Do cover letters really matter?

Today I listened to a webinar offered by US-based National Resume Writers Association. The topic was a recruiter study with 273 responses - including two Canadian sources - from recruiters and hiring managers.

One of the questions, of many (and I plan to address others in the near future), was on the cover letter's importance.

Guess what? As I've been telling clients throughout my 11 years in full-time service, some recruiters will read it, some won't, but you need a good one just in case your dream job's hiring manager does like to read cover letters.

The survey did find out a few interesting points, though. Apparently recruiters/HR hiring managers will read the cover letter IF a) it's targeting the specific job posting AND b) it's not fluff. LOL No definition of fluff was provided, but I'd hazard a guess that if you provide "a)" you're okay and are not being fluffy.

So how do you target the job posting? These ideas have been sourced from the two books as you see on this blog.

1. Customize each letter. I cannot stress this one enough. Match the requirements, echo the company's values, saturate with keywords (hard skills, soft skills and attributes, educational credentials, and employment details).

2. Speak to the decision maker. Every piece of writing, to be effective, must speak to an audience's "buying motivators." (Hint: in hiring, buying motivators are related to the bottom line or to reputation in not-for-profits.) If you don't demonstrate that in the past you've not cost your employers' money, but helped them earn or keep revenues, you're not "selling yourself" and not likely to outperform other interviewees. And yes, the cover letter is an ideal place to sell you as a candidate. Every step of recruitment is about you, as a job seeker, conducting a self-marketing project.

3. Deal with obstacles. I have done this successfully for clients, from those with disabilities to those who job hopped a bit too much. Either be up front and refer to an accommodation that has worked, or turn the perceived obstacle into a great advantage. Perception can be tweaked!

Of course, good grammar and a clear writing style are also necessary.

BTW, you'll find my sample letters in these books! Eleven are now in the Best Canadian Cover Letters series and I have three in the newly published Modernize Your Job Search Letters, a US publication.

TIP: Please check that your cover letter isn't saturated with "I" statements, a common trait of many cover letters. Replace a few with phrases such as "You can count on me to," "Past supervisors will vouch for my (work ethic, ability to ...)."

 

The Strategic Resume

Google tells me that one of the definitions of "strategic" is carefully designed or planned to serve a particular purpose or advantage.

As a Master Certified Resume Strategist through Career Professionals of Canada, this well describes how I compose a resume: I carefully design each client's document to achieve that client's particular purpose. My work gives each client an advantage.

Misconceptions about what a resume is and what it is not continue to plague the job hunter. For great, detailed information, check out Modernize Your Resume, which holds one of my submitted samples. It's one of two resumes that hold a special place in the legacy of my work as they helped two European clients land jobs in Canada in the same field and in a unique geographic region. The clients are friends and their lifelong dream was to do what they did: land jobs in Canada's far north!

But back to strategy. The strategic resume's content is carefully selected, which means that I consider what to include and what to exclude.

Let's say a client who works as an administrative assistant by day wanted to add a seasonal, part-time retail position to fund a special holiday plan. That resume would not speak to filing, emails, creating supportive documents, or using Excel spreadsheets, as these are not part of the retail vocabulary. Rather, I would zero in on transferable skills and knowledge - communication, establishing rapport and building relationships, ability to learn new software (for Point of Sale training), and personal interest in fashion, kitchenware, hardware, whatever the product of interst may be. I'd refer to training in conflict resolution, to proof of productivity in a fast-paced environment, to reliability and stamina perhaps.

Strategy is customized according to the goal. If a client wishes to step out of the ranks and into management, my work is to uncover proof of leadership, which has countless examples - critical thinking, taking calculated risks, making tough decisions, committee membership, etc. Each person has something for me to build on, and I have many ways of unearthing these, if the client him or herself struggles with self-awareness.

If you are looking to make a transition, a strategic resume is critical. Without one, you'll waste your time applying to job after job without making progress. If you need help with this, New Leaf Resumes would love to support your goal!


Student Summer Employs and Co-ops

I've had a rash of parents contacting me for help as their university kids seek either summer jobs or co-op placements.

This is a case where "one size does NOT fit all" is important to remember. My answer to one dad explains why. I've renamed his son, Jasper, for confidentiality. The suggestion of a Day Camp Team Leader builds on Jasper's past summer employment experience. Here's what I wrote:

Is Jasper in need of a resume to find summer employment or to land a co-op post? The resume's content and focus would differ according to its goal.

If the resume is for non-education related summer employment, it would not need an expanded Education section. Rather, I would want to incorporate transferable skills. Let's say Jasper was applying to be a Day Camp's Team Leader. I'd need to find examples of leadership, good judgement, reputation for ethical and safe choices, great relationship building, listening skills and so on. If, however, he was planning to apply to a construction position, I would find examples of resilience, hard work, working in all weather, good attendance, record of safety, use of tools and machinery, and so on. Each position has different "buying motivators."

