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The Now, The New & The Next in Careers

Resume & Cover Letter Articles

Stay ahead of the curve with insights from our CTL Associates.

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  • 20 Feb 2011 4:09 PM | Anonymous

    By Charlotte Weeks

    Executive-level clients frequently ask me if they need cover letters. They’re not convinced anyone reads them, and they often wonder if writing them is worth the time and effort. These concerns are not completely unfounded. About one-third of hiring managers will never look at a cover letter, another one-third will go back and look after reading the resume, and the final one-third will go through the resume IF the cover letter catches their attention. Since you don’t know which category the reader will fall into, it’s best to play the odds and include a well-written one. Even if these statistics convince people they need a cover letter, they’re still not sold on the fact that it should be a good one. I’m here to convince you otherwise! Consider the following:

    1) Applicant Tracking Systems search cover letters. Keywords are terms that companies use to automatically screen candidates when they receive hundreds of resumes. The cover letter gives you an additional opportunity for including potential keywords.

    2) In a situation where there are multiple candidates for each job, it’s to your advantage to use any edge you can.

    3) Personal stories can make a difference. If you strongly believe in an organization’s mission, and you don’t bring this out in the cover letter, you could be missing an opportunity. Especially in associations, leaders look for candidates who believe in their cause. In fact, Michelle Obama ultimately got her job with the City of Chicago after Valerie Jarrett (the hiring manager) was moved by her cover letter.

    Though writing a powerful cover letter takes time, it may not be as much as you thought. They should just be one page and “less is more” – 3 to 4 paragraphs is all you need. Plus, once you have your first letter written, you should only need to customize a few sentences for each new position.

  • 09 Feb 2011 4:17 PM | Anonymous

    By Kathleen Sullivan

    If you are a job seeker over 40 and are concerned that your age can get in the way of being considered for a job, be sure that your resume does not give away your age. The language, format, and content you include in your resume can date you. Here are ten tips for writing your resume that will reflect your qualifications for the position you are seeking rather than revealing how close you are to collecting retirement benefits.

    Tip one: Avoid language that signals that you are concerned about your age. Job seekers over 40 often open their resumes with adjectives like “Energetic” or “Youthful” to convey that they can compete with younger applicants.  Instead of using language that highlights that you are older, show how engaged and current you are with state of the art business trends and practices.

    Tip two: Exclude your total number of years of work experience. Just because you have over 25 years of experience in an industry or profession does not mean that you are more successful or competent than a younger applicant. It is what you accomplished in those 25 years and how you can leverage your experience for a new employer that makes you valuable. Your competitive advantage is not total years, but your results in how you led people or projects, attracted or retained clients, made or saved money, or introduced or improved business processes.

    Tip three: Limit your resume to the most recent 12 -15 years of professional experience. If you try to document your entire work history of 25 to 30 years of experience, inevitably you will include industries, roles, business practices, and technologies that have become obsolete. Even if this experience was novel or impressive at the time, it has lost its relevance and value. Your resume should focus your most recent 12 – 15 years’ experience and the most current business practices and technologies you have applied.  If you have experience from over 15 years ago that is critical to selling your qualifications for a position, add a section called “Additional Accomplishments” and do not include dates. This will support your candidacy, but not draw attention to your age.

    Tip four: Omit your dates of graduation. When you list college or graduate/professional degrees, do not include the dates, which will pinpoint your age. Also, if you received a degree or professional credential over 20 years ago, what you learned at that time may be out of date or irrelevant now.

    Tip five: Include recent certifications and training. If you have completed a professional certification or training in your industry or in leadership skills, business processes, or state of the art technology, include a section on your resume entitled “Recent Professional Development.” Demonstrate any knowledge or specialization you have gained in emerging industries or professions that are in demand. Convey that you stay current and are a lifelong learner.

    Tip six:  Downplay titles. Many organizations have become flatter and have eliminated layers of management. If you focus on your past titles or any entitlements they suggest, you may be perceived as someone who is not able to function in a more modern and streamlined organization.

