Questions and Answers with Career Expert Norine Dagliano
Please note: On a somewhat infrequent basis, Quintessential Careers asks noted career experts five questions related to their expertise and publishes the interview in the current issue of QuintZine, our career e-newsletter. Those interviews are archived here for your convenience.
Norine Dagliano is a Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW) and career-management consultant.
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>Q:||We always advise job-seekers to make their final cover-letter paragraphs “proactive,” asking for the interview and telling the employer that the job-seeker plans to follow up to arrange for the interview. First, do you agree with that advice, and secondly, with the increasing difficulty of identifying a specific person to write to and follow up with (mostly the result of increased Internet job hunting) does the advice still hold?|
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>A:|| Yes, I still agree with this advice. A productive job-search strategy follows basic sales principles, as I’ll discuss later in this Q&A. People who succeed in sales first pitch the features and benefits of what they are selling. They then follow-up with the potential buyer to find out if they have any questions and to schedule a time they can get together to learn more about the product and, possibly, see it in action. It makes very little sense to go through the time and expense of creating and submitting a cover letter and resume if you are do not follow-up to a) confirm it was received and b) confidently explore a convenient time for an interview.
In regards to not being able to identify a specific person to write to, I think job-seekers are making this issue much bigger than it really is. I find that in the vast majority of cases (even with online postings) a little critical thinking and initiative will produce a name to put on the letter.
If you have a company name and/or phone number, make a phone call and ask, “To whom do I address a letter of application.” If you have an email address only, the company name normally follows the @: go online to the company Website, look for a contact name or call and ask. If you are posting to a company Web site, look for contact information that will lead you to a name before you post. Check in business directories for contacts. Ask your professional network. Check Hoover’s or Dun & Bradstreet reports.
I have even found names when all I had was, for example, “FLC is looking for a mental health therapist in its city, state location.” I went to the Yellow Pages under the listing for mental health; read the names of all the mental health agencies until I found one that might use the initials “FLC,” and then called the number in the book to get the name of whom to address the letter. BINGO!
Yes the Internet is making it harder to conduct a personal approach, but the personal approach is still the best approach. True, posting to a major job board like Monster prohibits making the approach personal. Statistics indicate that only a very small percentage of people land jobs through general posting to online job boards. For increased chances of success, make a direct and personal approach to the company and follow up.
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>Q:||Also precipitated by the growth of Internet job-hunting seems to be the notion that fewer employers are even reading cover letters. Do you find cover letters to be less important than they used to be? Are they on the way out? Do you have a sense for what percentage of employers scan cover letters for keywords? Any special cover letter advice in the age of Internet job-hunting.|
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>A:|| I believe very strongly in the power of a well-written and personalized cover letter and encourage all of my clients to include one whenever they send their resume (whether by “snail mail,” email, fax or online posting. Will it always gets read or will it get tossed? It is difficult to speculate, but my philosophy is that I would rather send one, only to have it thrown away, than not send one and make an unfavorable first impression.
I still think a personal approach in the search process is always the best. The cover letter provides job-seekers an opportunity to “speak” to the employer in their own words; to give the employer a little “window into their personality;” to address the employer’s needs by describing specific contributions they are prepared to make. We don’t want to rewrite the resume for each job, but a well-constructed cover letter can expand upon the resume and bring to the employer’s attention the key selling points to be considered.
I can’t imagine that cover letters are “on their way out.” No matter how “high-tech” we become as a society, we will always appreciate the personal touch. My hope is that the impersonal, generic and somewhat boring cover letter (“I am replying to the advertisement in the XYZ for an ABC” … and “as you can see in my enclosed resume I blah, blah, blah”) is on the way out!
There is somewhat of a misconception that the Internet has made it more difficult to take a personal approach. Much to the contrary, I think the Internet has in many ways made it easier. Never before have we had at our fingertips such detailed information about companies. We can visit company Websites and learn about their mission, their goals for the coming year; their products and services; their key accomplishments; their company culture and more. Armed with this information, we can to “talk” to them in the cover letter, not as someone who needs a job, but as someone who understands what the company is all about and believes they have something to offer.
