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 ...)."


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

Resume Rules - Yes or No?

In  April I will be facilitating a class for colleagues on resume rules, leading a discussion on which rules can be broken and which must never be breached.

I have to admit that I live a fairly conservative lifestyle, although my points of view are quite liberal. While I don't break a whole lot of societal rules, I have broken out of an overly regimented life with artistic expression, for example. I do bead embroidery of goddess figures and other non-traditional themes, and I have a half sleeve tattoo of colourful flowers symbolizing my ethnic Ukrainian background, further graced by a glorious Scottish thistle for my husband's heritage.

As for resumes, that's where I really bust out of rule-driven strategies and create authentic and strategic documents that are inspired, top to bottom, first word to last by the individual client. (A recent client asked if I have a stash of profiles that I draw from. Never, ever, in 10 years of service have I  copied or plagiarized from a past client or from a colleague's sample.)

I don't need to resort to "borrowing" from others - this is where that creative edge as well as a real love of stringing words together come in handy. The creativity is reserved not for "creative writing" (as in embellishment) but for creating an effective resume strategy.

Today's resume, taking its cue from the recruitment process, is ever evolving. A rule from 10 years ago may have made sense then, but used today it thwarts a job hunter's success rate.

You've heard the admonishment to "stand out"? At one time this meant using colour paper, fancy fonts, resume templates. Today each of these should be thrown out. Most employers no longer accept paper copies of resumes and the fancy font and templated resume potentially screw up a resume's score on the applicant tracking system (ATS), which is a key step of the recruitment process in about 70% of today's employers.

Ditto for the objective statement, which I continue to see on potential clients' existing resumes. It amazes me how that once ubiquitous, but long outdated resume intro hangs on. Did you know that the ATS are not even programmed to pick up an objective statement? No, rather they are looking for a summary or profile, which when well written answer the question "Why should we hire you for this position?"

There are only two rules that I stick to, without fail. I stick to truthful statements and I represent the client with authenticity. Truth refers to facts and figures and the authenticity to personality, motivation, working style, and so on.

Truth ensures that there is never a question of credibility or trustworthiness (grounds for future dismissal if found out).

And the authenticity contributes to each client more likely attracting a like-minded employer and a team that values what s/he brings to the team's dynamic. That in turn contributes to the job hunter's prospects for succeeding in his/her new position.

So how do New Leaf's clients stand out? There is no one answer. For some, I create additional documents that cover aspects of the client's work that would be cumbersome to capture in a 2-page resume. For others, I structure the resume in a unique, but ATS-friendly fashion. That's where my creative edge propels me to reconsider and reinvent, and leave the old rules in the past.

There's one more critical component to creating interview generating resumes: strategy. Without pulling in strategic details - results, accomplishments, recognition - the resume falls flat. It's boring and uninspired, rather than memorable and interesting.

As for resume rules? Be truthful and authentic, but be sure to stand out! If you need help with this, New Leaf is at your service.

Leading Marketer's Tips for Finding a Job

The list of questions below come to you courtesy of Seth Godin's blog. Mr. Godin is a recognized leader in the marketing field and I am often inspired by his posts. After all, the recruitment process, from the job hunter's perspective, is an exercise in SELF-marketing.

When providing potential clients a resume assessment of their existing document, I mostly see historical job descriptions - dry, boring, clone-like lists of duties. These are by no means resumes; they do not market value, which is one of the tips provided in Godin's blog.

Consider these questions:

Can you show me a history of generous, talented, extraordinary [side] projects? (My brackets - I would rephrase this to "side or job-related" projects.)

Have you ever been so passionate about your work that you've gone in through the side door?

Are you an expert at something that actually generates value?

Have you connected with leaders in the field in moments when you weren't actually looking for a job?

Does your reputation speak for itself?

Where online can I see the trail of magic you regularly create?

Each one of these could create phenomenal resume, cover letter, or LinkedIn additions. This is the type of information that I regularly add to my clients' resumes - if the person can cite an example following my prompts and questioning (I know how to dig deep to unearth resume gold).

