one thing that is most difficult for them to grasp is how to turn a statement about themselves or their expertise into content that addresses the hiring manager’s needs. Too many people still think of the cover letter as formal business document when in fact, it’s most effective use is as a sales letter that promotes your skills, knowledge, and experience as a service you are offering to the hiring manager. Forego much of the stodgy style between the salutation and the close of the cover letter and use a little self-promotion language. You have 5 to 7 seconds to grab the hiring manager’s attention…if you do and he or she reads your cover letter, you have set the hook for them to then look at your résumé.

Here are a few examples of how to take statements about you and turn them into statements directed at the hiring manager’s needs:

  • Throughout my career, I have been able to save both capital and man hours with my proven ability managing design and simulation optimization.
    New version: Your organization will benefit from proven expertise  managing design and simulation optimization–saving your organization capital expense and man hours.

Notice how the new version removes the “I/me/my” tone and replaces it with “your.” Rather than “me” saving capital and man hours as part of a past accomplishment, the hiring manager’s organization becomes the beneficiary of those savings in the new version.

  • Not only do I know how regulators view and approach issues but I also understand the challenges that corporations face in remaining competitive while meeting their regulatory and control requirements.
    New version: You will need someone who knows how regulators view and approach issues, and understands the challenges your organization faces in remaining competitive while meeting regulatory and control requirements.

Not a bad statement in the original, but simply taking “I” out of it and redirecting the tone toward the hiring manager (“you/your”), it becomes a more powerful selling statement for the candidate, and edges the hiring manager closer to looking at the résumé and perhaps setting up an interview (especially if the candidate takes control of the next contact in the closing paragraph of the cover letter).

  • My time spent on audit engagement provided me with experience for assessing internal controls, analyzing financial statements, and honing my professional skepticism.
    New version: You will need an expert experienced with audit engagement, internal control assessment, financial statement analysis, and sharp professional skepticism on your forensic accounting team.

Again, rethinking the core essential information in the original statement and slanting it to the hiring manager’s needs makes this expertise more directly pertinent to the hiring manager. The three instances of “I/me/mine” in the original that highlight the past have been replaced with two instances of “you/your” that address the hiring manager’s needs going forward.

Reminders (see previous posts for details):

  1. Don’t use “please” or “thank you” in a cover letter.
  2. That first sentence MUST grab the hiring manager’s attention for him or her to continue reading.
  3. Avoid stating the obvious: “I am writing to you in response to…” or “I have enclosed my résumé…” or “Feel free to contact me at the number below.”
  4. Take control of the next contact: Avoid “I hope to hear from you at your earliest convenience…” “I am available for an interview at your convenience.” Instead, tell the hiring manager when you’ll be calling to follow up…don’t think “cover letter”–think “sales letter.”
  5. Standard close is “Sincerely,” not “Kind regards” or “Yours truly”

This will be my last post for the year. Wishing you and yours a blessed Christmas and New Years…see you in 2014.

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It’s that time of year…..for layoffs and promoting your brand equity

layoffOver my entire working career…starting in 1972, I’ve been laid off 8 times: twice as a house carpenter in south Florida (the first time right after my daughter was born) when the building boom busted; once as a geologist in the oil business when the oil boom busted in 1986; 5 times in different marketing/technical communications positions in the high-tech industry due to reorganizations or the economic state of the industry/company. The quality of my work or my professionalism was never a factor in those layoffs. I survived my share of layoffs as well, but–except for one instance–I came out of every layoff with a better position and higher salary.

But of the high-tech layoffs, three of them occurred within two weeks of Christmas. The last layoff was the “easiest” to get through for a few reasons: (1) the severance package was a very good one (got paid for the remaining 2 weeks of the year plus a week of unused vacation; another 4 months’ worth of salary, and company-paid COBRA for a couple months); (2) my family was in a very good financial position that minimized the effect of losing my job even after the severance was depleted; (3) the company put on a good outward face to investors and analysts but internally was run like a Chinese laundry, so there was no separation regret, sorrow, or anxiety.

The downside of this last layoff had a few elements as well: (1) I missed working with a great team of individuals who had been together for several years; (2) I was a couple years away from retiring (i.e. = working on my own projects of interest) and wasn’t able to walk away on my own terms; (3) I lost several thousand Restricted Stock Units that I had been granted as rewards for past annual performances because they had not vested yet; and (4) I still had to work through the emotional kick in the stomach–regardless of whether I hit the Powerball Jackpot the day before. Being laid off–even if you have millions in the bank–can’t remove the blow to your ego or self-esteem for a day or so because you never hear the real reason why you are being let go. The closest you’ll get is corporate speak that sounds like, “The company regrets to inform you that it no longer has a need for your services.”

(I thought about just hanging it up and “retiring” a few years before our goal; however, it would have meant that we would have fewer and less frequent vacations for awhile, and traveling is what we love to do as a family. So, I made the decision to see if I can fill the remaining two years with contract work.)

The whole scenario of being let go from your job is uncomfortable. Either your manager or someone from security is watching you pack up your personal belongings in a scrounged-up cardboard box as others around make themselves scarce because they don’t know what to say or hover uncomfortably nearby–like buzzards near roadkill ready to scavenge what you leave behind in your cube. Your email access is likely already cut off so you can’t send out that last farewell email to your peers and c0-workers, and can’t go the bathroom without someone letting you back in the office because you had to turn in your security access card immediately.

