Loading

Grow Smart Business


teaserInfographic
Close

Search Articles



Robin Ferrier Articles


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.

Where Is It You Work Again?

June 7th, 2010 ::

by Robin Ferrier

Photo courtesy Mara 1. Flickr Creative Commons.

Today’s advice, gleaned from my 10+ years in the working world…

Where you work is as important — no, scratch that — it’s MORE important than what you do.

What do I mean by that?

If you’re the typical job hunter, you probably know WHAT you want to do. You want to work in marketing… in business development. You’re an accountant… an engineer… an architect… So you go to job search sites and look for jobs that sound interesting. You discount many jobs because the description doesn’t match exactly what you want to do. BAD IDEA!

Because here’s a secret most employers will never tell you: a job description can change in the blink of an eye.

I can’t think of one job I’ve had where the job I ended up doing matched the job description for which I was hired. My job — and the description of what I do — has always evolved, be it because I’ve exceeded expectations, because together we’ve discovered a new talent, or because the department itself has evolved to meet new company needs.

My point? Don’t go out there looking for the perfect job. Because even if the job description sounds perfect, chances are it’s not what you’ll end up doing.

Instead, figure out WHERE you want to work. Because the corporate culture at a for-profit company is VASTLY different from that of a non-profit. (I know this because I’ve worked in both.) Higher education is a far cry from Wall Street. And the opportunities that pop up in a smaller company are going to look different from what you’ll find in a large, Fortune 500 company. Research companies and organizations in your area. Visit their web sites. Read company blogs. Find employees on LinkedIn and connect with them. Use the newly launched LinkedIn “Follow a Company” feature. There are A LOT of ways to do your due diligence and find out more about potential employers.

Finding a corporate culture that matches your personality is as much — if not more — of an indicator of future career/workplace happiness as finding the job where your assigned “duties and responsibilities” are a perfect match for what you think you want.

And last, realize some of your best times and your best assignments and your best career discoveries and realizations will fall under the very real job responsibility known as: “Other duties as assigned.”

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, co-chair of the Marketing Committee for the Tech Council of Maryland, and chair of the PR Committee for the Gaithersburg Book Festival. 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.

Best Of… A Round Up of Interesting Articles on Interviews and Tech Etiquette

June 3rd, 2010 ::

by Robin Ferrier

Photo courtesy Benimoto / Benny Mazur. Flickr Creative Commons.

Under the category of “there’s no reason to reinvent the wheel,” I present another “Best of…” post with links to some fun, interesting, and informative pieces around the web.

The 10 Types of Crappy Interviewees
Funny cartoons that emphasize things you shouldn’t do during an interview. Brought to us by The Oatmeal, a quirky site with a lot of fun cartoons. Here’s hoping you don’t recognize yourself in any of these (especially the “man” wearing nothing but Batman underwear)! And if you are one of these people, here’s hoping you recognize yourself enough to make some changes.

The Tech Etiquette Manual from Real Simple Magazine
Not directly related to the “job search” process, but still some great advice about how to handle tech-related situations. Some of the advice may seem antiquated to you, but going back to yesterday’s great post from Patrick Madsen, some things you might find acceptable — like checking a Blackberry mid-conversation — might be offensive to others.

7 Little-Known Reasons You’re Not Getting Hired from Updated News
This advice may come from a Canadian publication, but it is still relevant to the American working world. Updated News provides some great, less common advice on why you may be having problems finding a job, including why that “Where do you see yourself in five years?” question is so important.

What are you reading online that you’re finding helpful in your job search? Post below. Let us know.

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.

True Life Tales of Social Media Gone Bad

May 5th, 2010 ::

by Robin Ferrier

Image: jessicafm / Jessica Merz, Flicker Creative Commons

In the category of “great minds think alike,” Patti Nuttycombe Cochran sent in her post about career ending social media moves as I was contemplating a similar post. But I had a slightly different approach to this topic that actually provides a good follow-up to her post.