    Tip seven: Showcase your project and team based experience. Companies are currently organizing work around projects that are managed by teams. Highlight your project based experience and demonstrate your skills and accomplishments working on teams. Provide examples of experience leading or participating on global or virtual teams. List any project management certifications or training you have attained.

    Tip eight: Sell, rather than tell, about your experience. Job seekers over 40 will describe themselves as “Veteran” or “Seasoned” to indicate that they have extensive work experience. However, these words suggest that you are older, but do not promote the actual experience you have that is relevant and valuable to the potential employer.  Gain the employer’s interest in your experience by citing the projects, clients, and technologies that you been involved with and the results you achieved. 

    Tip nine: Include metrics to demonstrate your effectiveness. Highlight your worth to a potential employer by quantifying the results you have achieved. Stating in your resume that you are “Proficient in” or “Excel at” at something is vague, unconvincing, and does not communicate what you can contribute to an employer. Use numbers and percentages to show how many people you managed, the dollar value of a sale, revenue from a project or new client, and money saved by your efforts. Again, this is an advantage over younger candidates because they may have not had the opportunities yet to achieve comparable results.

    Tip ten: Communicate that you are versatile and flexible. Change is the only constant in business these days. Industries, companies, and jobs continuously evolve and you must show that you are able to adapt. Include examples where you have dealt successfully with industry and business change:  rapid growth, mergers, acquisitions, downsizing, and re-organizations. Project that you are a change agent and welcome new ideas and situations.

    A resume is one of your key tools to promote yourself for the next step in your career. You are creating and substantiating the image that will be perceived in the job market. If you strategically choose the language, format, and content you use in your resume, you will be seen as a viable and valuable candidate, and age will not be an issue.

  • 20 Aug 2010 1:52 PM | Anonymous

    By Laurie Smith

    This is a question I hear ever more frequently from my executive clients; in years past, the answer to the question would have been a resounding "Yes!" However, in the cyberspace world we now occupy, the answer is not quite so simple, and would have to be an equivocal "It depends." Surely employers and recruiters have a legitimate need to know where candidates under consideration reside, for purposes such as evaluating whether relocation will be necessary/worthwhile and factoring in length of commute. (A long commute, whether you are willing or not, is perceived by an employer as an impediment to both your commitment to the position and potentially to reliability in being at work on time.) There is also the potential for giving the impression one is trying to hide something, which is never good. So there could be considerable push back from recruiters who want to see this information, or worse, omitting the information could eliminate you from consideration without your being aware of it.

    However, there are legitimate and compelling reasons for leaving off your address. When your resume is uploaded to online sites and into corporate and recruiter databases, there is a potential for identity theft and security risk when details of residence and other contact information are supplied with a document that already reveals so many details that define you. In my view, putting your full address and your home phone number on a document that is widely accessible on the Internet is unwise. If you are sending your resume directly to a potential employer or recruiter, it will be relatively safe to include this information.

    I recommend maintaining a variation of your document that provides one contact phone number (preferably cell), an email address (you may wish to set up a separate email address for job search), and your city, state, and zip of residence (street address omitted) for use online. You might also set up a P.O. box for your job search. However, as use of a P.O. box has tended historically to make employers think you are hiding something or do not really live in the area indicated, I recommend city, state, and zip only for online use. Including the zip will be sufficient in most cases for automated systems that screen resumes based on candidate location.

  • 09 Jun 2010 4:44 PM | Anonymous

    By Laurie Smith

    I was once alerted by a colleague to an article that tells readers to ban the ten phrases listed from their resumes. These include phrases and statements such as "I am a team player;" "I have great communication skills;" "I have a proven track record;" "I am a skilled problem solver;" "I assisted with;" "I have a strong work ethic;" "I am bottom-line focused;" "I am responsible for X;" "I am self-motivated;" and "I am accustomed to fast-paced environments."

