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How NOT to Write a Cover Letter or Query about a Job

June 16th, 2010 ::

by Robin Ferrier

Photo courtesy openpad. Flickr Creative Commons.

There’s a lot of advice out there about what you should include in your cover letters. Below, I’m providing some advice on what NOT to do.

I received a query from someone the other day who was looking for a job. While I’ll give the person credit for actually addressing his email to me — so many people employ the “Dear Sir/Madam” — the letter was atrocious. Why?

In the first line, he said he was “wondering if there are any employment opportunities” with my organization.

LESSON: Do your homework because I’m not going to do it for you. Find out for yourself if there are any employment opportunities. You did enough homework to find your way to my site and to track down my email address. Don’t just use it. Instead, find your way to the employment section. (Because trust me, nowhere on our site is my name affiliated with job opportunities.) Granted, I don’t have a direct employment link on my site, but that’s because we’re a satellite campus for a major university and we don’t handle hiring here. The main campus does. So if you don’t see an employment link on my site, don’t just stop there. If I’m part of a larger organization, go to the larger organization’s web site and find the employment link there.

Next, he told me who he was — a medical student who has the summer off.

LESSON: Congratulations on having the summer off, but why are you waiting until May to figure out what you’re doing with your summer? I’m not inclined to hire someone who waited until the last minute to look for summer work because I’ll be worrying about what work you’ll put off until the last minute when you’re working for me. Also, telling me what you’re studying doesn’t tell me what you’re qualified to do — or what you want to do or what skills you bring to the table — even if I did have a job opening.

He closed with: “If there is anything available or if you would like me to e-mail a resume then please let me know.”

LESSON: Really? You provide that little information in your cover letter and you didn’t even include your resume?

This email was riddled with errors: His approach, the lack of information… the fact that he was a medical student inquiring about a job at a location that doesn’t have any medical offerings on its campus. It was just all around sloppy… and even though this particular person might be a great employee had we had an opening, the response he merited was basically “thanks for asking but we’ll pass.” How could I have responded otherwise?

So what should/could your cover letter include? Well, we’ll save that for another post… (After all, I have to give you a reason to come back, right?)

Robin Ferrier is the editor of What’s Next, Gen Y? and Communications Manager for the Johns Hopkins University Montgomery County Campus. She is also the President of the Capital Communicators Group and the co-chair of the Marketing Committee for the Tech Council of Maryland. She has inadvertently become a frequent career / professional / job hunt resource for friends and colleagues due to a career path that has included five jobs in 12 years.

Why I will reject you…

June 2nd, 2010 ::

by Patrick Madsen

Photo courtesy smemon87 / Sean MacEntee. Flickr Creative Commons.

I am a part of what is known as “Generation X.” I am supposed to be your ally, part of the generation in the working world that understands you best. After all, we both come from a time of computers and the internet, and according to everything you read, we share a number of other characteristics and abilities. So why is it that I would reject your application, reject you during the interview, and may not even respond to you at all? Easy… because you are not showing me why I should.

Here are just a few reasons you may get rejected by me:

  1. Professional image: Yes, business attire has changed and business casual has become more of the “norm” in corporate American. BUT that doesn’t mean that you can wear flip-flops to work, not brush your hair, or wear “Saturday night” attire to an interview or to networking occasions. The people that are still in charge and making the hiring decisions will look for the professionally dressed.
  2. Your attitude: Just because I am not standing in front of you does not mean that I will not hear about EVERYTHING you said and did. I remember a student who showed up to our building for an appointment only to discover that I was not in the building. He threw a temper tantrum in front of our reception team, demanded to see my boss, and wrote a two page grievance letter to the dean. While printing this letter, he decided to check his email only to find out that he had mixed up the appointment day/time. He didn’t turn in the letter to the dean. But I still heard the whole story. So be careful about the image you are projecting AT ALL TIMES as it can affect your career opportunities in the future, especially when you don’t yet have a proven track record. No one wants to hire someone with a poor attitude or who cannot act professionally. (Side note: Even had I been wrong and gotten the date messed up, the temper tantrum in the lobby would have immediately put this student in the “no” pile had I been a hiring manager.)
  3. You don’t care: I can quickly pick out those who really care about the job and those who just see it as a means to an end. Find something you are passionate about and go after it. Don’t settle for something that you will hang onto only for a short time and then move on. Your passion, or lack thereof, can be seen on your face, your demeanor, and presentation. That said, I also don’t want you to think that your first job will be your “dream job” and will meet your every criterion. But there is a mid-point between those two extremes.
  4. Spelling and grammar: You’ve heard this before, I’m sure, but it bears repeating: One negative trend that technology has created is the lack of professional writing. With people instant messaging, tweeting, and texting, their ability to coherently develop structured writing based on the “rules” we learned in school has gone by the wayside. Emails that are poorly developed, resumes with one spelling mistake, or even a connection request on LinkedIn that has errors often will land you in the “no” pile vs. the “yes” pile.

People forget that a job interview is a sales call. You need to sell me your “value”! Why should I want to hire you if you cannot sell me on the idea of you? Think about yourself as a product. What would make a consumer purchase that product?