And if it's for co-op placements, then the Education section gets to shine as his recent studies hold relevant knowledge. In past employs I would still find transferable skills along the lines of dependability, good work ethic, getting along with people, taking direction well, showing initiative.

So, you see that there's a great deal of strategy that goes into content! That's what creates an effective, influential resume that lands interviews.

New Year, New Job? 7 Steps to Ease the Way

Our fellow here may be reacting to stepping on the scale after a final New Year's Eve binge! Along with getting healthy after what seems like non-stop indulgence from Hallowe'en on, many folks consider transtitioning to a new job as a goal for the new year.

Or the fellow may be reacting to the thought of looking for a new position, as a job search can be quite daunting. It's a lot of work, takes a whole lot of time, and many are not sure how to begin, where to begin, what the heck to do! Here are 7 steps that will help.

1. Build your network - Actually, it's best if this one is an ongoing career management tactic as beginning networking just as you start a job search is a bit late for much effect. But, with perhaps 40% - 80% of positions not advertised or secured through networking, it's still worth a try.

2. Define your goal - You cannot get to a destination without a goal. As Alice famously said (the Wonderland Alice), "If you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there." You need to know what kind of job you're going after before you can write your resume, for example. There's no such thing as an effective "general" resume. If your resume doesn't immediately proclaim precisely which position your applying to and support your candidacy with a strong overview of why you're a great fit for that position, it's worthless.

3. Update your resume - Before you make any attempt at networking or applying to job postings, tackle your resume's update. Give yourself a challenge: try to make the content, every line of the resume, address the requirements of your job target. The profile, skills, experience, and education must all bring attention to actual or transferable skills, knowledge, and experience. The tighter your target, the less work you'll need to put in to "tweak" your resume and cover letter as you begin applying.

4. Update your LinkedIn - Not everyone must have a LinkedIn. Teachers do not. Nurses don't. But most professionals do. The LinkedIn profile doesn't replace the resume, at least not yet! But it must build on the same "brand" or message found in your resume and cover letter. An optimzed LinkedIn profile can actually attract recruiters/job openings to you! It's well worth the effort.

5. Know what you're worth - Conduct salary research to be prepared in case you're asked about salary. If the job posting asks you to state your salary expectations, you should do so.

6. Manage your online reputation - Every few months, conduct an internet search on yourself to ensure there is no "digital dirt" hiding in plain sight. Last statistic I read suggested that at least 90% of recruiters conduct such searches of the short listed candidates before selecting interviewees. Don't be out of the running because of a dumb Facebook post or nasty internet comment you forgot to delete.

7. Create an ideal target - Along with knowing the position you're aiming for, it's best to create a target list of companies you'd like to work for. Do you prefer established or start ups? Procedure- or creativity-driven? Traditional or fun environments? Will you commute or not? Does the company need to be green, ethical, have a community responsibility vibe?

This step will eliminate the work of applying to too many openings! Remember, it's a lot of work to apply to job postings; narrowing overly-wide options is a great time saver. Spend your time customizing each resume and cover to positions you want in companies you admire.

And there you go! You're all ready to launch your search. If you need more help, consider engaging a professional service to further ease your way into a new job, doing what you love, in a company you admire, and earning what you know you're worth! Happy New Year to all!

p.s. pop the phrase "applicant tracking system" into the search window to the right to make sure your resume is meeting these requirements"

Transparency in Recruitment

Every once in a while the question pops up of how much do you tell, what do you tell, when in the recruitment process. I was reminded of one such example recently.

I had submitted one of my resumes for inclusion in an online training course, Career Thought Leaders' E-summit titled, "Expanding Your Horizons: Writing for International Audiences." The resume I shared was accepted and I was asked to speak to the audience of international resume writers on behalf of Canadian resume norms.

My client's resume and cover letter earned him an interview. And although his situation isn't my best example of being open and transparent (that's coming up next), it does offer a peek into how to address a potential obstacle to hire.

Moving from Canada's west coast to Dubai, after almost two decades in Canada, could be a hurdle for a mid-level manager. I addressed it right up front in the first paragraph of the cover letter, as so:

It is exciting to think of returning to Dubai where I worked for 20 years, and where I learned to speak and write Arabic. At that time, I built relationships and grew business as a Sales Executive; now I would prevent and mitigate risk, and safeguard reputation and assets as a Health and Safety Manager with (name of the company).

Immediately the recruiter knows many powerful details, such as the client's eagerness to return, his many years of local experience, and his ability to speak the local language (he is not native to the region).

But the stronger example was this: I had a young client with brain damage. His mother hired me to create a resume for him in application to an entry level job in a municipality. I addressed the issue of brain damage in the cover letter. My reasoning was this: the issue would be apparent in an interview and some accommodation might be needed; it did not make sense to delay sharing this detail.

I am pleased to submit my application for the position of (insert title) with (insert municipality name). With 2 years of relevant experience, during which I have learned to complete each of the tasks required for this position, and during which I earned a reputation for hard work and reliability, I know that I am qualified. My experience also demonstrates that although I have minor brain injury from a car accident, it has not had a negative impact on my abilities to get the work done.

