Education Career Services

July 31, 2009

Are Cover Letters Useful?

Tomorrow I will be heading to Chicago for the MWACE conference and hope to meet lots of peers while there.  Being an exhibitor, it’s always nice to see a friendly face and yours would be more than welcome.  With this in mind, I encourage as many to offer suggestions on the material I created, your input benefits students from across the United States and Canada.  That’s right, my textbooks, instructor resource guides, workbooks, and guidebooks are used in over 150 campuses. 

July 31Being my first trip to Chicago, any ideas as to where to go for a great hot dog and/or pizza is appreciated.  I will also be visiting a few campuses along the way (between Iowa and Orlando); if you are interested in a campus visit and a personal review of my work, let me know as quickly as possible so schedules can be manipulated.

Enough of Chicago for now, let’s get into a question asked by a reader who was wondering if cover letters really are important…here’s what I have to say:

As a business owner, I always look forward to the cover letter and weigh it’s content and structure heavily.  According to the latest trends and the top career management associations in the US, cover letters are extremely important while a large amount of employers (approximately 1/3rd) disqualify the candidate if a cover letter is not included with the resume.

As a certified career coach and certified resume writer, I insist resumes will be accompanied by a cover letter.  As a former instructor, program chair, career director, and dean of academic affairs, cover letter inclusion was mandatory…at the bear minimum displays professional respect.

The purpose of a cover letter is to introduce qualities and characteristics a resume can not deliver.  The cover letter is slightly more subjective and is held to high standards of grammar.  This is the time to allow a glimpse of personality to be known…understand no employee is an island.  As a result, employers are interested not only in what you can do, but also the manner in which you can do it.

I’ve written several books on the topic and would be glad to share specific examples and issues at your convenience.  I can be reached at dhuffman@careersi.com.

Danny Huffman, MA, CEIP, CPCC, CPRW
http://www.educationcs.wordpress.com (blog)
http://www.educationcs.com (website)

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July 29, 2009

Helping Hands, Student Career Transition, and Tech Support Opportunities

July 29 hopeLast week CNN Money began spreading good news for the technological industry.  In a time where most have begun tightening belts (I am on the last notch) amidst the uncertainty of tomorrow’s job market, it appears there is more than a helping hand on the horizon.

“The fastest demand in the U.S. is for help desk and desktop support.  A recent survey of Robert Half International shows 51% of employers plan to add IT staff over the coming year.”

To be specific: CompTIA, trade association for IT professionals, is currently launching a hiring campaign to fill an estimated 400,000 tech job openings.  Tech jobs are appearing in Des Moines, Boise, Louisville, and all over the U.S.  In Detroit tech jobs in hospitals are plentiful for jobs that require continual collaboration with other departments.  In the medical industry, tech jobs are available for medical providers.

No doubt this is not an overnight resolution for many executives and students transitioning into their respective career, but it does bring hope.  To be clear, tech support positions are found in a wide range of industries, from hospitals, to hotels, to factories; so get out of that mindset about tech support being held hostage in a Weber-like cubicle.

Why the sudden burst of good news for this particular sector?  Good question, and I believe the answer resides not only for tech support but goes across into all industry areas.  In other words, the trend about to take off may very well take off in your industry.  There appears to be a scarcity of skills, experience, or combination of these that employers want.  If you are currently a tech professional, think about increasing your value by upgrading certifications to remain competitive and venture into untapped territory in order to retool your career for today’s job market.

Developing transferrable skills and continuing your professional development will always pay to your advantage (and most importantly, to the advantage of your employer).  For students entering college to those graduating in the near future, never stop progressing and developing your value. 

For additional information, I encourage you to go to the source of the data at: http://money.cnn.com/2009/07/21/technology/tech.jobs.fortune/index.htm

Danny Huffman, MA, CPRW, CPCC, CEIP
dhuffman@careersi.com
Education Career Services: http://www.educationcs.com
Career Services International: www.careersi.com

July 27, 2009

With Apologies to Donna Summer

Filed under: Career Cafe,Career Development,Uncategorized — EducationCS @ 8:01 pm

donnasummerMaybe you remember the disco hit, “She Works Hard for Her Money.”  While the first part is a necessity to success, the last part is the sure sign of a loser.  Clearly, Ms. Summer wasn’t giving career advice, but the sentiment of working soley for money will backfire.