For example, here's an idea for the second point - demonstrating passion and going in by the "side door." If you've volunteered to join a committee at work because the project was one that used your talents and integrated your values, that would be a great example of this idea:

  • Volunteered to chair our company's first corporate responsibility committee, leveraging knowledge of the subject from my previous job and tapping into a strong personal value; led team of 10 to deliver company's inaugural corporate responsibility statement, and to plan next steps.


  • Promoted to Customer Service Manager role, newly created, in recognition of introducing and implementing 3 successful service measures - while in administrative role - that reduced compaints by 30% and increased customer satisfaction survey score by 20 points, unprecedented in company's history.

As for the last point - about an online trail of magic (love that phrase!), at the very least, today's savvy job hunter must have a professional presence in the form of LinkedIn. With its advanced capabilities, you can now add documents and presentations as links to your profile, creating that "trail of magic" that Mr. Godin so eloquently refers to.

Not sure how to realize this form of resume? Not proud of your shabby LinkedIn? I'd love to help.

A LinkedIn Resource

Following up to the post that precedes this one, here is a link to a service that grades your LinkedIn profile:

This grader will not tell you how well your profile scores for the kind of positions you wish to attract; this grade simply tells you if you've taken all the steps possible to optimize your profile.

Mine scored 95%.

When you work with New Leaf Resumes, you receive a LinkedIn  resource workbook that walks you through this process, with screen shots and clear steps.

I have long thought that LinkedIn can become the new resume, that is, where job hunters will send recruiters in the near future. No more customizing resumes and cover letters, just a LinkedIn invitation or emailing your customized LinkedIn URL.

This may soon be here as a recent client, an engineer, shared that his networking efforts were all resulting in the same ask: to send a LinkedIn invitation. He couldn't bring himself to do this, though, as his LinkedIn was not yet optimized or even well developed.

First things first! The job search trio - resume, cover letter, and LinkedIn - ready to go and then the networking.


The Number One Issue with Cover Letters

I write tons of cover letters. Each client's basic package includes a cover letter, and oftentimes professional and executive level clients return for additional, highly customized versions.

And I see a lot of "before" version cover letters, those written by the client. There is one issue I see in these that would be easy to fix. It actually surprises me that the job hunters themselves don't see this as the overuse of the personal pronoun "I" pops out from the page immediately.

Yes, way too many references to "I." In a current client's cover letter I counted 16 sentences that began with "I."

You might be tempted to ascribe this to an overabundance of personal pride or even boasting, but I can vouch for this client and say that she is not at all puffed up with pride. She is quite a down-to-earth, normal sort.

I think that it's more a case of not knowing how to compose  or proofread effectively.

Here are a few ideas on how to clean up your cover letter's "I's."

  • Switch up the order of the sentence, moving the "I" within the sentence structure. (As a productive team member, I've been known to ...Delegation is integral to my methodology, and I further support successful outcomes with mentoring.)
  • Let one of your colleagues begin the sentence. (Recently a colleague mentioned something I've been told before: You are the most organized person I know."
  • Give credit to your team and let it take centre stage for a sentence or two. (My team, of whom I am quite proud, are reliable, consistent, and productive, for example, rising to the challenge of meeting a critical timeline with time to spare for not only one, but two run-throughs. We delivered what is now called "the smoothest lauch" in the company's history.)
  • Integrate the opinion of industry experts you follow. (In October's issue of The Economist, author --- cited statistics that back up my own methodology ...)

Those four ideas will help you remove several "I" sentences. As for my clients new cover letter? Not one sentence begins with "I."

Cover Letter - Mistakes and Missteps

A recent client, let's call him Sam, is a Senior Manager of Procurement. Sam is top-notch in his field. His New Leaf resume showcases great proof of his value in money saved through aggressive negotiations and other initiatives, and in his contributions to a sustained record of on-time deliveries - all proof of his ability to make purchasing a true business partner.