Not only did this client land an interview, but he also landed a job offer. His parents are thrilled, of course, as anxiety over their son's future is relieved.

But, I've also had clients where I have not shared details. Like one fellow who suffered intense depression following his father's unexpected death. Mental health issues are not always relevant, nor do the situations require accommodations, nor do they impact the work at hand.

In this client's case, I was able to cover his two-year sabbatical in another way, while remaining truthful to his experience. Luckily, how he spent his time was actually related to his job search skills.

If you're not sure how to handle a "sticky" situation, working with a professional can be helpful.

 

Attention HR and Interviewees: Great Behavioural Interview Questions

I have some wonderful clients. Once client, let's call her Monique, stays in touch and sends me random info or updates. She is a true networker. Her name stays in my mind even though it's been about two years since I revamped her job search documents.

Last week she sent a LinkedIin message to share an interesting new group. You'll find it at www.disrupthr.co. I've long said that the recruitment process is broken and this group is setting out to improve recruitment. I'll see if I can join one of the sessions in the future, out of curiousity.

And then Monique shared with me a site she found with great samples of interview questions. Meant for the recruiter, they are excellent behavioural questions. And, I can actually see how someone being interviewed could use this info to his or her benefit, which I will be sharing with interview coaching clients.

You'll find the list at this URL: http://www.va.gov/pbi/questions.asp

Are we meant to be happy at work?

So read the headline of the Globe and Mail's "Globe Careers" article dated Saturday, September 17th.

Happiness seems to be on everyone's radar, from country rankings right down to the personal level. It may even steer us - according to organizational gurus - into choosing what we keep and what we let go in an exercise of purging the unnecessary. (Apparently you should hold each item in your hands and ask if it brings you joy ... if not, out it goes!)

We're rather obsessed with happiness, it seems.

The article makes a strong case for a workplace shift in culture towards happy employees.  "[Happiness] has penetrated the citadel of global economic management," writes William Davies, author of The Happiness Industry: How the Government and Big Business Sold Us Well-Being.

I'm a rose-coloured glasses kind of person; I call myself a realistic optimist. But I feel rather disconnected from this message, and I have to admit, a tad cynical at government involvement in a forced happiness factor!

I still have plenty of clients who come to me as they put into action their plan to escape a bad employment situation - undelivered career or salary promises, micro-managing, ineffective, or toxic managers, bullying colleagues, and the like.

It seems to me that employers are still super-focused, laser-consumed with the bottom line, money, at the expense of whatever gets in the way, be that ill employees, unproductive staff, or teams that cannot get along. Sacrificial lambs are not rare in the workplace.

The article wrapped up with a nod to the flip side. There is a downside to expecting happiness on the job. Apparently, "... it can have a negative impact on your relationships with your boss as well as at home," according to Andre Spicer and Carl Cederstrom, co-authors of The Wellness Syndrome.

Asking employees - or demanding - a positive work environment may just be too much, as is expecting your employer to make you happy! In fact, this premise was recently upheld by a ruling by the U.S. National Labor relations Board, which determined that one party cannot force another to be happy (can't argue that one!).

The article ends that it's quite okay to not be super happy at work. Truth is, each person seeks out different experiences and trying to force a happiness factor across a broad swath of personalities is as impossible as trying to please everyone.

Exciting News to Share

September was an excellent month for recognition of my work, and I would love to share the two stories with you.

I have belonged to Career Professionals of Canada since 2007. As a fledgling writer, in my very first year as a full time, self-employed resume strategist, I was recognized with four awards - three for resume categories and one for professional contributions. Although I skipped a few years, not submitting any resumes for adjudication, since that time, I have earned another five awards for both resumes and employment interview coaching.

This year I once again won the best technical resume category. I am grateful for having my work recognized.

 

The second story again begins in 2007 when I submitted a technical resume to an opportunity to have a resume included in a soon to be published U.S. book, "Directory of Professional Resume Writers" (published by JIST Works and written and compiled by Louise Kursmark). Still a newbie, I fought with myself for a few days, alternating arguments of  "who do you think you are?" with "if you don't try you won't know." Thankfully the optimistic voice won out and my sample was accepted as one of only 40 or so resumes in the book

Since that time, Louise and Wendy Enelow, who often partner on projects, have been the source of more opportunities. I've had my resume samples included in their training packages and had a resume included in their first major publication, Modernize Your Resume (early 2016).

Early last week I learned that three of my cover letters were accepted into their next publication, Modernize Your Job Search Letters, due out in December. Here's part of the email content:

We are delighted to tell you that we’ve chosen to feature your work in our upcoming book, MODERNIZE YOUR JOB SEARCH LETTERS: Get Noticed … Get Hired.

Our decision was not easy because we received about 4X the number of letters we could publish! We made our selections based on your creative approach, powerful language, and spot-on strategy for the letter(s) that we will be featuring.

I have to admit that the recognition is important to me. I love to write and I am thrilled that my work  significantly impacts my clients' job searches.