Certainly a paycheck is the reason we need employment, but if your job ethic is dependant on the size of your check, you’re in trouble.  A better credo is, “Work Hard for the Company” (with a bridge stipulating “Make Sure the Company is Worth It!”)

Some employees complain about their wages and “deliver what the company pays for,” reserving their best work for a better bank deposit.  Especially in today’s economy, jobs may not pay what they have in the past.  You may be faced with a lower offer than you previously received.  Please take heed:  If you aren’t happy with the offer, turn it down.  If you accept the offer, deliver your best work without complaint.  In fact, work as if you were making a million bucks.

Definitely negotiate the best deal you can, and be sure part of your offer is an understanding of when you can expect a salary review.  Give your best, schedule the review and communicate the value you generated to justify a raise, and then, like your original offer either accept it or don’t, but if you do, continue to deliver your best.  Regardless of what they pay you, a manager is hiring you to give 110%.

Studies have shown that elaborate compensation packages have little effect on work delivered by highly-paid executives.  The people who command such packages leave the negotiation table without a backward glance at their pay.  That’s why they can command such packages.

How about you?  Can you see a circumstance where pay should effect your performance?

Rob Swanson – Managing Writer, Career Services International – www.careersi.com; Education Career Services, www.educationcs.com

July 24, 2009

LinkedIn: Today’s Career and Education Q & A

Question and AnswerSeeking to assist as many as possible, I am on LinkedIn and often respond to questions posed on that site.  If you would like a personal reply to your specific question, you can always locate me on LinkedIn and will be glad to do my best.  I’m easy to find and welcome you to take the first step and invite me to join your network.  After all, we all need a helping hand now and then!

Below are a recent question and my response recently submitted on LinkedIn.  I bring this to you as the questions are pertinent to just about everyone, including students and directors at all levels…

More duty statements and less accomplishments or more accomplishments and less duty statements on a résumé?  

Additional question and background: What are recruiters, HR, and hiring managers looking for? Is there a difference between roles? I’m seeing a lot of résumé that look more like grocery lists with little if no accomplishments. Is it important to list every duty a person has performed?

It’s all about value and developing a sense of trust in the candidate’s ability to get the job done. Being a professional writer and career coach, I encourage individuals to focus on accomplishments in a STAR method. STAR= Situation, Task, Action, and Result.

In other words, your marketing material must depict a story in which the reader can identify with. This story varies from position to position, from industry to industry, and from person to person. Overall, not an easy task to accomplish.

As a professor, I would explain to my students that I may “claim” to be the very best by way of duty statements but this does not mean that claim is true. Thus, one must provide a balance (leaning toward metric-based proof) between a claim to be the right candidate and the proof (or support) of the claim.

To bring this to a conclusion, a list of duties is useless without proof. Unfortunately, HR, recruiters, and hiring managers often look for different elements. HR and recruiters are more prone to like a list of duties in a chronological format whereas hiring managers are more interested in the immediate value you will bring to a particular position. For the hiring manager, metric based is the way to go and the format recommended by the top three career management associations in the US is semi-functional; NOT chronological.

Writing a resume is much like writing poetry (the reason why an excellent resume writer charges up to $2,000 a pop–and well worth it). As in poetry, each word is included for a reason; each claim and each accomplishment must also be scrutinized for its purpose, value, and semantic meaning.

In the end remember a resume is not the tool which will land you the job. A resume lands you an interview.

Prioritize your value to match the position, company, and requirements and you will find success. If you need assistance or a quick review, let me know…it is what I do.

Danny Huffman, MA, CPRW, CCPC, CEIP

July 22, 2009

An “I Didn’t Follow-Up” Horror Story

Several years ago, I applied for a job in my community I thought would be a nice shift from the high-pressure environment I’d just broken out of.  I wasn’t looking for anything full time, and this occasional writing gig seemed just the ticket. 

Given my background—years as a full-time professional writer, trainer, and creative director—I figured I’d be a shoe-in to cover clam bakes and sailing races and other local happenings.  It would be a chance for me to get more involved locally and do some journalistic work, two goals I’d set for myself when leaving the all work/no play life behind.

I put together a nice résumé with a cover letter written specifically for the opening, printed it on linen paper, dressed nicely but not formally, and delivered it in person to the office (within walking distance of my home!).  The assistant at the desk seemed pleasantly surprised, and we had a brief conversation.  She placed my envelop on a teetering stack of paper and promised to pass it along as soon as the editor came out of a meeting. 