Strong resume in hand, Sam elected to come up with his own cover letter. (Generally I do not entertain my clients writing their own letters and insist on a package - resume and cover letter - except in extenuating circumstances, as in Sam's case.)

I suggested he pass the cover letter by me before he unleashes on the world, and thank goodness. Not everything on the internet is reliable or of reliably good quality, and the letter Sam sourced is less than stellar.

He found a cover letter on line, not sure where, and "customized" it to his purposes.

Here are a few of the reasons why I suggested to Sam that this letter was not going to get the results he wanted:

1. The language was odd. Yes, it had a distinct non-Canadian flavour, sometimes felt far too "feminine" for Sam's personality, and wasted space on fillers and other non-information space-occupiers.

"you will be delighted" was the feminine bit

"honour me with an interview" was an odd phrase

"my goal right now" is a redundant use of words as a goal refers to a current situation in this case

And these are just a few of many.

2. It was far too junior in its content. The phrase "keeping an office organized" hit me like a tidal wave! It's incongruous with a resume that declares that Sam's work maximizes performance, focuses on a resilient future, and increases market competitiveness.

3. That indescribable quality: style. This letter lacked an inviting style. The opening sentence "In regards to your vacancy, I am sure that you will be delighted to hear from someone like me ..." left me shaking my head. Really?

Contrast that opening sentence with the one from a letter I wrote for another recent client, a Quality Control Manager:

My career spans 20+ years, demonstrates a steady progression - currently as Director of Global Quality - and speaks to my adaptability: I transitioned from manufacturing to global, large-scale construction with great success.

That paragraph says so much more than "I'm sure you'll be delighted." The contrast speaks to the adage "sell, don't tell." Don't tell them they'll be delighted; sell them on your delightful accomplishments. It also overcomes - quite deftly, if I say so myself! - the potential obstacle to this Director's hire as the client once again plans to try a new industry / environment.

There's a heck of a lot more to the cover letter than filling lines with a bunch of words. I truly believe that the written word has the power to influence. The generic cover letter template Sam tried to customize would influence the reader to discount Sam's candidacy, unfortunately. However, a well-written and strategic cover letter has the power to influence a call to action: an invitation to an interview.

Did you know that New Leaf's cover letters were selected to Cover Letters for Dummies, Job Search Letters for Dummies, and Best Canadian Cover Letters? I'd love to be of service if you're in the market for job search self-marketing documents.

Thank you for visiting New Leaf's website. I hope my blogs inspire and inform!


Reckless Abandon

Every once in a while I get totally inspired by another blog. Today is one of those days and the blogger who inspired me is Seth Godin. Reckless Abandon is the title of today's blog.

It's super short, so do read it first. Seth is a marketer, and since resumes, etc., are self-marketing pieces, his blogs often inspire me.

Sometimes I bet hiring a professional resume writer, at a premium fee, who you've never met and likely never will, who as far as you know exists only on the internet, can absolutely feel like reckless abandon. And throwing that old, faithful servant, your existing resume, into the trash might feel like that too!

But might I suggest that sometimes it's absolutely necessary?

If that old resume isn't landing you any interviews, or only landing interviews for jobs you don't really want (maybe below your capabilities?), maybe it's just old and tired, outdated and ineffective? Maybe the trash is exactly where it needs to go?

If your own skills are not able to improve that cliched resume, maybe it's worthwhile taking a chance on an unknown, remote-from-you resume strategist?(Hey, I admit that I can't do your job and believe me, not everyone is a good writer, and even fewer know how to write strategically.)

If you're thinking about hiring a professional, do "google" my name to assure yourself that I'm not only real, but really good at what I do! :-) Forgive me if that doesn't sound humble. There was a time when I wasn't particularly skilled at anything in my life - I was a pretty good cook, a decent staff member, an avid crafter, but an expert in anything? No. Once I discovered that I loved to write and then tapped into the world of resumes, I took off! And yes, I am now an expert. I can own that title.