    Of course, you know that you would never phrase these things in your resume using the personal pronoun "I"--in a resume the personal voice is used; the personal pronoun is implied but omitted (commonly called the telegraphic style). I do agree with a couple of the caveats in the list:

    1. There are much more powerful ways of indicating your contributions than the phrase "assisted with," so avoid this phrasing where something else can accurately indicate what you did in a more forceful manner.

    2. Overuse of the phrase "responsible for" creates a boring, position description style resume. However, limited use of the phrase is certainly OK, as long as you avoid giving the reader an exhaustive listing of every detailed function that was involved in your job. "Responsible for" should NEVER appear in accomplishment statements, but only judiciously in the part of each employment entry that tells the reader what the scope of your position entailed. Wherever possible, use more powerful phrasing. For example, instead of saying "Responsible for $55 million operating budget," you could say, "Managed, optimized, and controlled $55 million operating budget."

    Other than the preceding two items, however, I would have to part company with the author. "Soft skills" are featured prominently in the wish lists of many employers as they develop a job requisition. They appear routinely in job postings, and are going to be keyword searched in resume databases. So if you exclude them arbitrarily from your resume, you will not be doing yourself a service.

    That being said, these words and phrases are empty and meaningless unless accompanied by proof that you do indeed bring these qualities to the table! You must vividly show your reader how you have exhibited them in your work experiences, with specific, concrete examples liberally distributed throughout the resume. What I have heard from recruiters throughout my resume writing career is that, yes, they will pass right over a resume that is full of fluff and no substance, making bold, unsupported claims of particular skills and personal qualities. However, they DO want to be shown that a candidate possesses them and has applied them effectively throughout an accomplished career.

    So, the bottom line is: Yes, you can and should use these phrases in your resume. Indeed, some of them will likely be part of your personal brand. However, if you use them without any supporting documentation, the resume will be viewed as just another puffed up, aggrandized series of statements with nothing to back them up.

  • 06 Jun 2010 4:58 PM | Anonymous

    By Gerry Corbett

    What you say and how you say it matter significantly. Your words and the choice of the words you employ say much about you, your character, your integrity, your brand and the very essence of who you are and what you represent. So as you write your resume, your cover letters, your social-platform profiles, your blog, your twits and other prose, pay critical attention to your words and how you use them. Here are some thoughts to keep in mind to help you stay true to your character and resonate with your personal brand. 

    1. Write like you speak. Use words that are natural to your inner voice. Do not use vocabulary that does not fit your personality.

    2. Use simple declarative sentences -- a subject, verb and object. Keep it simple and succinct.

    3. Tell a story. From our infancy, we are read stories that entertain, engage and educate. It is a form of communications to which we all have become accustomed. Use words that tell a story and paint a picture of the point of view that you hold, the achievements you have made, the opinions you have and the knowledge you possess.

    4. Say what you know and believe. Speak from your experience, your knowledge, your research, your understanding, your premise. Forget invention unless fiction is your intention.

    5. Be honest. Tell what is true. Do not lie, obfuscate, hide or distort. Human nature is savvy. People can often sense insincerity. Even if, in some cases, the insincerity is not obvious, the truth will out.

    6. Use active voice. People often respond better to language that is energetic. So in simple terms make the subject the actor and the object the recipient of the action. An example: “The company benefitted greatly from my focus on return on invested capital” is passive. Instead use: “My strong focus on return on invested capital significantly improved the company’s financial position.” 

    7. Edit yourself. It is human nature that we can be our own worst critic. Yet, we can also be great editors if we give enough time and space in between writing and editing. So after you have written your latest blog or cover letter, sleep on it, then edit. 

    8. Get other opinions. Sometimes the people who best know us can be authentic editors. They can tell us if our voice is stretched, out of tune or not in sync. Objective critics can sometimes be that final tuning fork that makes our words and word strings harmonize.

  • 10 Apr 2010 7:40 PM | Anonymous

    By Kate Duttro

    Every academic needs to invest in a kitchen sink resume/portfolio! There, I’ve said it. It still feels radical – but right. So, what do I mean, and why do I say that?