Then…nothing. 

Steeped in the “Don’t call us, we’ll call you…” mindset (though nowhere in the posting did it say “No Calls”), I came up with a hundred confidence-busting reasons the editor never contacted me.  Surely, my package got there, since I delivered it myself.  Therefore, the problem must be ME.  Maybe my letter was too stilted and impersonal; after all, I’d been doing business writing, not quirky, homegrown coverage.  Maybe my background just wasn’t conducive to a switch.  Maybe my samples demonstrated that I didn’t have as much talent as I thought.

After puzzling over the result—not even an interview?—I put it behind me.  As it turns out, I wound up leaving the area to pursue another opportunity.

Just after moving on (quite literally), I received a personal note in the mail from the editor.  Apparently, my hand-delivered application HAD been lost…on the assistant’s desk.  It had just resurfaced.  The editor bemoaned that they had already hired someone not nearly as qualified, but she offered immediate freelance work to get me on the team. 

telephone-lgIt was a wonderfully honest note, one that most managers would never send.  It did much to raise my battered self-esteem…and right after that, I gave my newly confident self a swift kick in the butt.  If only I’d made one simple follow-up call!

Thank goodness I learned this lesson with a part-time, “for fun” opportunity and not my ultimate dream job.  Now, don’t you make the same mistake!

Amy Lorenzo, CPRW
Career Services International

July 20, 2009

Career Optimist or Just Another Survey?

optimist62% percent of companies who practiced hiring freezes and 69% of those who practiced salary freezes plan to eliminate them within the next 12 months.

The past few years have been difficult due to our economic crisis, no denying that fact.  I continue to worry about tomorrow and hold off making purchases until my confidence level improves.  I don’t believe this tactic is far off the views of most.  So when I hear news of brighter things coming down the road, I want to share the information.

As a result, when I noticed a title “Companies planning to reinstate some programs cut during the economic crisis” pop up recently, I felt compelled to share with you.

Watson Wyatt conducts bimonthly surveys with a goal to placing a finger on the pulse of our economic state.  Their recent survey includes responses from 179 employers.  In a nutshell they found a majority of U.S. employers plan to reverse some, but not all, of the changes they’ve been making to their pay, benefits and other HR programs.

This information is viewed as a sign of economic improvements.  Knowing that many companies plan to reinstate some programs cut during the economic crisis adds confidence to what resides ahead.  To top the survey off, here are some of the findings you may find interesting (and include the finding at the top of this submission):

  •  48% that have reduced their employer 401(k) / 403(b) matches plan to reinstate them in the same timeframe.
  • 60% of employers plan to reverse salary reductions (55% within the next year and 5% within 18 months), while 20% of employers will keep them in place, and another 20% are unsure.

Despite the expectation of many improvements, more than 40% believe there will be long-term difficulties in:

  • attracting (41%) and retaining (45%) critical-skill employees,
  • 79% of companies expect to see an increase in employees working past their desired retirement age, and
  • 73% expect an increase in the percentage of health care costs paid by the employee.

Heck, now I’m feeling a bit better about tomorrow.  Maybe I should go ahead and make a few purchases?  After second thought, change often takes more than the 30-day credit bill cycle so I best hold off a month or two…just in case.

Danny Huffman, MA, CPRW, CPCC, CEIP
dhuffman@careersi.com
Education Career Services: http://www.educationcs.com
Career Services International: http://www.careersi.com

Source: http://www.watsonwyatt.com/news/globalnews2.asp?ID=21645&nm=United%20States

July 17, 2009

I’m NO Elephant!

July 17No matter what your profession, at some point in time, everyone will function as a salesperson.  Many will sell products, but still more will sell ideas.  Most of all, you will sell yourself. 

As you progress on your career path, you will sell the value you bring to a company many times.  Though social networking is often the initial contact, for many the first sales vehicle employed is a resume and cover letter.  Make no mistake; these electronic bits of information act as sales documents or contract proposals if you will.  Because of this, your materials must offer your strongest selling points while conveying uniqueness to the buyer – your potential employer.

For many, this is an incredibly daunting task.  Perhaps it’s because the value of humility has been drilled into them when they were young or because of an underestimation of worth.  You are not alone; a great portion of the population finds it difficult to answer all-too-common questions like: “What distinguishes you from other applicants?” or “Why should I hire you?”  Unfortunately for the shy or recent career entrant, these are questions which must be addressed in your documents BEFORE an interview is scheduled.