Reckless abandon is sometimes the perfect strategy to better things! Here's another one: I left a good-paying, pensioned position to be self employed, which would fit some people's definition of "reckless abandon," but I don't regret it. Rather than reckless, it was self-discovery and far from abandoning anything, again, I found myself.

Well, I think that's enough of that early-morning ramble! On to my day of interview coaching, editing and emailing a recent client's resume, cover letter, and LinkedIn, and a wrap up call with another recent client, before I can call it a day! Have a good one .... Stephanie

Mark your calendars

Yesterday I devoted some time to listening to Career Professionals of Canada's incredibly generous presentations, recorded in celebration of this Canadian leader's 10th anniversary to coincide with Canadian Career Week 2014.

As one of the presenters, I got a sneak preview. And I was blown away by how comprehensive, generous, and useful the many presentations are!

From career management to job hunting to the job market scene, there are six broad categories in all with several presentations within each that develop the different aspects of the topic.

The three recordings in which I participated include:

Different People, Different Challenges - Stephanie Clark: Dealing with Barriers in the Resume

Generational Career Intelligence - Stephanie Clark: How New Grads Can Stand Out

The Resume that You Need Today - Stephanie Clark: How to Showcase Transferable Skills

These recordings will be available - free of charge - for the week of November 3rd.

Mark your calendars now! This link will provide you with more information:

"See" you there!

"Resurgent BlackBerry hiring 350 engineers"

So declares an article in Saturday's Waterloo Region Record! A BlackBerry user, I just knew that the company would recreate itself and rise from the ashes. It's good news for those of us who use the BB, and great news for Waterloo Region as well.

Along with the soon-to-be filled engineering positions, CEO John Chen said "We have a lot of openings right now."

The engineering positions seem to be focused on co-op and new grads, but I would venture to say that other engineers who fit the BB model will be considered. Prove your value and you've got a chance.

And the other positions are in "a lot of places," says Chen, "enterprise sales, software people." I bet there are a few admin positions and other supportive roles.

So, how's your resume looking? Is it top notch to compete with the other top applicants? BB is focused on growth and innovation; it isn't looking for slackers and run-of-the-mill applicants. Does your resume convey energy, quality, productivity?

If you're feeling like your resume murmurs "mediocre" rather than passionately proclaims "top-notch candidate," consider hiring a professional to kick that document up a few notches. New Leaf is available to support your bid, and knows how to take a resume from mediocrity to excellence.

Job Hunt Woes and Wins

It continually surprises me how haphazardly most job hunters approach the job hunt!

Let me share an analogy. If you were buying a car, you'd research which manufacturer you prefer, narrow down the type of car, and then go find a suitable new or used actual car. Or, if you wanted to take on a craft as a hobby, you'd narrow down your choices and the ones you'd dabble in would likely have some commonality - perhaps requiring a sewing machine (or not requiring one!), perhaps requiring only a small investment in materials and do-dads, and then you'd select one to give a try.

And yet, when facing a job search, too many people launch a wily-nily job hunt with nary a thought of narrowing down options. It puzzles me.

I've had accomplished Operations Managers, for example, who, desperate to get out of their current positions, thought they'd apply to an Administrative Assistant job, or a Sales Rep job. Really? First of all the salary of the Admin Assist is nowhere near their current one, and secondly, without any real sales results to share (as in bringing in the bacon), their sales resume would reap them no benefits, i.e., no interviews, no offers.

It is critical to have a target. A goal. A focus. An end in mind.

Without knowing what you want - and keeping an eye on realistic expectations - your search will be long and quite likely unsuccessful. I suggest that the only way you can make an unusual change is through networking and even that's iffy.

Today's formula to a short job search is "who you know" and "what you know." To support the fact that you have the necessary credentials, you must add a context and key-word rich resume, a well-composed cover letter, and a LinkedIn profile and headline that support your other documents and continue building your "brand"; now you're on your way.

Yes, it's a lot of work, but taking the time to establish the above foundational steps will reap rewards in a shorter and more successful job search. And for those with no network to "work," a strong foundation ensures landing interviews with the resume/cover letter alone.

