Tag Archives: cover letters

HR Trends in Hiring You Need to Know

hr-changes

As social networking sites become more attuned to the needs of employers, research suggests that HR departments will change how they use video résumés, social and networking sites, and cover letters.

A study from 2009 found that:

  • 46% of employers (HR departments) prefered to receive résumés via email (41% attached; 5% embedded), 38% uploaded to the company web site (34% résumé copied in entirety; 4% in sections), and 7% preferred a paper résumé. None of the employers preferred to review a candidate’s résumé on a candidate’s own web page.
  • Companies with fewer than 100 employees preferred to receive résumés via email than larger compaines.
  • 71% of employers preferred the traditional chronological résumé format (21% prefer text format)
  • 56% of employers preferred a cover letter to accompany a résumé.

A 2015 study by the MacroThink Institute found that employer preferences were not projected to change for next two years. However, the use of video résumés was found to be a statistically significant change indicating a steady increase in the number of employers who will want to use video résumés two years from now.

The 2015 study suggested use of cover letters to decline over the next two years, but despite the expected growth of video résumés and decline of paper cover letters, the expected preference of cover letters is still nearly double that of video résumés.

Most practices and tools used by HR will remain relatively unchanged for the next couple of years, but social and professional networking, video résumés, and application tracking systems will become more prevalent.

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Want to receive a free copy of my Career Strategy Tip Sheets? You get 5 bundled tip sheets (PDF) for career strategy, cover letters, résumés, job interview, and salary negotiation. Just let me know your thoughts on this or any blog post–or let me know of a career topic you’d like me to discuss from the hiring manager’s perspective.

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Former Fortune 500 hiring manager Donn LeVie Jr. is the author of Strategic Career Engagement (September 2015), and the book that reset the rules for successful job and career strategies:  Confessions of a Hiring Manager Rev. 2.0 (June 2012, Winner of the 2012 Global eBook Award and Winner of the 2012 International Book Award for Jobs/Careers). He leads career strategy seminars at conferences, business/trade schools, colleges and universities, and U.S. military veterans organizations.

Does your conference need a keynote speaker or a career strategies seminar for conference attendees? Donn’s 2016-2017 engagement calendar is starting to fill up…contact him directly at donnlevie@austin.rr.com.

Don’t miss out on Donn’s blog posts…follow him now on Twitter @donnlevie and join in the jobs/career conversations at the Strategic Career Engagement LinkedIn discussion group.

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Part 3: Do You Need Professional Career Help? Coaches, Recruiters, and Résumé Writers

Do I need Professional Help

YOU are the Best Option for Writing Your Cover Letter and Résumé

It’s been said that if you give a man a fish, you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish, and you have fed him for a lifetime. Having someone else develop your résumé for you is the equivalent of them giving you a fish for the day, and if that’s good enough for you today, fine. But what about tomorrow, and the day after that?  What you really want is to be fed for a lifetime by being able to write your own cover letters and résumés, and develop first-rate interview skills for whatever job or career change you find yourself in today and in the future. You might need some help, but you should be responsible for writing—and rewriting—that résumé and cover letter.

I don’t “typically” rewrite cover letters or résumés for career strategy clients because I don’t know their expertise anywhere close to their own knowledge of it. (I say, “typically,” because if a client really has no clue and they specifically request that I provide a rewrite, I will.) I do, however, suggest changes to résumés and cover letters that get clients out of the “I, me, my, mine” context approach, and encourage them to rethink their skills, knowledge, experience, and expertise in a manner that takes more of a consultant’s approach to solving other people’s problems. That means promoting how your expertise provides future benefits to the hiring manager.

No one but you knows the extent of the skill, the breadth of experience, the depth of knowledge, the decision making, the problem solving that goes behind every bulleted item on your résumé, and no one can express it better than you because you lived it. You can learn how to best express it in meaningful terms that address the needs of a hiring manager. That skill feeds you for a lifetime, and that’s what I teach in my books, seminars, personal consults (for subscribing organizations), and in 2016, online videos and workbooks.