Knowing these questions will be asked, your task is to answer them in a confident and value-based manner.  How do you do that?  As with any endeavor, start with researching the topic and expectation.  In other words, think in terms of what the reader may be seeking and NEVER be that proverbial elephant in the room.  There are two things you need to know when selling any product:

•   What does the buyer need?
•   What can my product do?

Investigate the company and position you are applying to and identify how your skills meet their requirements.  Matching your skills and what you can do to what is being sought determines the next step.  If you are unable to match the requirements (or even come close), be realistic.  For clarification as to what you are capable of doing, don’t be afraid to ask coworkers, peers, instructors, and even family members how they would describe your work.  Talk to the people on your reference list and ask what they feel are your key strengths.  Asking for a helping hand can prove beneficial on many fronts! 

When completing your materials, remember that building confidence may require you to look at yourself through other people’s eyes.  Show your resume and cover letter around.  Practice your interview skills with friends or associates and WOW your next potential employer!

Kimberly Sarmiento
Resume Writer – Career Services International
http://www.careersi.com

July 16, 2009

LinkedIn: Career and Education Q & A

Question and AnswerOffering support to as many people as possible via multiple mediums, I am an advocate of social networking.  As such, I am on LinkedIn and often respond to questions posed on that site.  I’m easy to find and welcome you to take the first step and invite me to join your network.  After all, we all need a helping hand now and then!

Below are two questions (and my two responses) recently found on LinkedIn.  I bring this to you as the questions are pertinent to just about everyone, including students and directors at all levels…

Do personal interests add to or detract from a resume?

According to the top three career management associations in the United States, interests should NOT be incorporated into the resume UNLESS it shows value to the reader/company. For example, overseeing local events for up to 40,000 people does show value by way of organizing groups for a common goal. This is a good thing and, if written properly, would add value.  Being a Summer fisherman and working part time at a famous tourist bar should NOT be incorporated — the latent messages are not in his/her favor and could conjure negative reader images. Being a certified resume writer and certified career coach, I have seen this issue pop up (just about daily) in one form or another over the past decade. Ultimately, ask yourself “if I were the hiring manager, would a section detailing interest be of value to my company.” If so, then consider including it unless discriminatory elements are seen.

Would certification as an e-learning specialist have value?

Professional development is always recognized as a positive trait. As an owner of a company and former VP of a global career management firm, I always looked for individuals pushing beyond complacency. As a career coach and resume writer, any “added value” might be the element required to push you above the crowd. Regarding e-learning, YES! While a dean at a college, we searched for qualified instructors and professionals capable of building platforms for online purposes. Based on practical experience, I suggested going the “instructional designer with e-learning experience” route.  If the amount of work and money to become certified is marginal, get the certification as well.

I will continue sharing information from various sources for everyone’s benefit.  In the meantime, if you have any questions and prefer not to post it on our blog, get into LinkedIn, look me up, and let’s connect!

Danny Huffman, MA, CPRW, CPCC, CEIP
dhuffman@careersi.com
Education Career Services: http://www.educationcs.com
Career Services International: www.careersi.com

July 15, 2009

Interview Blues?

Filed under: Career Cafe,Interview — EducationCS @ 7:40 pm
Tags: , , , ,

thumbs-down_thumbnailThe economy is easy to blame for unsuccessful interviews.  “Nobody’s hiring!”  Don’t believe it for a moment.  Companies are looking for strong performers; the question is, are you delivering the interview that demonstrates you’re who they need?

How are you doing with your interviews?  Are reasons for rejection concrete, “not enough technical savvy;” or are they vague, “we just don’t feel you’re a good fit”?  Vague responses may be pointing to poor interview skills rather than ability.

If your resume does its job, the interviewer already has a picture of you formed in her mind.  She’s looking for confirmation AND disclaimers and she’s going to start well before you shake her hand. 

Behavior speaks louder than words and the hiring manager has more than her own perceptions to fall back on.  How you treat the receptionist says a lot about you.  Dismissive, rude, and even distracted candidates will get marked down.  Receptionists are commonly asked their opinion of the candidate and it’s valued for their observation of your unguarded moments.