Along with hearing back from clients with individual success stories, the recognition from impartial sources, industry leaders, also validates my efforts, reassuring me that my ongoing training - reading, self-study, webinars, conferences - is well worth it.

Thank you for letting me share! With gratitude, Stephanie

Interview Follies

I've heard it said that the job search is a numbers game. I believe it was Tony Beshara in the Job Search Solution.

It's not enough to send one resume; you must send many. You can't count your success just because you are prepping for two interviews; you must keep applying, as a recent client confided.

My client emailed: "

Wrapped up my interviews (whew). I did well but not sure that I am what they are looking for. One job isn't what they advertised (they are basically looking for a graphic designer) and the other, well the manager who interviewed me was totally disorganised, and made it pretty clear that i wasn't what she was looking for but she wanted to meet me (and then proceeded to read through my resume and writing samples while I sat there)."

I cannot justify why a job posting would claim the department is looking for a Manager of Digital Marketing when the team needs a graphic designer. It doesn't make sense from any point of view.

The second scenario I can explain to some degree. Perhaps there were few good candidates and the recruiter expanded the parameters so that at least five or so candidates could be interviewed. It's a bit of a "job security" strategy.

Sure it's not fair, but it's reality. And hey, it gave my client an opportunity to practice her interview skills (once the manager read through her submission).

It's a similar case with resumes. Not all land in bonafide opportunities. Some jobs are already pegged for an internal (or external) candidate, but to meet corporate policy, the recruitment process must be adhered to. Other job postings are ongoing recruitments for job pools or positions with exceptional turnover; you might hear in six months and you might not hear at all. Others may be "fishing expeditions" by companies who want to see what kind of talent exists out there.

Such is the way of recruitment. Unless you want to don a cape and take on the role of crusading for reform, there's no point in getting upset. Remember that recruitment is a numbers game and keep on going!

Of course, if you are not landing any interviews at all, perhaps you need a champion in your corner. If so, New Leaf would be honoured to work on your behalf.

LinkedIn is Great, Except ....

I get LinkedIn invitations almost daily from people asking me to connect. Sometimes it's from colleagues, other resume writers or career coaches, and often it's job hunters who want to ask about my services.

The best aspect of LinkedIn concerns my clients, many of whom are being contacted by recruiters asking them to apply to jobs they were not even aware of after they uploaded their new New Leaf-composed LinkedIn profiles.

For example, one client, a VP, was contacted by two recruiters, applied to two C-level positions and accepted an offer. She is now a happy CAO.

Another, a new grad productively employed in his first post-grad, study-related position, is fielding monthly LinkedIn-instigated employers' invites to apply to jobs, according to his friend, another new grad for whom I recently finished a resume/cover letter/LinkedIn package.

But, there's always a down-side as is the yin and yang of life.

In the article "Three Annoying Things that Happened on LinkedIn" posted on PayScale.com, the three things have indeed happened to me. I do regularly accept invitations to connect from folks I don't know and this isn't at all unusual. After all, to be found on LinkedIn requires one to meet certain algorithms and being connected to at least 500 people is one of these suggested tactics. I sure don't know 500 people but I am connected to over 1000 I believe. Most are legitimate fine folks and then there are the few.

I've been propositioned. Apparently one man saw me as like-minded, assuming I was of the same religion as he, and single. No and no.

Another, a lady this time, claimed to be the Walmart heiress and wanted to partner with me on a new charity venture. I guess she thought I was wealthy. Nope.

And then there are those who want something for nothing. Not just endorsements though. No, they want free resume advice and work. It seems they feel that since we're both on LinkedIn, we're friends and I'll skip my need to earn a living. No can do.

But these annoyances are few and far between. I think LinkedIn is doing a fine job at keeping the networking career site robust, and with a bit of your own good judgement, pretty safe.

It's now a job board, recruiter hang out, and great career building and job search tool. For most of those in the work force, it's a necessity.

How's your LinkedIn looking? If it's rather dull, mediocre, non-descript, boring even, it's a good idea to put some effort or investment into leveraging its awesome capabilities!

The value of keeping your resume up-to-date

I am currently working with a digital marketing professional. She contacted me about a month ago. We've been taking our time with her resume, cover letter, and LinkedIn profile as she wasn't expecting to begin her job search for awhile yet.

You probably see where this story is going. Yesterday Joanne, as I'll name her, emailed that in a downsizing exercise, she was one of several to be let go.

With a new career portfolio well under way to completion - we're just finalizing tweaks - Joanne can skip the panic associated with updating an outdated resume, without which networking or a job hunt cannot begin.

Did you know that September is International Update Your Resume Month?

I've had other, potential clients, who contacted me a day or two before the close of their dream job posting, which they'd just noted online, panicked to get something together so as not to lose the opportunity.

Given that I prebook, sometimes up to two months in advance (and other times able to take a new client immediately - there's no predictability in resume writing), that quick a turnaround is impossible.

