Archive for January, 2012

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Last week we received an email from a reader who after reading one of our posts on resumes inquired whether it was necessary to include a cover letter if you have a personal statement/objective on your resume.  After all they do more or less the same thing, right?  Well, not quite.

Your personal statement is all about you, whereas your cover letter is all about your employer.  Sending your resume without a cover letter is like saying you only care about your needs rather than the employer’s. It’s application etiquette, so make sure you’re in compliance.

Most recruiters and hiring managers would like to see a cover letter.  They want to see written in black and white why you want to work in that particular role for their company. If you don’t say what they want to hear, then it’s on to the next one.

There’s a very easy way to work out what to include in your cover letter: look at the job posting.  Treat the specification like a question that you are answering and exactly match your skills and experience to the job requirements. If you are switching careers and don’t exactly match what the job posting is looking for, use the space to make a case for your transferable skills. Keep in mind that your resume is factual whereas your cover letter should be persuasive. It’s a sales document; an attention-grabbing bit of writing to make the employer want to meet you.

Seven Steps To Cover Letter Success

  1. Your cover letter is your first chance to get your reader interested – what’s going to grab their attention?
  2.  Always include your name and contact details in case your cover letter and resume get separated.
  3. Address your reader by name – never “To whom it may concern”
  4. Demonstrate your confidence, enthusiasm and self-belief in the first sentence. Make your reader want to know more about you
  5. Don’t start your sentences with “I”. Remember, this letter is for the employer, not for you
  6. Never go over one page.
  7. Double and triple check your spelling and grammar.

First impressions are everything, and this your chance to make a great first impression from the outset.


By Maro Onokpise

The part of the interview that could determine whether or not you’re going to move on in the process or not is when the interviewer asks you if you have any questions.  I’ve been hearing from a lot of hiring managers and recruiters that they are amazed at the amount of people that don’t have any questions.

This is the opportune time to make one final impression on a potential employer. Unfortunately, a lot of job seekers aren’t taking advantage of the last 5-10 minutes of the interview to stand out.  The key to a great interview isn’t always about how well you answered questions, a lot also has to do with the questions you ask.

I have to draw a distinction between asking relevant questions and asking questions just for the sake of asking them.  You may not get the opportunity to ask as many questions as you would like, so it’s a great idea to have some questions prepared that you can refer to once that time comes.  To get clarity around the role that you’re interviewing for, and to give you the best chance at success, you’ll want to get answers to the following questions:

Why is the role open?

Is this a newly created role or has someone left or been promoted.  It’s always interesting to hear why a role has become available.  If it’s due to someone moving up within the company, that’s a great sign of what could be for you.  If the previous employee left the company all together, you probably should find out why so you have a better idea as to what you’re getting yourself into

What challenges does the interviewer see in the role?

It’s a good idea to get the interviewer to talk about the challenges versus the problems with a position.  It shows that you are looking at things with a positive lens.  Some challenges may be structural, while others may have to do with a gap in abilities and the responsibilities of the position.  Either way, it’s best to find out which if you plan on succeeding.

What are the firms expectations

If these haven’t been covered during the course of your interview, ask this question directly.  In addition to the long term success of the role, you want to find out what the firm plans on doing to stay ahead of the competition.  I’ve worked at places where we relied on our name alone and stood by while our biggest competitors innovated and ultimately took market share.

Be careful how you pose this question.  The interviewer may not know the answer, and you don’t want to scare them off.  Use this opportunity to see how the company defines success and what success in this role means to them.

What are the priorities?

You need to have a firm understanding of what your priorities are.  If anything major is going to go wrong, it’ll probably go wrong within the first 90 days on the job.  Get an idea as to what their onboarding process is and if you will have to travel for any initial training.

Are you the right person for the job

If you feel that that the interview is going really well, this the question that you want the answer to!  Don’t ask this question too directly.  If you ask too directly, you could get a vague answer.  You need to express your interest and enthusiasm about the opportunity and ask if there are any reasons that would prevent them from moving forward with you.  Hopefully there aren’t any, but if there are any reservations, you want the opportunity to show the interviewer that you are more than capable of doing the job.


This is a guest post by Vanessa Merit Nornberg, owner of  Inc 500 Company, Metal Mafia.

As an employer, I often see many candidates who are not the right fit for my company. Many times the actions they take in the application process prevent them from even getting to the interview stage and often, even if they do make it that far, they have not truly considered whether the job is the right fit for them.

In an effort to help the right candidates find the right positions, I put together ten tips to help people searching better understand what prospective employers are looking for.