You may think her warnings were bluster and overblown cautionary tales that don’t apply to you. Others thought that as well… or just didn’t think, as the stories below will show. So, without further ado, I present: True Life Tales of Social Media Gone Bad… Very, Very Bad

Twitter, Memphis and FedEx: In 2009, a PR rep hopped on a flight to Memphis, Tennessee, to give a presentation about digital media to a large group of FedEx executives and staff. As he was landing, the employee tweeted his unflattering feelings about Memphis. A FedEx employee discovered the tweet and shared it with executives at FedEx and the PR agency for which the rep worked.

The employee was lucky in this case. The client forgave him and he wasn’t fired. But this move could have been a career ender if the circumstances were different — say, if the rep in question was only starting to establish his reputation (like we assume many of our readers are) or if FedEx wasn’t so forgiving and had pulled their business from the PR agency in question. (Read more about this story at Peter Shankman’s blog or ZDNet.)

The moral: Think before you tweet.

Twitter and the CiscoFatty: In 2009, a twitter user received an offer from Cisco. The user responded by sending the following tweet: “Cisco just offered me a job! Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work.” A “channel partner advocate” for Cisco Alert saw the tweet and responded. And, thus, another internet sensation is born. We’re not sure whether Cisco rescinded the offer or not — we’ve seen it reported both ways — but regardless, the Internet won’t soon forget the CiscoFatty fiasco.

Lesson #1: Put best, perhaps, by Helen A.S. Popkin in her article on MSNBC: “Never post anything you wouldn’t say to your mom, boss and significant other.” (I’ve heard others use “grandma” in place of “mom.” I guess they are assuming grandma isn’t as hip or accepting as mom!)

Lesson #2: You may think what you say won’t get back to your boss because he/she doesn’t follow you. Think again! Viral is the name of the game online, and it doesn’t take much to stir up trouble!

And those are just two that turned high-profile. I’ve heard too many other similar tales from colleagues. Like the one about a person who went to a conference, represented herself as an employee of a company those she was there on her own and not a company rep, got drunk during an official conference event, and tweeted about it. She was fired.

Or the girl who updated her Facebook status to reflect her true feelings about her job and her boss. She, too, was fired.

My point? I’m willing to bet every one of these people thought they were “too smart” to fall victim to social media gone bad. Yet, they all did. And the fact they did so will live on — forever — thanks to the Internet.

So I think a few lessons bear repeating here:

  1. Always be aware of what you’re saying and think before your fingers start flying on the keyboard.
  2. Don’t assume your Facebook status updates won’t go beyond your friends. (Screen grabs are a great – and evil – thing.)
  3. Approach social media with this mantra in mind: Never post anything you wouldn’t say to your mom/grandmom, boss or significant other.

Actually, now that I think about it, these rules probably should apply to not only the social media realm, but also to any (in-person) networking situation as well.

Have your own tales of Social Media Gone Wrong? Share them below.

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; co-chair of the Marketing Committee for the Tech Council of Maryland; and Chair of the PR Committee for the Gaithersburg Book Festival. 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.

8 Signs You’re Spending TOO Much Time on Social Media… even if Social Media IS Part of Your Day Job

April 28th, 2010 ::

by Robin Ferrier

Image: M i x y / Mixy Lorenzo. Flickr Creative Commons.

No one would question that in the current job market, it’s important to understand social media — what it is, how it works, how to use it for business purposes, etc. But recently, Jibber Jobber founder Jason Alba posted the following query to his Jibber Jobber blog:

When is social networking… LinkedIn, Twitter or whatever, TOO much? In other words, how do you manage your time and efforts and have the right balance between what you do online and what you do offline?