In regards to the percentage of employers who scan cover letters for keywords, it depends on what is meant by “scan.” Many large companies have turned toward using scanners and electronic databases to review and store resumes and cover letters. Even in the days “pre-scanners,” cover letters and resumes were still “scanned” by human readers, seeking to find words (skills and experience) in these documents that matched-up with words use in the job description. Since small companies still provide the most job opportunities overall, my sense is that the percentage of employers using scanning technology is still quite small. With or without technology, keywords are still important. Editor’s note: See also our article, Tapping the Power of Keywords to Enhance Your Resume’s Effectiveness, which also applies to cover letters.
My cover letter advice in the age of Internet job hunting is as follows:
Whenever possible, use a personal approach. Post on the company Website rather than a major job board. Do your homework, and find out whom to address the letter to.
When using a cover letter online, do not forego business communication etiquette. Always use a greeting (Dear …). Use proper spelling, grammar, and punctuation. If you are responding to a particular job advertisement, be sure to mention the job title as well as the job number in your cover letter. If you have done your homework and are writing to a named person, use a proactive wrap up (“I will phone or email you … to see if we can arrange a meeting to discuss this opportunity”). Always include a closing (Sincerely, or something similar) and your signature (name, phone number and email, at the very least). If sending it via email, don’t waste the subject line. Create a powerful statement that will make your resume standout from the competition in the readers in-box: “Master’s-Level Therapist offering 13 years of counseling experience.”
The more “cold” your resume is coming, the shorter the cover letter should be. In response to an online job advertisement or to a company Web site as a cold call, use one power paragraph that opens with a bang and closes quickly. The longer cover letter is made up of one to three power paragraphs, plus a power closing (a maximum of one screen long). These are typically used for higher-level job advertisements, and also work well when responding to a request made by a recruiter or an employer who has contacted you in advance and requested your resume.
In all cases, the cover letter used online should be saved as an ASCII or Text Only document (the same as your resume). The letter should be pasted in the body of the email message (or in the space provided on the employment website) and should be followed by the electronic resume, as opposed to attached.
[Editor’s note: See also our article, Tips for a Dynamic Email Cover Letter.]
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>Q:||What is the one job-hunting secret you share with clients but that may not be widely known?|
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>A:|| It’s all about sales.
I would not go so far as to say that this is a “secret that is not widely known,” but it is a reality that seems to elude most job-seekers. Almost every job-seeker approaches the process as if it is something very foreign to them… something they have never done (or have done infrequently). They think there are all these mysterious rules and expectations that will certainly trip them up. They fail to realize that implementing basic sales principles is what lands jobs.
I have yet to meet a job-seeker who has never sold anything in his/her life (even Girl Scout cookies, school fund-raisers, a used car qualifies). Once I explore with them what tools and information they needed and what steps they took to make the sale, they begin to realize that job seeking is not such a mystery.
I was working with a client recently who had a dynamic sales background with very impressive results. His job was eliminated and he came to me defeated and unsure of himself. After we talked about his career and how he managed to break all sales records, he asked me: “What is the best way to get a job.”
I answered, “You are a salesman and you are good at what you do. You knew your product well — not only its features, but its benefits and value. You sold products you believed in. You approached each customer with an attitude that you had something that would save them time and make them money. Further, you didn’t sit back and wait until someone placed an advertisement that they were in the market for your product. Not at all! Instead, you scoped-out the territory. You identified companies that could benefit from your product. You made cold calls and set up appointments to assess their needs and explore solutions to their problems (not yours). You networked, and used your established network to build a bigger network. You gave outstanding sales presentations and built the kind of rapport that convinced the buyer that you were someone they wanted to do business with. And, on those rare occasions that you did not make the sale, you never took it as a personal rejection. You never let it rob your self-confidence or used it as an excuse to settle for less than you wanted.”