Besides landing interviews, going through the above process can help in yet another critical way: you can land much better initial offers. A higher starting salary and negotiation power (three or four weeks holiday to start perhaps?) is well worth the effort, don't you think?

100 Job Search Tips - and it's absolutely free of charge!

It's that time of year when we enjoy the gift of giving, and no less so here at New Leaf!

If you're job hunting or otherwise in career transition, you may benefit from an 11 page report available right here on my website. It will be posted until perhaps the New Year.

You'll find it on the Career Article page - it's the first entry - 100 Job Search Tips.

Covering areas such as Social Media, Networking, How to Dress and lots more, it offers tips to make your efforts more effective. Some may not apply, but I bet you that most will. Some you may already be using but you'll undoubtedly find more that you've not considered!

The job search takes strategy, and that is one piece that I honestly feel most job hunters don't incorporate into their plans.

Strategy is defined as "plan of action resulting from strategy or intended to accomplish a specific goal" and "art and science of planning and marshalling resources for their most efficient and effective use." Originally based on military goals, job hunting can sure feel like a battle. Certainly we can feel "battle-weary" when in a job hunt, and I speak from experience.

What kind of plan and strategy do you have? What are the resources you're marshalling? Do you have a strategic resume? Have you considered what your interview strategy will be? These are key questions for an effective, productive, speedier road to the coveted job offer.

I hope you find ideas that will inspire hope and instigate action. Do let me know if you are inspired!

- working to eliminate mediocrity and promote excellence in resumes, cover letters, and interviews! Stephanie

Is it ever okay to sign off your cover letter with "namaste"?

Joyce Lain Kennedy, America's first nationally syndicated career columnist, has now authored eight career books. She writes in a spirited voice, shares practical advice that has years of real-world knowledge to back it up, and her books are full of examples.

And, I am so pleased to say, this is the second of her books to which I have been invited to contribute. In fact, when I received my copy in the mail last week, I counted eight of my samples - yes, I counted! It's a real thrill and honour to join other industry leaders in this book!

So, is it okay to sign off a cover letter with something other than "Sincerely," "Regards," "Yours truly"?

Of course it is! And one of my samples (page 75) does just that. Here is what Joyce L. Kennedy wrote about that ending:

A national health care practitioner (CHERMAINE) weaves a personal history into her letter to a health food products sales manager, suggesting that she is a good fit in the health food culture by closing with "Namaste," a conventional Hindu expression, usually stated while holding the palms together vertically in front of the bosom.

Kennedy preceded the sample with this paragraph:

Simply being remembered as a qualified individual among faceless hoards of candidates is a big threshold to cross. A memorable story helps employers recall individuals when deciding who to interview. Notice the humanizing touches that bring readers closer to good feelings about unknown candidates in the two following samples.

That letter is an interesting one. In it my client claims that "I admit that you will have a challenge with me ..." but I'll leave that for another journal!

- here to support my clients with industry-leading practices, Stephanie



Recently I have seen a few resumes that I would class as "resu-letters." Submitted by potential clients, these are written in paragraph style and use the pronoun "I." Traditionally resumes contain neither paragraphs nor the personal pronoun.

(I'm not saying that you musn't use these at all in resumes, just that usually these are not used.)

There's a use for resu-letters. As the word suggests, the document is a hybrid; more detailed that the typical cover letter and thus longer too at two pages. This is a great self-marketing tool to use when introducing yourself to unadvertised opportunities.

But is it the best format for a resume used to apply to a job? Probably not. The text is dense and will put off the harried recruiter. He has plenty of applicants to choose from these days and is quite likely to set a dense resume aside in favour of a quick read.

Another good use would be if you have made contact with the hiring manager and can send your resume directly to her, skipping the HR resume cull. A resu-letter could potentially capture the hiring manager's interst - if it's well-written and relates what you did to the bottom line. Such a letter cannot list your accountabilities; if it does it risks putting the reader to sleep!