  1. Look for a job you will love.  Anything can pay the bills, but not everything can make you look forward to showing up for work every day.  When you begin your search, decide you are going to apply only for the jobs that truly interest you.  Employers know when you are just looking for a job just to get a paycheck, and most do not want to waste their resources on someone who will not stay.
  2. Learn about the companies you consider applying to. Once you have narrowed down the type of job you would like, take the time to look up the company proposing the job you are thinking about applying for—BEFORE YOU APPLY.  Is this the kind of place you want to work? Is their product something you feel excited about?
  3. Tailor your resume to interest the hiring manager reading it. If the job sounds great, show the company why you are a great fit by highlighting the skills you possess which match those required for the job.  For example,  if you are applying for a job in telephone sales,  but all your experience has been in retail, point out how everything you did on the retail floor was about sales.
  4. Write a cover letter explaining the value you could bring to the company. With your tailored resume, send a well-written cover letter—NOT COPIED FROM A BOOK OR WEBSITE—further explaining why you think you could be a great asset to the company to which you are applying.  Be specific.  Saying that you are a team player or a people person is empty. Explain how your ability to cooperate with others or your ease with people will serve you in the specific job you are seeking.
  5. Make sure your email address conveys professionalism. When you are ready to submit your cover letter and resume, do so from an email account that shows professionalism.  Email accounts are free, so sending your application from one which uses your name instead of something like will make the right impression instead of the wrong one.
  6. Follow up. Mark your calendar to call or email the company to follow up on your application three days after submitting your application. When you contact the company,  let them know you are very interested in the position and provide a specific reason why.  Confirm that they have received your application.  Ask them when they think they will begin the interview process, note the date in your calendar and thank them for considering you.
  7. Follow up again. If you have not yet heard from the company two days after the scheduled interview start date, follow up with another email letting the company know you are still very interested, and highlighting a specific reason why you would be of value to their team.  Tell them you hope to hear from them soon to schedule an interview.
  8. Do your homework. If you are granted an interview,  PREPARE for it. Spend time looking at the company’s website in detail.  Pay attention to their products and services, and be able to discuss them in depth. Search articles about the company for more information on how it operates, and finally, see if you can find any reviews or customer input about the company.  Write down any questions your search generates. These are great questions to ask during the interview to show that you have studied the company and are looking to understand the business so that you can help grow it.
  9. Use good interview etiquette. When you go to the interview, you need to Arrive 15 minutes early for the interview, not more, not less. Before you enter the offices,  get rid of your gum,  turn off and stow your cell phone, and dispose of any beverage cups you have. Give a solid handshake and introduce yourself to each person you meet–from the receptionist to the interviewer.
  10. Conduct yourself thoughtfully during the interview. The interview is your moment to demonstrate who you are and how you can add value to the company,  but also the time to find out if the job will really make you happy. Listen carefully, ask specific questions, and be both curious and honest—the interviewer should get to know you, not just hear the answers you think she is looking for. Your interests and the company’s interests should align, or it is not the right fit. If they do, you will get the job—and probably love it.

Vanessa Merit Nornberg

In 2004, Vanessa opened Metal Mafia, a wholesale body and costume jewelry company that sells to more than 5,000 specialty shops and retail chains in 23 countries. Metal Mafia was an Inc. 500 company in 2009. Fluent in Spanish and French (as well as English), Vanessa has also worked abroad in communications and business development in the video game and jewelry industries.


Hiring is more of a headache than ever, so say many companies who receive HR services from my firm. This might come as a surprise considering that there’s no longer an overheated talent market in which companies desperately compete for top talent. But instead, business owners are facing a down economy in which scores of job seekers clamber over each other in order to land scarce positions. The influx of new candidates into the marketplace makes it even more difficult for executives and hiring managers to find the perfect people for open, high-impact positions.

And yet, hiring the right person is more important than ever. A single bad hire can cost between $60,000 and $120,000–that’s not exactly the way you want to spend precious dollars in a difficult market.

For the most part, the way to make the right hire is the same as it’s always been:

  1. Define the requirements carefully. This sounds ridiculously easy, but it’s amazing how many business owners will embark on a search without determining exactly whom they want to hire. It’s important to detail the specific job requirements and desired personal characteristics, creating a “hiring scorecard” that can be used in screenings and interviews to determine if a candidate can fulfill the requirements of the job. Needless to say, it’s also critical to determine if the candidate will be a cultural fit as well
  2. Look for repeated patterns of success. Don’t just look for tactical job responsibilities and skills–find the applicants who have repeatedly made a mark and exceeded expectations, time and time again. Drill down in the interview to ask those questions; find out how they measure their own success and whether their employment history tells a story of a superstar.
  3. It’s the network. With so many resumes flooding in for each open position, you should rely on inbound candidates even less than you ever have. Your friends and their friends know the fantastic players who are searching for their next opportunity; tap into them and save yourself a lot of paper time.
  4. Find a recruiting platform that allows for pre-screening. When you do need to wade through resumes, use a recruiting system with pre-screening questions and candidate rating capabilities. This allows you to focus on the exact capabilities you need and only review the candidates who have passed the initial screening, saving yourself massive amounts of time.
  5. It’s still about the passive seekers . I personally recently hired a VP of Marketing for my company, but when I first came across him, he was already installed at another company. I courted him for months, persuaded him and eventually he came to work for me. In essence, I treated this executive search as though it was occurring during a gangbusters economy where talent is scarce. The reality is, the truly premium talent is still scarce, and always will be. If your bar for talent is as obscenely high as mine, passive seekers can make or break your search.
  6. Don’t settle. Almost every tip I’ve provided works in both a good and lousy economy. But let’s be honest: When the good times roll, it’s easier to find someone and say “good enough.” But in a down economy, you should never do this. Take the time you need to find the right candidate, either active or passive, and make the right hire.

There’s no question this is a great time to hire people. But don’t make the mistake of thinking it’ll be easier. The exceptional hires are out there, but just as in the old days, you may need to do some detective work and actively seek out the people who will make your company great.

Burton Goldfield is president and CEO of TriNet, an HR outsourcing partner to small businesses located in San Leandro, Calif. Goldfield is responsible for setting TriNet’s overall corporate strategy, directing business and providing strategic guidance regarding TriNet’s human capital offerings.