And remember that you are still playing in the world developed by those from the Baby Boomer Generation and Generation X. Learn as much as you can about how they think, how they work, and what motivates them. The more you know, the more it will help you interact with those from the generations doing the hiring.

Patrick Madsen, Director of Programs & Education in Career Services at the Johns Hopkins University Carey Business SchoolPatrick Madsen is the Director of Programs & Education in Career Services at the Johns Hopkins University Carey Business School. He manages the Programs & Education curriculum to include career advising services, speaker series, brand management training, and other events to help students prepare themselves for the world of work. His background includes a degree in Psychology from North Carolina State University, a masters degree in Counseling from East Carolina University, and a doctorate in Organizational Leadership/Student Affairs from Nova Southeastern University.

Outsmarting your competition is easier than you think (but it does require some effort)

April 22nd, 2010 ::

By Jennifer Nycz-Conner

http://www.flickr.com/photos/pshan427/ / CC BY 2.0

I’ve been out of college for … well, let’s just say longer than I’d like to admit. Plenty has changed since then. Today’s twenty-somethings don’t have to battle the eternal questions surrounding the job application process: how many pages a resume should be, sending it flat versus folded in a regular envelope, to use a staple or paper clip.

But there are still plenty, less tangible, attributes that remain constant. A big one? How to make yourself stand out from the masses. In a good way.

With many years as someone who’s both been hired and done the hiring, I’ll let you in on a secret: It’s not really that hard to do. It will require some effort, however.

Steve Buttry has a fantastic example of this on his blog. As the Director of Community Engagement for Allbritton Communications’ new Washington, D.C. yet-to-be-named Web site, Buttry is on what in this economy could be referred to as a hiring spree, with plenty of qualified candidates from which to choose. But in his latest hiring announcement for a social media producer, candidate Mandy Jenkins popped to the top of the pile:

“Other excellent candidates interviewed before Mandy, though, and I thought of this as a crowded field when she arrived for an interview. I saw good signs even before she reached the office. She checked in from the Metro station nearby about 20 minutes before the interview, then from a nearby coffee shop. When I commented on that as I met her in the lobby of our offices, she told me she was using the beta of check.in, a new service that checks you in on multiple location-based platforms at once. There’s a good interviewing tip for you: If you’re applying for a social media job, start the interview right by telling the prospective boss even before you sit down that you’re using something he’s never heard of.”

That is a classic example of doing your homework, getting into your potential boss’ head and finding a way to use actions, not words to demonstrate why you are the right choice.

Here are some tips to make yourself stand out throughout the entire life cycle of the application process. It sounds like common sense, but many people do not do any of these, let alone all:

  • Spelling. Yes, this is basic, but you’d be amazed how many people don’t check their spelling. Want to show, not just say, you’re detail oriented? Spell your potential boss’ name correctly.
  • Do your homework. There is no excuse not to have done research on a potential employer today. It’s too easy not to. Don’t stop at the first two Google links you see. Go on LinkedIn and see where that hiring manager has worked previously. Check the news sites to find out what the company, and more importantly, its competitors, have been grappling with. Looking through social networking sites to find people you may know in common, or people that have worked at that company in the past. Ask them for guidance on what life is like inside the company. All of this is critical to prepare for the dreaded, “So, do you have any questions for me?” question. Which brings me to the next point…
  • Have a topic — or topics — ready for the dreaded, “So, do you have any questions for me?” question. You know it’s coming. Prepare for it. Better yet, use it as an opportunity to show what you know about the industry, your critical thinking skills, and your ability to add something to the team.
  • Think like your potential boss. If you were him or her, what kinds of questions would you ask? What kinds of answers would you want to hear?
  • Outthink your competition. What are your best competitors likely to do? How can you do it better, faster, different?
  • Follow up. Send the thank you note, and quickly (yes, it matters, says the girl who cringes at the thoughts of the ones I should have sent). Stay in touch, about the job, about the company and particularly with the person.
  • Be passionate. Anyone can have experience, or be shown how to do a job. Enthusiasm and passion cannot be taught. If you have it, show it.

Jennifer Nycz-Conner is a Senior Staff Reporter and Media Strategy Manager for the Washington Business Journal. You can read more great advice from Jennifer on Working the Room, her blog for the Washington Business Journal.

You Have Questions… We Have Answers!

March 17th, 2010 ::

by Robin Ferrier

Question mark made of puzzle pieces

http://www.flickr.com/photos/horiavarlan/ / CC BY 2.0

I’ve said it before — in my “welcome” post and on our “about us” page — but I think it bears repeating: This blog is about you.

Why is this important? Because sure, we’re all experts at some level and can write about what we think you need to know. But you’re the ones out there every day living in this world of job searching, interviewing, etc.

So I want to encourage you to send us your questions. What do you want to know about this process? An etiquette question? Resume troubles? Cover letter confusion? No question too small!

So let us know. Email me your question and the appropriate blogger — or bloggers — will post your question (without your name) and a response. I promise!

Robin Ferrier is the editor of What’s Next, Gen Y? and Communications Manager for the Johns Hopkins University Montgomery County Campus. She is also the President of the Capital Communicators Group and the co-chair of the Marketing Committee for the Tech Council of Maryland. She has inadvertently become a frequent career / professional / job hunt resource for friends and colleagues due to a career path that has included five jobs in 12 years.