To attract attention the content must develop your brand or reputation while sharing examples of what your employment meant to past employers. If you haven't included info on how you saved money or time, enhanced reputation, built partnerships, brought revenue-generating ideas to the table and so on, your resu-letter will end up ruining a valuable chance to advance to the head of the recruitment line.

- setting the stage with masterful resumes, and yes, resu-letters, cover letters, LinkedIn profiles etc!


Great question about resume guarantees

Yesterday a new grad contacted me about my services. I love working with new grads because their careers are in such a vulnerable state! Take the wrong job or launch your job search with sub-optimal documents and poof! career aspirations go dry.

She had some great questions. "Some services offer a guarantee that if you don't land a job in 60 days, they will rewrite your resume."

Here is an abridged version of my reply:

I welcome all questions as my service is about quality and realistic expectations. Unless your focus changes between my writing and your job search, major tweaking won't be necessary - that's quality. As for realistic expectations, read on!
I don't offer that guarantee, and honestly don't know how anyone could. When you consider the variables, it would be impossible. Depending on the field of studies, for example, teaching, you might have to begin not as a full-time teacher, but in supply teaching. My clients land supply teaching jobs whereas others do not. Or social work is also highly competitive and requires incremental steps up that career ladder.
What if a new grad had unrealistic expectations and applied only to jobs that were step two on the career path, not step one? How could I possibly tweak that person's resume to match the requirements without being untruthful?
What if the new grad had two possible targets but only wanted one resume and then only found jobs in the second target area to apply to and used the resume that targeted the alternative position and thus didn't land any interviews?
What if the target job is elite and rare? (I had a forensic psychologist once who landed a few contracts, but it took a year to land a real job.)
As you can see, there are situations that could not meet that guarantee.
I do however send out a handout with the resume and cover that walks you through identifying the tweaks needed and incorporating them into the resume/cover letter. I also offer ongoing support as you launch your job search. (I haven't yet charged any client for  this privilege as all have been respectful of my time. Some ask a few more questions and others no questions and it all evens out at my end.)
Also, I assess the resume I create against an Applicant Tracking System to see how well it does, and tweak further to make sure your resume scores well. I cannot think of anything else that could be done to ensure success in landing interviews. Landing a job offer then relies on your interviewing skills (I offer interview coaching as well).
Every job search benefits from strategically composed documents - resume and cover - but each one requires unique approaches. That's the value in the New Leaf experience. No one size fits all methodology here.
- creating custom documents for the discriminating buyer who values quality and realism rather than meaningless guarantees - Stephanie

The Executive Cover Letter

Over the years I have written thousands of cover letters (and intro letters, thank you notes, email blurbs, etc!). Although most are succinct one-pagers at less than 300 words, I do also compose comprehensive 2-page cover letters. I can hear the gasps now! "Hasn't she heard that recruiters have an allergy to reading long letters? And that some don't even bother?"

Of course I've read these kinds of admonishments (I read voraciously to stay on top of potential changes and real changes, and to reliably distinguish between these!).

Here are a few situations when a 2-pager makes sense:

- an executive level letter of interest or introduction. You could also call this a resu-letter as it is sent without a job posting, just as a "howdy-do" to introduce your skills, interests, and value to an employer of choice.

- an application for a "C" level posting. At this level, a 2-pager is almost expected. It all depends on the candidate, on the posted requirements, and the field. In some fields, a few snappy results-focused statements will suffice; in others, snappy and quick doesn't fit the role, the industy, or the person.

- an application to select government postings. These are "read" by a computer first, parsed by Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) that care not whether the cover letter is one page or more (and whether the resume is three pages or seven!). Government postings often define what must be - MUST BE - in the cover letter. Defy this requirement and you are sure to be rejected by the pre-programmed ATSystem!

Rules such as the one page cover letter may be broken when reason dictates that it's a good idea.

Working to YOUR career's success! - Stephanie

 p.s. did you know that snail-mailed info is more effective? If you are introducing yourself when there is no job posting, don't email, snail-mail!

