Archive for April, 2010

The thank-you letter: reinforcing the new YOU

April 30, 2010

If you have been following the guidance in the previous two postings (about cover letters and resumes), you may have been inspired to hold a conversation about a new direction for your work life.  Whether a chat with a neighbor or a stranger, an informational interview, or a formal job interview, you may have had the pleasure of discussing how your years of experience have uniquely equipped you to work in an area that truly excites you.  Lucky you!

You smiled, you even glowed, as you shared your passion for …. whatever it is that you yearn to work in.

Now it is follow-up time.  There is ample information out there about thank-you letters, and most of it is good.  And all that advice begins with do it.  Write the letter.  Sooner than later.

You have one more opportunity to express your energy and desire to contribute.  Along with thanking someone for the time spent with you, be sure to mention that you are excited at the thought of bringing your skills in (whatever you have studied or worked at)  to (whatever it is you would rather be doing). It’s also okay to admit that this is a risk on both sides, but the experience and energy you bring makes it a risk worth taking.   If you write confidently enough, you just might sell the recipient on this idea.

I’d love to hear about how you made a change from something you didn’t like to something you’d do for nothing if you could afford it.  How did you sell yourself to a skeptical world?

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The Cover Letter: on your way to tomorrow

April 24, 2010

It seems that most people strive to be so accurate in the paperwork of their job search that they look more like yesterday than tomorrow.  This can doom you to being typecast as the worker you don’t want to be anymore.  In the next few postings, I’m going to look at the cover letter, resume, and thank-you note as opportunities to shape your interest in moving in new directions.

Let’s talk about the cover letter:

  • Don’t waste the opportunity you have to create a fresh and memorable writing sample.  Bland, formulaic letters are a waste of everyone’s time, starting with yours.  Why are you perfect for the job?  Why do they really need to speak with you? Here’s a chance to tell them. When I saw the opening for a public relations associate, I remembered how special it is to walk through the atrium in your building, marveling at the care of the plants.  It made a strong impression on me, and I’d love to be part of the team.
  • Convey enthusiasm for the position through expressing your passion, the direction you wish to grow into.  Is it history, geography, education, new architecture, community health, the environment?  This can be expressed as part of the explanation of why the job opening is so appealing to you. When my children were in elementary school, a speaker came to inform them about….. and subsequently we had lively dinner conversations.  I was impressed that a company would reach out to children with their message.
  • You can probably trace the start of this passion to a product you have used. Your website is one I turn to when I need up-to-date information on the Labor Market, and I would love to contribute to the timely dissemination of such material.

Your job history is what it is, and it may not lead you in a straight line to where you wish to go.  But your skills, energy, and enthusiasm can lead the way, supported by basic, transferrable skills.  Start with the cover letter.  Infuse it with your interest, show that you know and love this field, relish the opportunity to talk about it.

Next:  the language of your resume.

Another vote for networking

April 18, 2010

My day was made happier by this morning’s lead article in the Jobs section of the Washington Post.  Writer Vickie Elmer captured once again the virtues of networking, along with some hints on how to do it as graciously and painlessly as possible.

The article was helped by consulting the Queen of Networking (my title, not hers!), Lynne Waymon.  Lynne, author of Make Your Contacts Count, stresses being specific in conversations with your acquaintences, including sharing recent projects and accomplishments.  She also proposes a few strategic questions to ask others.

The link between networking and good manners was made by a comment or two by Nancy R. Mitchell of The Etiquette Advocate.  Mitchell stresses the effectiveness of making people comfortable and offering help.

If you are new to the job market, you have probably been given the advice to get out there and network.  But what does that mean?  Does it matter that much?  Aren’t you making a pest of yourself?

It really means to get out there and let people know how smart, clever, nice, and hard-working you are.  It means that you might do something thoughtful for them.  And no, you’re not a pest if you go about it the right way.  Read this article!

Does it matter?  I hardly know how to begin to answer that.  I usually avoid superlatives and always/never statements, but here it’s a struggle.  (Almost) every successful person can tell you about a chance encounter, a significant conversation, or a story of how one thing led to another.  Ask around – and you will hear some unusual and effective ways to employment and success.

Remember, when we get in touch with what we have to offer, it becomes easier to approach people.

In the spirit of networking, I strongly suggest that you read the article in today’s Washington Post (Count your contacts – and make them count) and learn a few new ideas for expanding your horizons.  Can’t hurt!

And Lynne, thanks for the strong reminder about cell phone etiquette – don’t use it or even peek at it during conversations!  I couldn’t agree more.

Advice for the interview from a pro

April 13, 2010

Did you catch the interview with the CEO of H.J. Heinz in Newsweek (4/19/2010)?

The author, Richard M. Smith, asked William Johnson what he ultimately looks for when he conducts interviews.  The answer shouldn’t surprise us.

It’s energy and passion.

We career counselors have long preached the wisdom of enthusiasm.  Being excited about the possibilities can trump work history, education, or even connections.  It can minimize mistakes.

According to CEO Johnson, if your passion for your work led to a mistake, well, that’s understandable.  In fact, it happened to him.  He made a suggestion, he tried it, and it didn’t work.  But someone above him promoted him because he had been willing to take a risk.

I”m going to remember this.  When coaching people for interviews, I’m going to advise them to approach a discussion of past mistakes with confidence and energy.  Mistakes made, not out of lethargy or laziness, but out of trying something new, may be just what the next employer is looking for.