In honor of his question, I present my list of 8 Signs You’re Spending TOO Much Time on Social Media… even if Social Media Is Part of Your Day Job

  1. You only know your “friends” by their Twitter IDs. Many of us have twitter IDs that aren’t our name – people like @thejobsguy and @dontgetcaught. I can say I know @dontgetcaught personally and I know her real name. (Hello, Denise Graveline!) But @thejobsguy is someone I follow and occasionally converse with on Twitter. If you don’t know someone’s real name, he or she is a social media colleague/friend, but not a “friend.”
  2. Your boss joins Twitter to communicate with you because you’re more likely to respond to a message on Twitter than you are a phone call or voicemail.
  3. When you’re asked about your last social outing, you discuss a tweet up. (Hint: If you’re sitting at a desk or on a phone and there’s no one else in the room, it’s not a social outing… even if you are conversing with other people.)
  4. When you get engaged, you don’t even think about what your invitations will look like because you plan on inviting all of your friends via a Facebook event invite. (At least, I hope this idea is still considered crazy, even to those members of the “digital native” generation… some traditions should remain traditions!)
  5. When you meet someone new – in real life – you refer to it as “friending” them. (For those of us who grew up before Facebook, we made new friends on the playground, we didn’t “friend” them there.)
  6. You start to speak and think in 140 characters or less. All the time. (Don’t get me wrong… less is often more. But there is a thing as being too brief.)
  7. Your definition of networking is attending TweetUps, conversing in LinkedIn groups, and meeting new people via other social media channels. (Sorry, guys, but face-to-face networking is still key in business.)
  8. You’re engaging in ANY social media activities while at the gym. Ignoring other reasons, let’s just focus on the fact that when you’re using weights or machinery, you should focus on the task at hand. (I wonder if there are any statistics on gym injuries due to cell phone social media use…)

But seriously now…

I think, like everything else in life (including bad-for-you foods and alcohol), it’s all a matter of moderation and balance.

You can’t live so far in the world of social media that you’re ignoring other aspects of your job. But at the same time, you have to be far enough in it that you understand how to use it and, more important, use it effectively.

I try to intersperse my social media activities between my other responsibilities. I know I’m spending too much time in that world if other items on my to-do list aren’t being crossed off. Rudimentary way to measure, maybe. But it works for me. You just need to find what works for you.

But if you start showing any of my 8 signs above, it may be time to admit you’re a social media addict and do something about it!

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.

My First Job… or Learning to Appreciate the "Menial" Tasks in Life

April 8th, 2010 ::

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

A recent post by blogger Tom Madrecki has generated some conversation — both on the blog and in other outlets — so I thought I’d respond by reflecting on my experience at my first job.

Like Tom, I left college ready to take the world by storm. After all, I had a college degree. What more could I need in order to make my mark on the world, right? Yup, you guessed it. That would be a big, fat WRONG.

I quickly learned that college degree = menial labor when it comes to your first job. And though I wasn’t happy about it, since my parents made it clear that a paycheck was key to my survival, I knew I had no choice. (I grew up in a very practical household. Aspirations were great and all, but first you paid the bills!)

My first job was as a literary assistant at a literary agency. Don’t get me wrong, I got to do some fun things. My favorite was reading the unsolicited queries from authors seeking representation and writing memos as to why I thought the agency should or shouldn’t sign the authors as clients. But that was a small fraction of my time, and it was often done at night or on weekends because the other, menial, have-to-get-done-now tasks took priority during the work day. These were things like inserting my bosses’ fixes to book contracts (using a typewriter!), answering phones, filing, ordering supplies, organizing (read: cleaning) my boss’s office, sending royalty checks and statements to clients… tasks I’d always thought of as “secretarial” — the sort of thing I’d gotten a college degree to AVOID doing.

At the time, I hated those menial tasks. Now, I can appreciate them for what they were: an incredible learning experience.

I learned more about the business by performing what I’d before thought of as “menial tasks” than I ever would have otherwise. One reason was that I decided if I had to do these things, I would do them well. (Not to mention I had a boss who was a stickler for details.)

What I found was that once I proved I could handle those detail-oriented tasks, my boss gave me increasing responsibilities. I was given the opportunity to edit one of the proposals, which was so much fun. And eventually, she asked me to supplement the public relations activities being done for her authors by the publishing houses. It was my chance to shine… and boy did I. It’s the reason I have the career I do today.