When everyone has the same tools

Such is the title of  one of Seth Godin's blogs this week. The rest of the blog follows:

...then having a tool isn't much of an advantage.

The industrial age, the age of scarcity, depended in part on the advantages that came with owning tools others didn't own.

Time for a new advantage. It might be your network, the connections that trust you. And it might be your expertise. But most of all, I'm betting it's your attitude.

When you apply to a job you are competing with many who apply citing the same skills, similar experience and even equal credentials - the same tools. How then can you communicate your difference, your advantage?

Attitude, in this case, may refer to your attitude to each step of the job search. What's your attitude to the resume and cover letter, to interviewing, to the job search? Do you believe that there are better ways to do things, or do you figure it's all the "same old"?

Do you believe that a strategic resume can outperform the "standard" resume? Do you trust a writer's ability to out-write most others? Do you think that each incremental improvement you put in place will boost your standing, bit by bit, until you are at or close to the top of the heap of applicants?

And, once in an interview, do you project an attitude of being an equal partner in the interview process ... or do you give your power away to the team of interviewers, fearing their judgment, expecting to be cut from the list, secretly waiting for the inevitable?

Attitude - self-defeating or empowering - may be the one last advantage in this world of ever-quickening evening out of "tools."

I love helping my clients tap into their splendid "advantages" by communicating each person's "wow" factors in their resume, cover letter, interview and job search. I absolutely believe in the power of the written word, the spoken word, the unspoken attitude ... In service, Stephanie

Reconsidering the Cover Letter

Cover letters used to be uber-business-like, and this influence lingers on. "Please accept my application for the position of writer that was advertised in the Toronto Star on Thursday, March 16, 2012." Does that inspire you to read on?

It inspires me to yawn, quite frankly, and I wouldn't willingly read on. (Poor recruiters!)

The cover letter is actually a piece of marketing. It markets you, the "product," to the employer, the "buyer." If you doubt that replacing the business mindset with a self-marketing spin is more effective, you might be looking for a job much longer than necessary.

For those who are resisting (I feel that stubborn energy coming through!), self-marketing is not about "Wow! Zowie! you'll be amazed with our product!"; it's about "you won't regret hiring someone with my abilities, skills and knowledge as I will save you money / bring in sales / safeguard your reputation (fill in your job's goals here)."

So how do you recreate your cover from a boring bit of business correspondence, dry as a piece of unbuttered toast, into a compelling compilation of incredible information? Let me give you some ideas:

Who cares where you saw the ad - it matters not. Skip that boring irrelevant nonsense and capture your reader immediately with a story or a question.  For example:

  • "I recently graduated with a 3.85 GPA from University of Smartfolk where I was a research assistant to the amazing Dr. Paula Cleever, who is also the psychology department chair."
  • "Last year I saved my company over $2Million - and it's not the first time I've done so. I am looking for my next opportunity, and your company's ad caught my attention."
  • "Could you use a sales pro who exceeded sales goals in each of the last nine quarters?"

Those openings immediately draw the reader in with info that speaks to the writer's value to their company - great marks, a great mentor, amazing results.

Most cover letters that I review (I offer free resume and cover letter assessments) are uninspired and uninspiring. They simply restate the resume's content in some fashion. What a missed opportunity to build on that content with more insight into how they work, and what they've accomplished.

Here's an idea for the body of the cover letter:

  • If you structured your resume in a reverse chronological order, use a skills-based approach in your cover letter. Pull together how your Service Orientation, Administrative Skills, and Supreme Organization made your former boss's life much easier, smoother, reliably predicatable.
  • You might highlight a few talents, such as Ideation, Strategy, Adaptability, and demonstrate how these traits made you far more effective at your role - likely a creative, future-focused, business-building role with these traits.
  • Or focus in on one relevant project and paint a picture of an ideal candidate by pulling in all the skills needed in that role. A National Coordinator might define a project that required gathering business intelligence, planning focus group research, conducting industry media analysis and so on.