It's also impossible as quality work takes time. Gathering the information and composing a strategic resume, and other self-marketing documents, is perhaps equal parts analytical and creative efforts. I won't charge good money for a slap-dash, mediocre effort, and thus I have to turn them away.

Here is a list to get you started on your resume update, as per my own list of potentail sources of great resume, cover letter, and LinkedIn profile content.

- performance reviews

- talent, skills, personality, leadership, 360 feedback, and other assessments

- emails of thanks, awards of recognition, informal "attaboy/attagirl" corporate motivation strategies

- job postings: existing and new job prospects

- your "brag" or "me" professional file that hopefully you are compiling on a regular  basis

In addition, I often request that clients complete a homework questionnaire. (This helps me build the resume, but also prepares the client for a job interview.)

That's the list of documents my clients share with me before I begin working with them. And after I review their documents, I prepare more questions and conduct an intake interview that takes from 45 minutes to 1.5 hours.

I ask questions until I have the details that I know I can spin into gold on their behalf. No lying, no exaggeration, no embelishment, just an objective perspective and an expert's eye on how to showcase each client's skills in action.

How's your resume these days? Outdated, not touched in 10 years, lost in a computer crash, still on paper? Don't wait and risk applying to your dream job with a sad, neglected resume that gets you nowhere rather than a strong, competition-busting resume that lands you an interview, get on it now.

After all, your earnings, pride, family security, comfort, and happiness are often tightly linked to your career.

If you need help, give me a shout! Email me at newleafresumes@gmail.com.

 

 

Military Transition Resume Strategy

Over the last few years I have written a number of resumes for people planning to transition from military to civilian careers.

It's not an easy change if you think about it. No more uniforms or numerous ranks, different expectations, and fewer training opportunities, at least not at the standard offered by the Canadian military. (As a learning "junkie," I admit I am envious of the quality and quantity of training one can pursue with the military.)

There's also the issue of jargon. Military resumes are almost incomprehensible to civilians, as from rank to duties, a military career is steeped in a language all its own.

In a recent  overhaul of a military to civilian resume, I stripped away words such as heavy machine gunner, combat tour, heavy enemy engagement, private, corporal, battalion, platoon, regiment, warrant officer, and others. But I did leave terms that were relevant to my client's intended job goal in security - safe weapons handling and maintenance, radio communications, conducted operations, and patrolling. I also added a great deal more, selecting jargon, or terminology, appropriate to civilian security duties.

I changed the language to make sure the resume does not bamboozle the recruiter, translating into plain language for readability and sale-ability. I could hardly "sell" my client into a new role with words alien to the reader's comprehension.

It's a delicate balance, keeping info real yet understandable.

My strategies also include finding title equivalences. For example, I helped the recruiter understand my client's title like this:

Manager-equivalent (Master Corporal)

And under the title I offered proof of management level accountability, selecting what defined his role with information that sells him into his preferred, advanced role in security.

Creating a resume's strategy can be a challenge, especially in a major career transition!

Resume content that is concise, tight, yet influential

Recently I worked with a senior manager of operations and business intelligence employed by a large national company. I'll name him Ernesto.

98% of the time I partner with a client to build a resume from scratch, and support the resume with a strategic cover letter and LinkedIn profile.

Ernesto's project was unusual in that his existing resume was "decent" and he needed only a resume and for one purpose: to apply to an internal directorship at the urging of a VP, also Ernesto's former boss.

My client recognized that although he had been asked to apply, which although a good sign is no guarantee. In the VP's words "I cannot guarantee your selection as two other excellent candidates have applied."

Ernesto came to me to ensure that his submission was as strong as it could possibly be and to get some insight into interview strategies: he was determined to excel in each recruitment step.

Although I thought at first I would only be "tweaking" his resume, I did end up rewriting it, top to bottom. (The only section I did not change was the educational one.)

I wish I could show you precisely what I did! As I cannot, for confidentiality purposes of course, here are a few highlights:

- shortened it considerably - the original scrolled onto a third page and had tight margins. I expanded the margins and ensured the resume was two pages as another page was not needed or justifiable.

- rewrote the profile or summary - the original was 104 words on 10 consecutive lines, whereas my rewrite is 72 words presented in three, 2-line paragraphs. Although shorter, its impact is far stronger. Rather than focus on a synopsis of his roles, I created a branding statement. And by leveraging my own love of words, and inspired by Ernesto's description of his work (I sent him a list of specific questions to reply to), I found fresh language to replace several rather typical phrases.

- injected leadership language - for example: business-critical, reversed historically poor resutls, maximized resources, piloted shift and subsequently rolled out new method, and so on, which replaced ho-hum language such as "built, led, developed, delivered, prepared."

- shortened "additional interests" section - (which could also have been eliminated if space was needed), eliminating references to religion-affiliated volunteering as religion and politics are seldom required in a resume. (I have written resumes for clergy and for those whose careers revolve around a particular political party, where obvioulsy related details are needed!)