What is the best way to get a job? It is no secret. It’s just rediscovering what you already know.
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>Q:||Thinking “outside the box,” what is the best way for job-seekers to figure out what career will give them the greatest happiness?|
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>A:|| I use several techniques when helping clients through the decision-making process. I normally begin with a series of questions:
I also recommend career assessments. It is important that clients assess not only their abilities, but also assess their interests and values (and look at all three in tandem). Some of the tools I like best are the CAPS/COPS/COPES (produced by EdITS — Educational and Industrial Testing Services), the Myers-Briggs, the MAAP, and the Keirsey Temperament Sorter. I think the online tests are a good resource to start with and frequently refer clients to the Quintessential Careers Assessment Review for links to some of these tests (the MAPP and Keirsey, for example). Clients who have never completed any career assessments before find these online assessments very revealing. Even though the free reports are not very detailed, they start the thinking process and pique clients’ curiosity and interest in learning more.
I also recommend that clients read job descriptions/job postings and, using index cards, a scrapbook or a three-ring binder, begin to assemble copies of job descriptions/job postings that intrigue them, and then look for patterns. A good place to start is with the jobs classified section of a local weekend newspaper. My four favorite on-line sources for career profiles are: Quintessential Careers Career Exploration; WetFeet, O*Net Online, and the Occupational Outlook Handbook.
One final thing I recommend is informational interviewing. Talk to people who are doing the things they might like to do. There is an excellent Informational Interviewing Tutorial on the Quintessential Careers site that I direct clients to. We discuss this technique and brainstorm a list of places to go/people to talk to and then we role-play the initial contact to set up the interview. I also encourage them to use these sessions to solicit opportunities to do volunteer work and get some real hands-on exposure.
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>Q:||What is the biggest mistake that job-seekers make that your advice could correct or prevent?|
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>A:|| I see job-seekers consistently making one really big mistake: They spend the majority of their t me looking for “openings.”
By concentrating on openings (or “who’s hiring”) job-seekers re taking a reactive versus a p active approach to managing their careers. Not only may they be overlooking as many as 90 percent of the available opportunities, but they are also positioning themselves where they can expect the competition to be the highest. What further compounds this less-than-effective approach is that job-seekers read job postings and right away start screening themselves out (“the job does not pay enough; the employer is too far away; they are looking for someone with a degree,” etc.). So what started out as a very small pool of opportunities has just gotten even smaller. In no time at all, the job-seeker begins to feel defeated and further believe the media hype that implies that there are no jobs available.
I advise job-seekers to be more proactive in their search and to stop thinking about their needs and start thinking about the employers’ needs. I ask them to first define their target market (companies that meet their industry, geographic location, size and industry culture parameters). Then, using the phone book, business directories, networking contacts, newspapers, online resources, etc., create a target list of 40 to 50 companies that fall within that target market.
Next, I have them research each company and try to determine what that company might need that they have to offer. Finally, we discuss strategies and devise a plan on how to approach each company, with the company needs in mind. Once a contact has been established, the job-seeker, acting with a “consultant mentality,” can explore with the company what his or her needs are and contributions he or she might make in meeting those needs.
One statistic I read recently stated “43.3 percent of unadvertised positions are created for the applicant, often at the time of the interview.” Starting with 50 companies on the target list ensures the job-seeker will always be busy and always making contacts. Before he or she knows what happens, the dilemma becomes which offer to accept!
Norine Dagliano is a Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW) and career-management consultant, working under the business name, ekm Inspirations. Norine has 19 + years of experience in job-search training, career counseling, resume writing, and outplacement. In addition to her private business, Norine is a Certified Associate of Lee Hecht Harrison (a global outplacement firm) and has supported career transition services for major employers throughout Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania. Examples of Norine’s resumes and cover letters have been published in four books. Contact her at ekm Inspirations, 14 North Potomac Street, Hagerstown, MD 21740. Phone: 301-766-2032; fax 301-745-5700; email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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