A Career College and Job-Search Advice Column
Dr. Randall Hansen a nationally recognized career expert is the Career Doctor. Discover more about Dr. Hansen read about the purpose of this column and find previous issues of this column at the home of The Career Doctor.
If you have any college career or job-related questions or comments that Dr. Hansen could provide valuable assistance with please feel free to email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Dr. Hansen writes this column on a biweekly basis.
Note: Readers can find other columns from this year in Current Year Archives of The Career Doctor Q&A.
In This Issue (10/22/04):
- Deciding when and how to use cover letters
- Responding to employer request for salary requirement
- Remembering the sole purpose of a cover letter
- Developing a strategy for asking for a raise
|Q:||Kris writes: Should I have a cover letter to accompany my resume when I go for an interview on Tuesday? If you can assist me in any way I would greatly appreciate it. Thank you for your time.|
|A:|| The Career Doctor responds: The main purpose of a cover letter is to entice a prospective employer to review your resume in consideration for a job interview and since you have cut through the process and already have an interview a cover letter seems unnecessary at this point.
Do make sure your resume is sharp in appearance and directed specifically at the job you are seeking. Just as you would write a different cover letter for each position so too should you tweak your resume for each position.
Instead of the cover letter if you have a portfolio of samples of your work experience bring it along to the interview. And be sure to bring multiple copies of your resume.
And before the interview be sure to brush up on the types of questions you are expecting in the interview. You don’t want to memorize your answers but you do want to have a basic story prepared so that you will showcase your experience and fit.
Let me just add a final comment about cover letters. First when you are applying for any position — unless the employer specifically requests you not send one — you should always send a cover letter and resume as part of your job-search package. Your cover letter should be brief and specifically address why you are the perfect candidate for the position. Cover letters should be no longer than 3-5 short paragraphs — and never longer than one page.
You can read more about special cover letter formats that grab employers’ attention as well as find lots more articles and tools in the cover letter section of Quintessential Careers.
|Q:|| Ralph writes: I was hoping for some advice on determining a salary requirement for a “Service Center Manager” for a distribution center. The duties are: Supervise two technicians a warehouse parts puller and administrative worker.
I have searched but still no answer. What do you recommend since I sent the cover letter and resume and afterwards the request for a salary requirement follows. They are asking me to do their dirty work right? Can you recommend an appropriate website?
|A:|| The Career Doctor responds: Your instincts and efforts are right on target. In order to be more successful in your job-search you must do the research required.
Job-seekers should always know their value in the workforce as well as the value of any job you are seeking.
It’s most likely not that the employer does not know how much to pay the service center manager — so you are not doing the research for the employer — but rather the employer wants to use the salary requirement as a tool to screen job-seekers.
A request for a salary requirement usually means job-seekers end up in one of three classifications: overpriced or overinflated in the ballpark and too low or inexperienced. And you can guess where the employer goes to choose who they interview for the position.
So it’s your responsibility as the job-seeker to conduct the necessary research so that you have a rough idea of the salary range of the position. Of course the best way to get the information is to have a network contact on the inside of the company who can get you the information. If you are not that lucky you should turn to industry salary studies and online resources such as salary.com.
Once you’ve done the research you need to decide if this position is right for you — in terms of career and salary progression. If so instead of giving a specific salary amount give a range. For example if the average salary for this type of position is $35000 you might suggest a salary range ‘in the thirties’ or ‘the mid-thirties.’ Of course you can go totally around the subject by responding that you know the company will pay industry average or better — and put the ball back into the employer’s hands… though this strategy is riskier because of the sorting system I mentioned above — and the fourth category I didn’t mention: job-seekers who did not respond specifically to a request for salary.
Learn lots more ‘ and get some great tools and resources — in this section of Quintessential Careers: Salary Negotiation and Job Offer Tools and Resources.
|Q:||Michelle writes: I recently was let go from my position at my office due to financial reasons. How do I start off a cover letter letting the employer know this information in a positive manner. I just need some advice on how to construct the first part of the cover letter and I did not see that on the website. Hope you can help and thank you for your time.|
|A:|| The Career Doctor responds: Repeat after me — again and again — never ever put any kind of negative information in your cover letter resume or any other job-search materials. The time to address any of these negative issues — such as being fired — is in the job interview ONLY after the employer raises the issue.
Your cover letter is the job-search tool that sets the tone for you as a job-seeker and provides the critical first impression for the employer. How positive an impression is the prospective employer going to have if your opening paragraph states ‘although I was recently let go from my previous job because the company was having financial difficulties… ‘ The employer is going to stop reading before he/she even gets to the end of your sentence.
But you are not alone. In the thousands of cover letters I have seen over the years it is absolutely amazing the kind of negative information job-seekers put in their cover letters. Perhaps they mistakenly think that full disclosure is necessary. Or perhaps because professionals stress being truthful they think this means they need to fess up to all prior mistakes.
Please remember a cover letter is a marketing document. Its sole purpose is to entice the hiring manager just enough to review your resume. It’s then the r’sum’s job to verify that you are worthy of getting an interview for the open position.
If your cover letter is not focused if it provides negative information if it has typos or spelling errors or if it has too little or too much detail your resume is simply not going to get a look and your job prospects for the position are officially over.
Finally let me once again stress that I am not saying to lie. I am simply saying do NOT disclose negative information (or even too much information) until the employer asks you about it. And at that point you need to put a positive spin on the negative information — but only then.
I believe you need to review two key resources. First read my article about moving beyond after getting laid off: Getting Fired: An Opportunity for Change and Growth.
Second take advantage of the all the tools and resources we offer in this section of Quintessential Careers: Cover Letter Resources for Job-Seekers.
|Q:||Shelly writes: I would really appreciate if you could please send me some examples about how to ask for a raise. I’ve been at my job for a year now and I am stuck on a few things. I pretty much have all of my ducks in a row and I know I deserve the raise but I really want to make it presentable and professional. Basically I’m looking for a jump start maybe I should start with a cover letter introducing my specific proposal? What do you think? Anything would help.|
|A:|| The Career Doctor responds: Anytime we deal with money whether as a job-seeker talking about salary or as an employee asking for a raise it’s natural to get a little uncomfortable or anxious. But as long as you have a plan asking for a raise should not be a daunting task — especially if you can show exactly why you deserve it.
And I think putting your request in writing is a great idea. It allows you to take the time to really focus on the key issues to document your contributions and accomplishments and make as strong a case as possible for why you deserve a raise.
But as you are working on the letter — or even just talking points for those going to an evaluation meeting — remember a few key things.
First you must be realistic in your expectations. Most raises are modest increases not dramatic salary changes. If your accomplishments are so great you might look beyond just a salary increase to some other perks the employer can add to sweeten your overall compensation package. Just be careful not to go overboard in your requests.
Second always keep the focus on what you deserve for what you do in your job — rather than on what you need. While taking care of an elderly parent is a noble thing employers don’t care if you need more money because your bills are rising.
Third use bullets to highlight you key accomplishments in the past year (or in the time since your last review). Quantify those accomplishments whenever possible.
Fourth set the stage for the next review. If the employer can’t give you the raise you feel you deserve ask for another review in six months rather than in a year.