The final difference is that I created and supported a professional "brand." Ernesto has incredible analytical skills, far above the norm; he has the ability to gather information, listen to concerns, and serve as an objective mediator; and he reliably models and coaches not only skills but a collaborative spirit. The projects in which he is involved benefit greatly from his involvement.

I'm excited to see how Ernesto's career evolves; certainly he is now well poised to climb his preferred career ladder.

Customer Service

Recently I had two experiences with customer service, one dismal and one exemplary, one with an old established Canadian behemoth and the other with a new, local business.

Bell Canada, our long-time service provider (my husband has used Bell for 40 years or so), disappointed me and left me hanging.

I had to return equipment and even though it was Bell that dropped the ball, not telling me the proper procedure for equipment return and not following through on their part in their own process, the company representative put up barrier after barrier (just envision a "talk to the hand" attitude). It stretched my ability to respond nicely to the max, but I did manage to stay cool and calm.

Conducting a bit of customer service (CS) research, I stumbled upon this idea at Maximizer.

The key to making these [i.e. CS] interactions run smoothly and keeping the customer happy is knowledge.

Bingo! Had the rep had the knowledge of how to resolve the issue, I would have left a much happier customer. After receiving three no's to our quandry of how to return equipment the same day we were leaving the province, and after insisting that a rep call head office to inquire, and after finding out that yes, there was an easy enough solution, I was not impressed with the string of no's.

Contrast this with our experience at 2 Chefs, a restaurant in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. Our need to order gluten free (my husband is a Celiac) was no problem. The server was attentive to service needs, and she also spent a few moments engaging us in lovely conversation. As customers wandered in to this unassuming spot, it was clear that the ambiance - congenial, laid back - was part great quality and part great service.

The food, pictured above, was phenomenal! Home made ketchup, home-made blackberry jam (these grow in wild profusion on the Island), and the gluten free toast was so tender and fresh - and if you've ever eaten gluten free bread, you'll appreciate that this is huge, HUGE!I finished the entire plate, down to the last drop of ketchup and jam, which I never do! I highly recommend this eatery, without reservation.

Yes, two wildly different companies, but CS is a constant in every business that provides a service.

So, any recommendations for a mobile phone service provider? I've no desire to continue helping Bell earn revenues until it steps up its treatment of customers in a bind, which are the ones who need help the most!

As for Two Chefs? We'll be back to the eatery that was born "for the love of food"!

 

Musings on a Resume with Wings

When a client returns to me for a resume update, I have each complete a catch-up questionnaire to begin the process.

A recent client wrote this in his homework questionnaire:

"Work willingly at whatever you do as though you were working for the Lord." (Colossians 3:23)

This was in response to my question "Do you have a quote by which you live?" It sure explains this client's amazing ability to conduct his work on his employer's behalf. His resume gently proclaims his exceptional performance.

Now, I am no longer a religious person, but I remain a strongly spiritual one. I believe, to the core of my being, in the existence of God. My God happens to be non-denominational and I'm quite willing to accept that in God's heart,each faith and denomination are equal, and even those who proclaim to be agnostic, still welcome in Heaven. (My proof comes from a personal experience and no amount of religious dogma will ever sway my conviction. Besides which, my logical brain will not accept the argument that one denomination has it "right" at the expense of all others.)

Today I read Seth Godin's blog, which speaks to the marketing dilemma of shouting louder as in more ads, using more power, vs taking a lighter touch and a more elegant approach by using wings.

And some of his words - Wings use finesse more than sheer force ... Wings work with the surrounding environment, not against it. Wings are elegant, not brutal - spoke to me. Stay with me as I muse aloud.

As a job hunt is a self-marketing exercise, I find many parallels between advertising and my work. I help sell not products, but skills and knowledge. In writing people's resumes, I have to connect their work to the bottom line. In order to get a prospective employer to pay attention, my client's resume must demonstrate how his or her productivity and performance helped in the chase for revenue creation and retention.

However, my constitution bristles, at times, on this results-focused, money-dependant attitude. I know that business depends on profits, but more and more we hear how employers are looking for employees that "fit the culture." Values that come through in personality, motivation, and methodology ... these are equally important (or should be, I would suggest).

For many years I have ensured that each client's ideal employer's values are refelcted on the resume. I want to help each client not only land "a job," but a great-fit job! That way the client is more likely to succeed and to be happy.

Yes, it means that some employers will pass my client by when they note a discrepancy between my client's values and their own, but that's fine! Another and more suitable employer will select my client's resume for an interview, sensing some sort of connection, as well as appreciating the client's skills, knowledge, and proof of productivity and performance.

I feel that adding touches that are super-authentic to the client adds the wings as described by Seth Godin. The "heaviness" that I sense from the focus on "bottom" line results is balanced with the lightness that comes from infusing the values that bring the client joy and give his or her work wings.

Is your resume flawed ... or could it be your perspective?

As a young person, I was often certain that I was right. Now on the wiser side of life, I am quick to consider that I may have something to learn, or at least another point of view to consider. (I find that age, or perhaps wisdom, has drastically reduced my need to  almost always be right. There is something to be said for ageing!)