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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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Cover Letter Intro: Please get to the point

get-to-the-pointIn the many cover letter evaluations I provide for members of client organizations and associations, I continue to be bored to tears with the opening paragraphs of cover letters. I know of no hiring manager who starts his or her day thinking, “I can’t wait to get to the office to read more poorly written cover letters and résumés…” One factor that drives the hiring manager to the edge is that of cover letters with opening paragraphs which state the obvious. Here are a few examples along with my comments:

 

  • “I have attached my résumé in response to…”
  • “Recently, I learned about a possible position with your company.  I am very interested in applying for this position.  I believe that my background and experience in this industry makes me an excellent candidate for the open position.”
  • “I am writing to express my interest in working as an <position A> or <position B> with your organization. I am highly talented and dedicated professional with over 25 years of progressive experience in <skill A>, <skill B>, and <skill C>. Now, I would like to bring my expertise and knowledge to work for your organization.”
  • “I am excited to see the <position title> with <company name>.”
  • “I am interested in the position of <position name> posted on your website.”
  • “I am writing to share my interest in applying for the <position name> as posted on your website.  <Position name> has been a strong desire of mine, and my customer service experience at <current employer name> would make a great fit for your organization.”

OK, that’s enough. None of these opening salvos generate any interest in the hiring manager to read further. If you’ve been following this blog, you’ve seen me write time and again about having only  5 to 7 seconds to get a hiring manager’s attention with the cover letter. None of these examples do it. You may have stellar experience and accomplishments, but by the time you get to mentioning them, I’m already reading the next candidate cover letter. PLEASE, get to the point sooner than later!

These few examples reveal a common problem with cover letters (besides not getting to the point): stating the obvious. It’s a “cover letter”; the hiring manager knows why you are writing it. You don’t have to write a preface about the purpose of the cover letter or why you are writing in the first place.  So, before firing off that cover letter with your résumé for that next position, keep these simple guidelines in mind:

  • You MUST grab the hiring manager’s attention in that 5 to 7 second window in your first sentence and opening paragraph.
  • The hiring manager already knows why you are writing, and already assumes you are interested in the open position, so there’s no need to restate it.
  • Use your accomplishments and achievements (can you quantify them? If so, even better) to demonstrate how you are a great fit for the organization. Just saying so in your cover letter–without any demonstrated accomplishments/achievements on your résumé that show a contribution to a higher strategic objective–ring hollow in the ears of the hiring manager. “Demonstrated expertise” means that your résumé contains evidence of how your skills, knowledge, and experience contributed to generating revenue, avoiding costs, recovering costs, or some measurable percentage of improvement.
  • Don’t summarize your experience in the cover letter–the purpose of the cover letter is to convince the hiring manager to look at the details of your expertise that’s on your résumé; speak directly to the hiring manager’s needs in the position–use the same wording that’s in the job ad. You want to position yourself as the hiring manager’s problem solver, solutions expert, game changer and you do that with (1) understanding what the hiring manager needs; (2) demonstrated achievements (don’t confuse task completion with achievement–see previous posts that detail the difference between the two).
  • Saying you are “highly talented and dedicated” is only affirmed by demonstrated accomplishment.
  • Don’t even write, “As my résumé reveals…” That’s a given as well…if the hiring manager is reading your cover letter, chances are there is a résumé in the vicinity.
  • Hiring managers really don’t care much about what you “believe” about your background or experience–how you have demonstrated it with past accomplishments is what interests them. Oh, and hiring managers really don’t care much about how much you “love” a certain profession, field, or expertise–or how strong your “desire” is…again, it’s the demonstrated accomplishments that will communicate that to the hiring manager. “Love” and “desire” have no place in business correspondence.

Put yourself in a mindset of being in business for yourself as a consultant. How would you write a letter of introduction to a potential client? You’d begin by getting to the point with past accomplishments (especially when framed with $$or % figures), and assuring the potential client your expertise can serve him well going forward. Your “letter of introduction” has a self-promotional tone to it that reinforces your self-assurance that you understand the client’s challenges and issues and you are the best available expert who can help him achieve the business objectives necessary for future success.

And don’t forget to close the business letter–I mean, cover letter–with YOU initiating the next contact with the follow-up phone call.

 

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Understand the difference between “accomplishment” and “task completion” for your résumé

I offer cover letter and résumé evaluations as part of a career strategies benefit package I provide to associations, colleges and universities, business and trade schools, corporations, and branches of the military (veterans exiting the military). One of the most common misconceptions people have is failing to differentiate between an accomplishment and a task completion.

An accomplishment is some strategic contribution to the higher objectives of an organization that could take the form of revenues generated, costs avoided, revenues recovered, percent improvement in some process–something above and beyond your normal day-to-day duties and responsibilities. Now, those daily duties and responsibilities may be tactics that support the strategic contribution; however, hiring managers reviewing résumés want to see the bottom-line contribution. They want to know whether you are a problem solver, solutions provider, game changer (as evidenced by your accomplishments that are highlighted on your résumé)–or just another employee (as evidenced by bullet list after bullet list of “duties and responsibilities”).