    First, a definition: a kitchen sink resume includes every job (full- or part-time, even paid or volunteer internships or temp gigs) you’ve ever had, and any other experiences that gave you joy, satisfaction and pride – even including hobbies, vacations and family activities. Forget the page and time limits. The kitchen-sink resume can occupy many pages, and the more detailed the information, the better. It’s almost certainly an electronic file that you can simply add to, as you complete jobs and projects, and as you add education/training and skills/abilities to your list of accomplishments. If you can expand it to include actual examples or representations of your work (evidence of your skills, abilities and knowledge), it’s called a career portfolio.

    Second, the why: you’re keeping it more for your own record (especially if you write your own resumes), than for anyone else to see. But, it’s also vital to anyone you would hire to write a resume for you, because they need that information to be able to write the best resume. If you ever apply for government jobs, especially any that require security clearances, you’ll need the detail of specific job information, such as employer name(s), address, exact dates of employment, managers’ name(s), phone, email, etc. Keep a description of the job responsibilities, the skills required to fulfill them, and list what you did to go beyond the job descriptions, and your accomplishments in each job.

    Even if you never apply for a government job, you can refer to your kitchen-sink resume information to keep your resumes and applications accurate, so you don’t accidentally give false information that could confuse (or lose) a potential employer who suspected the worst. This information also can be the foundation of your analysis (with or without the help of a career professional) of your own preferred skills. You’ll be able to look at your work history and recognize your work preferences. As you engage in that process, you may come to recognize and be able to more fully articulate your strengths and transferable skills, which you can use in future, more specifically targeted resumes.

    As an academic, you already have a greater skill in analysis than most people. This kind of data collection gives you a unique perspective on your own career history, and you may come to see patterns you hadn’t noticed as you were living your work. You can use that information to help structure your work to fit your strengths more closely, and you’ll be able to work more efficiently, and at least equally important, happier.

    Of course, considering this time in the history of academic institutions, when the number of tenure-track jobs is decreasing and the number of higher-degree graduates is increasing, knowing how to articulate your career skill patterns will be a significant advantage if you decide (or are forced)  to look beyond the academic job market. You need to be able to articulate your skills to an audience of employers who don’t know enough about your world to understand it. Do it for yourself – your future self. Your investment of nothing more than time may pay off big for you.

  • 09 Apr 2010 7:42 PM | Anonymous

    By Laurie Smith

    Every few weeks I receive a call from a prospective client who seems doubtful that a resume is actually needed at all in an executive level job search. (At this point I chuckle inwardly, wondering why they picked up the phone to call an executive resume writer.) They wonder if networking and interpersonal interaction with prospective employers is replacing the executive resume, or if perhaps all they need is a “marketing letter” or bio—or maybe no documentation at all. Feedback from my clients who leverage their resumes quite successfully as well as from recruiters and hiring executives who are in the trenches of bringing in executive talent is revealing. It indicates that while the resume is not anywhere near dead, its usage and timing in the process of hiring is undergoing a gradual evolution.

    Traditionally, sending in your resume was usually the initial step, followed by the typical sequence of telephone interview, in-person interview, offer, negotiation, and acceptance. Enter social media and the Web. While it is significant that by far the majority of recruiters are Googling a candidate before contacting them based on their submitted resume, even more significant is the fact that many recruiters and hiring managers look to the Internet and particularly networking sites such as LinkedIn FIRST to identify and initiate contact with candidates. They will search for articles you have written or that have been written about you, read your entries on Twitter or your blog, monitor your contributions on forums, and glean a strong picture of you before ever requesting or setting eyes on your resume. Once they contact you, then the resume will come into the picture.

    Of course, how well your resume represents you and makes a business case for why you would make an excellent hire will make or break your candidacy at this point. By the same token, if you are leveraging networking to the hilt in your job search (you are, aren’t you?), a savvy approach is to first establish contact and dialogue with a recruiter or potential employer. Once interest is piqued, the request for your resume will likely ensue.

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