I realize now that I simply didn't know what I didn't know back then, and didn't even know to consider that something might change my perspective and my mind. Today, however, I seek to discover whether there is something I don't know that could change my mind.

Consider optimism. I am an optimist.

I like the perspective my "rose-coloured" glasses provide, but I am quick to point out that my optimism is tempered with realism.  Seth Godin's blog of the day, The possibility of optimism, adds another layer of consideration to optimism and I quite like it.

Imagine that your resume has not worked for you, that it has not landed any calls or interviews. Based on that track record, you might feel pessimistic about your prospects. However, you've based your sad assumption on the past, that is, your past/existing knowledge of resumes, cover letters, and perhaps LinkedIn strategies.

What if, as Seth points out, you acknowledge that yes, your pessimism was appropriate according to the past, but that yes, optimism may be appropriate in the future?

To quote Seth:

As soon as we realize that there is a difference between right now and what might happen next, we can move ourselves to the posture of possibility, to the self-fulfilling engine of optimism.

I have paraphrased this quote to capture the experience of a thus far unsuccessful job hunter (I will refer to my job hunter as a male in this sentence):

As soon as the struggling job hunter admits that his knowledge of resume strategy may be outdated and less-than effective, he can move himself to the posture of possibility, that is, to seek out a career-fulfilling, optimism-inspiring, modern and effective resume.

Here's another way to approach this: a few job hunters landed an interview for the job you applied to. You know you are qualified, so all things being equal, what's the differentiating factor?

It's in the written word: the successful person used it wisely and the unsuccessful one did not.

The question you must answer is whether you want to be right and potentially jeopardize your career to remain right (and pessimistic), or whether you might be ready to explore a new perspective and embrace realistic, optimistic possibility?

Answering the question of how you fixed a workplace blunder

I've been asked about my weaknesses and strengths (once being asked to list five of each, which I respectfully reduced to one each), but so far I've not been asked about making a mistake at work.

If I were to be asked that question, my first reaction would be like the fellow in the photo, although I'd keep that scream silent!

The recruiter's aim would not be to count you out or make you feel "less than"; rather, it would be more likely related to a) seeing how you react to a bit of stress and b) tapping into your ability to take ownership and resolve a situation.

In this blog - How to Tell a Story in a Job Interview - the writer takes us through answering this exact question. It's a great read and well told; I highly recommend you read it.

I agree with everything; however, I see that there's a missed opportunity to further build confidence in the job hunter as a suitable candidate. Here's what's missing.

Pull in the Skills

What a great opportunity to showcase why you were able to fix your mistake by using the skills you posess. Pointing out the skills (keep them relevant to the new job, of course) you called on to resolve the issue is essential to continuing to build yourself up as an ideal candidate.

You'll find relevant skills in the job posting, and these can be hard skills as well as soft skills. Hard skills are the job-specific competencies and soft skills are related to personality, qualitites, motivation, and talents.

Now the answer is complete and influential. You've taken the issue of having caused a mistake and turned it into an opportunity to "sell yourself." Perfect!

New Leaf Resumes offers award-winning interview coaching for those who see the need to polish up interview ability.

Tooting My Own Horn

There was a time when I worked evenings and weekends, rarely passing up the opportunity to land a new client. Part of the motivation was financial, as building a business has lots of ups and downs for what seems to be a long time, but part was simply because I have a bit of a competitive edge to me!

Today, however, I cannot land every person who reaches out to me as I am simply too busy and receive too many inquiries. I think that there are several reasons why I attract potential clients.

The first is my 10-year track record as a full-time career services provider. In this decade, I built a clientele of thousands and many return for resume updates and refer family, friends, and co-workers.

But lots of businesses do not survive past the first or second year.

I attribute a great deal of my success to the fact that I embrace a "high touch" customer service ethic.

Most clients work with me virtually: we never meet other than in emails or telephone calls. I feel it's important that they have confidence in me as a reliable, trust-worthy partner; hence, I reply to emails as quickly as I can and correspond generously.

Here is a list of what my clients can expect:

- I answer each and every email. If I don't, please email again. Occasionally folks provide me with an address that has a typo (email generated from my website) and I am unable to reply. Sometimes, rarely, but I am human, an email gets buried and I simply forget. Know that I want to be supportive and responsive, not avoidant.

- I also reply to voice mails, typically on the same day.

- I like to surprise repeat clients with a little something - a discount or the odd "freebie."

- I've yet to miss a deadline. If we agree to a date, you can bank on it. Now I did have a colleague for whom I took a last minute client when she ended up in the hospital. I don't promise I'll write from the hospital if this happens to me, but, like my colleague, I'll try to find a replacement! (Knock on wood, I am from hardy stock!)

- I support my clients with loads of additional info - white papers or "how to's" on all kinds of job search topics. Many of these have helped my clients distinguish themselves from the competition and land great jobs, overcoming obstacles like ageism, no Canadian experience, no relevant experience, a gap due to maternity or paternity leave, and more.