An “achievement” is in the same category as accomplishment and is evaluated by hiring managers the same way. Hiring managers do not consider any task completion as an “achievement”–it must stand out as a strategic contribution to the higher objectives of the organization.

Here are a few examples of task completions I have seen being passed off as accomplishments:

  • Generated reports for management
  • Developed training program for new hires
  • Ensured activities were in compliance with applicable accounting laws

So what? says the hiring manager. It’s always better if you can assign some quantitative assessment ($$ or %) to an accomplishment, but if your job doesn’t allow such a measure, then after each task completion ask this question: “and this task completion (or duty, responsibility) led to what higher level result for the organization?” This will take some time and thought; however, in most cases you will be able to reshape a task completion into a strategic contribution by asking that question, which will help the hiring manager assess your potential to perform in the future in his or her organization.

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Using Direct Mail Strategies to Create an Effective Cover Letter

In my workshops, presentations, and personal consultations, I am always emphasizing how the best cover letters include elements of great advertising copywriting. A  well-written direct mail piece emphasizes product or service benefits to the customer; a well-written cover letter emphasizes the benefits of your expertise to the hiring manager. A well-written direct mail piece retains control of the next step by asking for the sale in the closing paragraph; a well-written cover letter takes control of the next contact by telling the hiring manager to expect a follow-up phone call to continue the dialogue about how the candidate’s expertise is just what the hiring manager has been looking for.

Step 1

Create a flowchart describing your expertise (skills, knowledge, experience and most importantly, your achievements) and why that expertise is necessary. Before you write a single word on your cover letter, it is vital to establish in your own mind what your specialty is—your professional brand offer–what it does, and why the hiring manager cannot live without it. This may sound simple on the surface, but this step requires deep thought and consideration. Really think about what you have to offer and the benefits that the hiring manager will reap by hiring you. Write down all of these points and refer to this list as you draft your cover letter. The flowchart should cover the following: The Need(s) of the hiring manager, the Solution you provide, and Benefits to the hiring manager.

Step 2

Establish the need and a link to the hiring manager.  Do this in the first sentence and paragraph of your letter. You know the challenges and issues facing the hiring manager and the particular profession or industry. Use this paragraph to drive home two points: First, that you and the hiring manager have something in common, and second, that your expertise is the solution he or she needs.

Step 3

Offer the hiring manager a solution. Now that you have established that link between you and the hiring manager and mentioned the challenges, you need to provide him with a solution. This section of your cover letter should inform the hiring manager that your expertise is the answer to their problem — the expertise that he has been looking for, supported with proven past accomplishments (not duties or responsibilities) pertinent to the position. This section should be written in positive and enthusiastic tones.

Step 4

Drive home the benefits that the hiring manager will reap from your expertise. You’ve gotten the hiring manager to this point — he knows he needs what you have to offer, and he knows it’s going to help him in some way. Now, he needs to know the benefits of that expertise if he hires you.  This is an emotional section for the reader. Purchases are often made not based on logic, but rather emotion.

Step 5

Consider providing a special offer. You’ve laid the groundwork for your pitch, now it’s time to drive home the point that you are the problem solving expert he has been looking for. This suggestion may only be for the brave, but consider offering the hiring manager an enticement that will get him to take some action, such as a “try me before you hire me” option. Offer to work for free for a week as a “tryout” for the position. The job market is always highly competitive regardless of the state of the economy, and you need to be able to offer the hiring manager something that will get him to give more serious consideration to hiring you. The “try me before you hire me” approach may be just the trick. Even if a hiring manager doesn’t take you up on that offer (most won’t for various policy or legal reasons), the fact that you willing to work for free for a week sends a strong message about your confidence and your ability to hit the ground running. If it works, it’s a way to instantaneously eliminate the competition for the position—as long as you deliver during that week.

Step 6

Reinforce your message and control the next contact. The last paragraph should be used to reinforce the entire cover letter. Remind the hiring manager why he needs your expertise, what it will do for him, and how that value-add will contribute to the company’s success. Always initiate the next contact in your cover letter. Never leave the next contact to the hiring manager, as in “I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.” Don’t sell the hiring manager on your expertise and why he needs it only to then leave him hanging in your last paragraph. Instead, summarize with, “These examples illustrate how my expertise can work for you and <company name>. I will call you in a few days to further discuss how I am that value-add resource you have been looking for.” Then make the phone call. The key to getting a job offer is creating familiarity with your name with the hiring manager throughout the entire hiring process because the most qualified candidate doesn’t necessarily receive the job offer—it’s often the person who made the most favorable impression.

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