So what’s the moral? Or morals?

  • Those “menial tasks” you may think are beneath you right now present some of the best learning opportunities… if you let them.
  • Everyone has to work their way up the ladder, and sometimes that means taking a job that isn’t “ideal” just so you get your foot in the door.
  • Oh, and those “menial tasks” you think are beneath you? Trust me. They aren’t. Those “menial tasks” are often part of some of the most difficult jobs out there, and it takes a special person to be able to do them well and do them gracefully. (Case in point: When my current boss’ assistant goes on vacation, I handle my boss’ calendar. It’s time consuming. It’s challenging. I do it without complaining, despite being 10+ years into my career. And I’m always more than relieved when her assistant returns!)

Now I’m going to call on all of you. Please comment below and share your first job stories — both the good and the bad. I’m sure we’re all learn something from what you have to say.

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.

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.

Finding the Perfect, Perhaps Unlisted, Top Secret, No One Knows About It Job

March 11th, 2010 ::

by Robin Ferrier

Quiet Please sign

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

So if you’ve done any reading on how to undertake a job search you’ve probably heard some variation of the following sentiments:

  • There are a lot of jobs out there that just aren’t listed.
  • It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.
  • The most important thing in a job hunt is network, network, network.

Maybe you’re thinking those are all crazy sentiments. Or maybe you’re unsure how to feel about them. Need proof of this sentiment? A story from a colleague, with the names redacted to protect the innocent:

“So two days ago I was called to provide a reference for a previous intern of mine for her new job at [COMPANY]. The recruiter was very nice, super friendly etc.

“Out of the blue she said ‘I wish you were looking for a job’ and of course I said, ‘Actually I am.’

“Now I have a job interview this morning with the recruiter for [JOB TITLE] at [DIFFERENT COMPANY]!!!!”

Sure, in this case, it was a higher level position, but that doesn’t mean this same theory won’t work for you. (Heck, I got my first interview merely because the person selecting who to interview went to the same school and knew about certain activities in which I’d been involved and what kind of time commitment they’d been on top of my school work.)

My point? While searching for a job, EVERY SINGLE INTERACTION is an opportunity to connect with (and hopefully impress) someone, to discover the perfect (up until now unknown) job opportunity, to get your foot in the door… and you have to approach it as such. Because if you’re searching for a job – just like if you’re a PR person dealing with the media – everything is on the record, no matter what you say.

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.

Welcome!

February 15th, 2010 ::

Hello, readers!

It wasn’t all that long ago that I was in your shoes. Okay, maybe it was. I guess it depends on your definition of “long.” But regardless, I remember what it was like. I didn’t know what I was going to do after graduation. (I was an English Literature major so a career path was not a given.) I sent out resumes for a wide range of jobs — from journalism to book publishing to teaching and more. I assume most of those resumes went into that big black hole where unanswered resumes go to die — the trash can.

The good news: I got a job.

The bad news: Two and a half years later I found myself back in the same place — searching for a job — when I’d outgrown the first one. And that brought with it a whole new set of firsts — first time undergoing a job search while trying to be careful my current employer didn’t find out, first time having to answer the “why are you leaving your first job?” question, first time having to give notice…

And back then, blogs weren’t popular. (Am I showing my age?) I didn’t have a resource like this to help me navigate these rough roads. (I just had my dad.)

That’s why I’m so pleased to be leading the charge as editor of this new blog, a blog that I hope will help you navigate the unfamiliar territory of the working world. Which brings me back to one of the lines from my About Us page. This blog truly is all about you. I’ve selected a handful of bloggers — including one of whom is a peer — and we all have our own ideas about what we want to cover, but we need to hear from you as to what you need to know.

So send in your questions, your comments, your ideas, and we’ll do our best to give you what you want.

And now, without further ado, I give you… What’s Next, Gen Y?