You may be required to wait; this is an interviewer’s tactic to see how you respond.  Do you pester the receptionist?  Sigh, look at your watch, fidget?  Conversely, you may be handed an application and purposefully interrupted before you can complete it.  How do you handle it?  Do you offer a solution?  Rush to finish?  Hold the interviewer off?

What does your attitude say about you?  If your resume says you’re a problem-solving, take-charge professional but you’re complaining about how hard it is to find a job and focusing on the negative, you’re in trouble.  Be positive!  Accept the challenge and thrive on adversity!

Negativity can further be communicated with rambling, unfocused answers to the interview questions.  Babbling is left to the desperate.  Be self-confident (why apply if you don’t think you can deliver?), concise, and complete.  After all, interviewers are asking about your past to predict your future; if you can’t relate your past quickly, efficiently, and emphasizing the value, how can you successfully represent the company?  You can’t use lack of employment as an excuse.   As related in a post below, you can leverage school projects and volunteer work for compelling indicators of value.

Perhaps the most glaring problem is fumbling the positive.  You want to prove your expertise and ability to make an impact–a great tactic–but don’t deride the company in the process.  Seek to understand an issue, if appropriate, offer a solution that has worked in the past and ask for feedback.  To assume you can nail the issue is arrogant.  Offer humility with your education.  “Case studies have shown success with x; do you think that could apply here?”  Owners, executives, managers, and employees have done their best to make the company great; even if you have the answers to improvements, they don’t want to hear what a bad job they’ve done without you.  Listening is as important as speaking in an interview.

I know you’re aware of the importance of proper, professional attire; be sure to check your professional attitude  as well.  Employers know you can change your clothes.  They also know you can’t change your attitude as easily, so make sure they see the right one at the interview.

Rob Swanson –  Managing Writer, Career Services International – www.careersi.com and Education Career Services, www.educationcs.com

July 14, 2009

Economic Darwinism: For Better or Worse?

July 13I had the opportunity to check out this Sunday’s employment section and was not impressed by the amount or type of open positions.  I don’t recall the last time this section was such a quick read as I barely had time to take two sips of my tea!  Anyway, after a short pause to shake the thin webs of a one-page print off, I had to find out what was really going on.

Is our employment situation getting better or worse?  To answer that, one must come to an understanding as to what’s really going on.

According to information released this month by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the ratio of job seekers to job openings is slightly above: 5 to 1.  To be specific, there are 5.4 job seekers for every advertised job opening.  Is this a good number or a not so good number and what does it tell us about the better or worse question?  Then again, think about it, the advertised job opening market only represents about 25% of all job openings out there—seems like our first step is one guided by misdirection!

On the other side of the story, the number of job seekers can also be misleading if one is not careful.  From all accounts and from several business economic classes way back in the dark ages, job seeker counts are typically under-recognized.  In other words, government statistics claim the 5.4 seekers for every job advertised but do not take into account those individuals who are passively looking to better themselves or the super-sized number of underemployed conveniently forgotten about by those in control.

I know what you’re saying, numbers are no good unless there is something to compare them with and 5.4 may be a number to strive for.  Unfortunately, we can look at the figures from March (4.8 job seeker for each advertised position) and the numbers from when the recession officially began.  That would be December of 2007 when there were 1.7 job applicants per single job opening.  Hmmm, wonder if further interpretations by me are even necessary?  Are we beginning to get a clear picture of the better or worse question? 

All of this to the side, there remains hope for the applicant who is skilled in the art of career management and self marketing.  Think about it, we seem to be experiencing an economic/employment Darwinist revolution where the fittest not only survive but STRIVE in this new jungle.  True enough, there remains good news amongst the struggles: During the month of April, there were 4,099,000 new hires!

What’s it going to take to be leading the pack?  Continue checking out this blog for guidance and interaction.  Many of our previous submissions are focused to get you through the hard times by offering insight and time-tested approaches to career management.  Thus, review the lessons from submissions posted in the not so distant past…just because a post was presented two weeks (or even six months) ago does not mean it has lost any value.  Take a journey to the beginning; you will find value at such little cost.

Ultimately to answer the question of better or worse, it all depends on you.  For those insisting on defeat and self fulfilling prophecy, don’t let tomorrow pass you by due to your lack of initiative and ability to maximize all resources. 

Help is one the way but your hand must also reach.

Danny Huffman, MA, CPRW, CPCC, CEIP
dhuffman@careersi.com
Education Career Services: http://www.educationcs.com
Career Services International: http://www.careersi.com

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