Yes, you still have to deal with the emotional kick to the gut, but I can assure you: as you mature in your career, it gets easier. You have a wider network of contacts to alert for potential job openings or contracting positions; you may have a monetary cushion–a rainy day fund–to help you deal with such unforeseen contingencies.

A strategy I used throughout my career was to build relationships with people I worked with; whether I was a member of a team, an individual contributor, or a team manager, I tried to always display a servant’s attitude. I made it one of the features of my professional brand. A servant attitude over time becomes an expertise that others will seek you out for. You will be seen as a resource, an expediter, who can connect people with other people or people with other ideas. Zig Ziglar wrote that “if you help enough people get what they want, eventually you will get what you want.” In that order: help others first, but do it without any expectation of reward or favor. Do it because it’s the right thing to do and it will pay off huge dividends.

I remember the day before my last layoff, I received a LinkedIn request from a friend I had worked with for more than a dozen years. We had worked together at two different companies and on the same projects. After I got home on the afternoon of my last layoff, I responded to his LinkedIn request and sent him a message that the company had just handed me my walking papers and that after the first of the year, I’d be looking for some contract work, so if he heard of any opportunities to please let me know.

He responded two minutes later: “I was thinking about you for some time now and hoping to connect you with my team. I have some connections to the XYZ project team and you would be a great resource to tap. I will gladly buy you lunch to catch up anyway.” The next week, we had lunch and I received a very nice contract after the start of the new year.

True story. I have no doubt that the years I spent learning how to foster relationships up and down the corporate ladder, helping others succeed, and strengthening the quality of my professional brand were instrumental in getting back on my feet quickly.  Once your professional brand has been established, others will “polish” it (promote it) for you, as my friend did, and that led to that great contracting opportunity.

I would be remiss here not to state that after having fretted about losing my job and threats to my family’s financial security early in my working career, I have learned the lesson of I Chronicles 16:34, which states, “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.”

And serendipity played a role here, too, by turning that severance package into an opportunity to add to our investment portfolio, which helped shorten that two-year gap to about 18 months.

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About the November U.S. Jobs Numbers…

minimum wageThe November jobs numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that 203,000 new jobs were created. That figure is higher than what experts had predicted, leading every cable news talking head to exclaim, “more proof the economy is improving.” Really? Let’s look at those numbers more closely.

Most of us who worked in fast-food/minimum-wage jobs in our youth (minimum wage was $1.65 when I was in high school) recognized those jobs as part-time in nature, providing us with employment on our journey to something bigger and better. In fact, that is the business model of the fast-food industry and many others that pay minimum wage is the recognition that such jobs are transient by design, usually less than 40 hours per week, and function as transitions to better paying jobs with more of a future for advancement. Let’s be clear: there never was any thought or intent by anyone using the minimum-wage business model of creating a position for someone as VP of French Fries or Hot Apple Pie Division Manager.

Yet, the unfortunate result of the recent recession has forced many older workers or overqualified workers who have been unemployed for many months into the fast-food/minimum wage environment. Jobs are slowly returning, yet for many, rebounding back to where they where before being laid off is difficult if not impossible. For most, those professional positions are gone, having either been eliminated or filled by someone else. So, today we hear the demand for a “living wage” from fast-food/minimum-wage workers–and yet 60% of all minimum-wage workers are students. Nearly doubling the minimum wage to $15 an hour means your Big Mac will cost you $8 or $10; your grande skinny latte may run you $9 to $10 or more; and “Big Gulp” is more a reaction than an oversized fountain drink. When you refuse to shell out that much money for these items, businesses will close down; people will get laid off.

Attention fast food/minimum wage workers: Your positions were never meant to be career positions where you can eventually earn five or six-figure incomes. You have to escape the fast food/minimum wage mindset and jobs by getting an education (community college, four-year college, trade or business school)–that’s how you earn a living wage.

So who do you think is to blame? The small business owners who employ most people? Republicans? Democrats? The fast-food/minimum-wage business model? Even President Obama is calling for an increase in the minimum wage, so what’s the story?

Virtually every major initiative of the Obama administration – from taxation and regulation to monetary policy and (especially) Obamacare–oops, I mean the “Affordable Care Act” – has been promulgated with little concern for small business. Not surprisingly, 60 percent of business owners surveyed by Gallup expressed opposition to the administration. Small firms represent 99.7 percent of all employer firms and have generated most net new jobs over the past 15 years, according to the Small Business Administration. The Affordable Care Act has forced many employers to cut back on hours of employees, creating a part-time workforce so they can afford to stay in business. Nearly everyone will agree that part-time hours is better than NO hours.  Small business owners–the McDonalds/Burger King/Kentucky Fried Chicken/Starbucks franchise owners–provide from 60 to 70 percent of all new jobs, but tax and monetary policies and federal regulation prevent the job conveyer belt from helping people move onward and upward who are stuck in fast-food/minimum-wage jobs.

Forbes reports that although the unemployment rate has steadily dropped since of the beginning of the year, “the decline hasn’t been solely driven by the creation of high-paying full-time jobs.” That affirms the premise that more people are being compressed into the part-time minimum-wage job market/conveyer belt, adding to poverty levels. Businesses are sitting on large piles of cash waiting for government tax/economic policies to ease so they can expand, upgrade infrastructure, and hire people for full-time higher paying jobs.

The job ceiling has been lowered for these people by the actions of the current administration, which are really regressive policies by an administration that sees itself as Progressive. I find it ironic that the President is supporting the call for raising the minimum wage, which will only stuff more minimum-wage workers into an already over-crowded room.

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