- I won't argue with my client. If I disagree, I will share my knowledge and recommend a "best practice" option, and then I, of course, allow my client to make the final decision. After all, the documents do belong to the client who must share them in full confidence. If something doesn't feel right to the client, then by all means, s/he has the right to proceed as s/he prefers.

I often say that I have the best clients. In 10 years few have elected to not pay, perhaps five, and hundreds have sent referrals. I've "fired" only one client out of more than a thousand.

I'm grateful for my clients - for what I've learned, for what they've shared, for how I've been able to be helpful. My job is rewarding and sustaining.

How to Impress Your Interviewer without Saying a Word

This post is not about how to impress with clothes, shoes, or style; it's not about how to impress with great answers to interview questions.

This post is about how to impress your interviewer with the written word.

It's about a leave-behind document.

A long-time client, currently working in a great role for a leading financial service, let's call her Jill, needed help. We've been working together for 8 or 9 years now, during which time she has transitioned through three positions. 

Jill recently found out her position was being reorganized and was given a few short weeks to find another position within her firm. Thankfully her resume was up-to-date and we only had to tweak it a wee bit to get her ready to apply for a couple of suitable postings that came available. Contacted with an invitiation to an interview, and wanting to make sure she did everything she could to land the job offer, she asked whether I could recommend anything else to help her stand out.

I suggested creating a T-chart, which lists the position's requirements, as taken from the job posting, and matches the applicant's corresponding experience, skills, and knowledge.

Having created one, Jill asked for my feedback on her draft. Here's what I told her.

Make it easy to scan: Keep your info in bullet form. Start with a strong and accurate verb. Rather than "assisted," pin down exactly what you did to assist - organized, researched, took notes, kept team members accountable. And keep the verb tense consistent as much as possible. Usually the past tense, unless it's very much a present and ongoing example where the past tense would be potentially confusing or an outright lie.

Give it oomph: If you want your information to have impact, add context. Maybe numbers, maybe name dropping, perhaps outcomes or results - there are tons of ways to ensure that the reader truly understands what your contributions meant to a division, to business, to a project's success, to the bottom line.

Get specific: Now's not the time for generalities. Rather than referring to "communications," narrow it down. Blog, news release, user instructions, meeting minutes, executive report - these are all communication pieces but each is appropriate for a different kind of job. Select your specifics strategically, according to what is needed in the position to which you are applying.

This kind of document serves a few functions.

1. It shows the interviewer (or hiring manager) how serious you are about the position. You put in the time to communicate exactly how you are well suited for the job, and by extension, how fast you're likely to become fully productive.

2. It distinguishes you from your competition. How many job hunters are going to go to this trouble? Very few.

3. Going through this exercise will help you interview well because relevant info will be top of mind. You'll spend less time fumbling and you'll be more confident as you'll be well prepapred. 

Standing out is not about bringing copies of your resume on fancy paper, it's not about having a graphic resume (unless you're in an artistic field), it's not about impressing with flair, pizzazz, or smoke and mirror tactics. It's about knowing exactly why you'll be great in the job and being able to communicate it.

Give it a try.

Resume Strategy - Perception and Influence

It's funny how perception works. I have to admit that I'm impressed by the quality of goods conceived and manufactured in Germany. I noted that about myself just the other day when a friend told me about amazing wall mounted beds she had seen decades ago while visiting relatives in Germany. Apparently wall bed features that I had seen on a current youtube video, which prompted our conversation and which I thought were so terribly clever and modern, she had seen way back when.

Who knows where my perception began? That's what makes us all so unique and so human.

Everyone can be influenced, and no less so recruiters as they review resumes.

In a recent resume, I influenced perception with simple phrases that prefaced bullets that addressed the skills or knowledge to which I wanted to draw to the recruiter's attention.

Given that the resume skim-through lasts only 15 seconds or so, I also bolded these phrases for an easy scannability factor. And, these phrases echoed language from the job posting, which would impress the non-human applicant tracking software that increasingly has "first dibs" on reviewing resume content.

In this client's case, as a Director if IT, the phrases included the following:

Risk Aware/Averse Methodology - and the rest of the bullet gave specifics to how this candidate identifies risk, along with an example of how his method saved hundreds of thousands of dollars

Market Competitiveness - important to his field of expertise, this bullet demonstrated how the projects he had worked on ensured his employer's competitiveness in the market

Unprecedented Projects - this bullet, which anchored the page as the last bullet, would sell almost anyone on his value as it focused attention on the unique and special projects - as well as their results -  that he had worked on

There were others, but this gives you an idea of how the simple use of job-specific words can have the desired influence on an important reader's reaction.

As for the wall mounted bed, in the linked youtube video, you'll see that it's not only practical, but also has fine benefits in terms of space saving and time saving features. The amazing engineering allows a room to have double-purpose and eliminates the need to rearrange adjoining furniture or other paraphernalia. Easy peasy and good for those bedtimes where you're too tired or too lazy to rearrange stuff to get your bed out.

BTW, how influential is your resume? Are your features and benefits immediately visible?