There are countless ways to write an engaging cover letter. If you need help, New Leaf offers an e-book "20 Best Cover Letters (Plus One)" that features samples to get your creativity flowing. Of course, New Leaf loves writing cover letters as well. In fact, several of my letters, interview leave-behinds and other self-marketing one-pagers will be featured in Joyce Lain Kennedy's "Job Search Letters for Dummies" 2013.

I'm on a mission to save the world from mediocre cover letters! - Stephanie

Resume vs Cover Letter

It's hard to believe that three weeks have slipped by since my last blog post. In that time we did host friends from Ontario. And they kindly hosted us to a few days in Tofino, Canada's western-most town.

What a wild place! Waves, whose power you can sense from afar, wash up and over the sand beaches with relentless repetition; outrageous bull whip kelp ( are heaped here and there, buzzing with flies of unknown variety; and people stand staring at the ocean's expanse, mesmerized. (That's Richard and I posing for our photo at Canada's edge, and yes, we have matching jackets. We are frugal shoppers and these were half price! There's an added bonus too: they reliably bring smiles to peoples' faces!)

It is a singular experience, that place where the sidewalk ends.

Good thing I love how I earn my living as vacation interludes end and it's back to work!

In the past few weeks I have heard the same comment from a few potential or existing clients. It seems that some people put most of their effort into the cover letter, in terms of customizing the content to the job applied to, and leave the resume somewhat more generalized.

This is flawed thinking folks, and here is why.

The cover letter is not read or perused reliably, but the resume is. If the recruiter sees no value in your resume's content, why would he or she take the time to check your cover "just in case," when there are many resumes to parse?

Remember that your goal is to be selected for an interview, and the recruiter's goal is to reduce the pile of applicants to a short-list of a few, meaning that he or she is looking for reasons to eliminate as many as possible. If you've lost the recruiter's interest with a generic resume, you've given the recruiter a reason to eliminate your application.

Here's a little exercise: Which of the two summary examples below would be of interest to you if you were hiring an HR Assistant?

"team player with flexibility, commitment and a strong desire to succeed ... excellent interpersonal skills and communication skills."


"experienced HR Assistant who works collaboratively to implement corporate goals, joins teams and committees struck to review corporate policies vs new legislation, and who has earned a reputation as a one-person data-entry maximizer."

I see the first example in, not just HR Assistant resumes, but in many resumes, right across the board from entry to senior level, from blue collar to professional.

Don't provide an employer with reasons for your elimination! In all your correspondence, use exact language, specify your skill types, and WOW!!! the recruiter. 

Working to Your Career's Success, Stephanie


The Fast Pace of Change in the Workplace

It's likely no surprise to anyone that change is constant. Communication is now instant texting (that's how I keep in touch with my daughters), international recipes are available online rather than exclusively in hard copy books, and bird watchers have apps that identify bird songs.

Of course change is no less rampant in the workplace. In fact, a survey by Accenture Canada, a business consultant, found that 63 per cent of Canadian workers were expected to learn new skills within the last five years. However, only 27 per cent provided the required learning.

This leaves workers in a precarious position. If you don't undertake your own training, you may one day find yourself unemployed and unemployable!

I love learning and take courses throughout the year. I must if I am to advise and serve my clients with any authority! Changes are no less rampant in career management than elsewhere. Think Applicant Tracking Systems, online presence, and Graphic Resumes for starters!

Whose responsibility is it, anyways, to understand what is changing and what is needed? Is it yours, the workers, or theirs, the employers? If you are serious about career management, don't even ask - take initiative, be proactive, and manage your career. Stay up to date by subscribing to your professional publications, join on-line groups of like-credentialed workers, ask questions and yes, pay for your own training if you must. It's your career and thus your responsbility. And, with this up-to-date training and knowledge you are a valuable commodity. That means you either get to keep your job or once let go, you are highly desireable. And what that means is that you can command a higher salary.

My "Gold Leaf" clients receive a value-packed resource - How to Negotiate Salary and Raises - with their resume/cover letter package. I believe in the power of career management and in empowering my clients for success! All the best, Stephanie