Readers’ Forum: What’s in a cover letter?

Discussion: May 4, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter

A reader asks:

I was recently laid off and I am applying for jobs online. The question I have is whether to include a cover letter or not? Do they really matter these days? I always feel silly saying things like, “I am motivated and enthusiastic, and would appreciate the opportunity to contribute to your firm’s success.” If I do need to include a cover letter, what do employers want to see that would make them look at the resume?

Resumes? Cover letters? What do hiring managers want to read? Does a cover letter buy you anything? I’ve got it… How about a cover letter without a resume? Save time… arouse curiosity?

Do you use a cover letter? Think it helps? What’s the magic — or is there none? Help this reader decide what to do next.

[Update May 18, 2010: Okay — humor me. No cover letters. They’re illegal now… What’s a good alternative to get your message to the hiring manager that you can do the job profitably? No rationalizing… alternatives only, please! Let’s do something new under the sun…]

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How to Say It: Reviewing the boss

Discussion: May 11, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter

A reader asks How to Say It:

I’m in a new position and coming up on my 90-day review. I like what I’m doing but my new boss is inconsistent (moody) and micro-manages (control freak who insists she wants me “to be the expert”). Do I have any options for broaching these topics in a diplomatic way?

Hmmm… Who’s reviewing whom? I like your perspective. You want to candidly review your boss. It seems your boss has two strikes against her already. And if she isn’t willing to talk about changing her style, the third strike may hit you in the butt on your way out the door…!

Okay, folks. How do you say it? How do you tell your boss her style is affecting your work without getting yourself fired?

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Readers’ Forum: Grand theft HR

Discussion: May 4, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter

A reader asks a tough one:

I worked in HR for four years. Now I am a convicted felon who is trying hard to get back into the workforce. The charge was grand theft. I have paid my debt to society and now I find that companies do not want to give me a chance. I am qualified for administrative work and I am more than willing to start at the bottom. Do you have any tips or advice on what a person with a criminal record can do to at least get my foot in the door? (I was convicted in 2008, so I do understand that my charge is still new. But I refuse to believe that because of one bad choice, I am doomed to unemployment forever.) Thanks.

The economy isn’t bad enough. Try laying a conviction on top of it!

All suggestions for this reader are welcome, but I’d like to especially encourage managers to think about this one… What could this reader do to convince you to take a chance?

If you’re not a manager and you were facing this situation (come on, you may be a saint, but pretend…) what would you do to show a manager it’s worth giving you an honest shot at a new start?

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How to Say It: Mo’ money is the problem!

Discussion: May 4, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter

A reader asks How to Say It:

Recently my job description was changed without notice. But there was no discussion of a change in salary. My responsibility level has increased and so has the time commitment. I like the work, but I cannot justify doing so much more for the same low salary. My boss commends me again and again on how well the transition is going and what a great job I’m doing. How should I tell him I want to discuss the salary?

Here’s How to Say It: “I love the new job — it’s a huge change from what I was doing before. I fact, it’s a promotion with added work, new responsibilities and more time required. Does this new job include a new salary range and performance metrics?”

By raising two issues — salary and metrics — you emphasize just how big this change has been, and you avoid seeming like money is your only concern. (Frankly, I have no problem with just talking about money — it’s a huge concern by itself. But I’m trying to be diplomatic…)

What you need to consider is whether you’d leave the new job if they didn’t pay you adequately for the work. Unless the answer is yes, you don’t have much leverage if they refuse to pay more for the added work.

Don’t just sit and stew. You need to have a discussion with your boss soon. The longer you wait, the more it seems you have tacitly agreed to the new deal at the old comp level.

But that’s not the only useful advice about this. The best is yet to come… I expect the ATH audience will have more to add!

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TheLadders: A fan explains why you should pay up

A fan of TheLadders posted a comment on TheLadders: Job-board salary fraud? explaining why you should be glad to fork over $30 per month to use the service. It’s worth discussing this suggestion by itself, so I’m posting my comment to paddy s here:

By paddy s
April 30, 2010 at 8:07 pm

a lot of you are missing the point about paying.recruiters do not want to be inundated with hundreds of unqualified resumes which is the case when the service is free.your legit resume with legit quaifications is likely to be lost in all that mess. a recruiter is more likely to read a resume from someone that is serious about finding a job and has undertaken a financial commitment to that effect.also-if you are a 100k plus individual searching for a similar paying job – $30/month is cheap insurance to separate you from the lesser qualified and lower paid ranks. it is obvious,so why all the bellyaching?

The bellyaching is due to the fact that Ladders customers are paying their money but not getting “$100k plus” job listings from TheLadders.

I started headhunting in 1979. I don’t recall ever placing a candidate who paid a dime to get on my radar, so your suggestion that a person must make “a financial commitment” is hogwash.

More to your point, TheLadders claims to have tons of paying job hunters in its database. Why is a headhunter “more likely to read a resume” from the teeming hordes in that massive database?

In order for TheLadders to position job hunters “higher up” with headhunters, Ladders would have to somehow vet or confirm those job hunters. TheLadders does not do that. It does not eliminate “unqualified resumes,” nor does it ensure that its paying customers have a “legit resume with legit qualifications.” (That would be a pretty good trick.)

TheLadders cannot even deliver on its promise that it accepts “Only $100k+ talent” into its database. Headhunters have learned that the hard way, just as employers have.

Even if TheLadders could guarantee the salary levels of the people in its database,  why would I give them preferential treatment? My concern — and my client’s concern — is that the person can do the job profitably (not that they paid for my attention). What a person claims to be earning now is not a critical factor in candidate selection.

TheLadders does not ensure that a candidate is worth a headhunter’s attention, nor does it try. It can’t even ensure their salary level, any more than it can ensure the salary level of the positions it posts.

(If you want to learn how to work with headhunters, then spend a few bucks to educate yourself. Unlike questionable “positioning” in some database, the education will be yours forever.)

Do you get the point most folks here are making? TheLadders delivers no value. TheLadders has developed a reputation for dishonest advertising and dishonest business practices (read the comments from readers who continue to get billed by TheLadders when they don’t want the service, and from employers who did not consent to have their jobs posted on TheLadders).

Perhaps worst of all is the barrage of carny-barker-style e-mails TheLadders’ chief, Marc Cenedella, dumps on anyone who makes the mistake of giving him their e-mail address.

“recruiters do not want to be inundated with hundreds of unqualified resumes”

Yep. That’s what’s obvious. And that’s why good headhunters and good recruiters go out and find the people they want. They don’t sit in front of a computer screen waiting for TheLadders to ferry paying customers onto their desktops.

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Job hopping: Career crack for losers

Over at Business Insider, Mark Suster laid down a rant: Never Hire Job Hoppers. Never. They Make Terrible Employees. A buddy of mine sent it along and said she thinks it’s entirely one-sided from the employer’s perspective.

I don’t endorse everything Suster says in his posting (he says a lot), but I think he’s generally right.

Any job hopper who’s fool enough to be one of 1,000 resumes on some manager’s desk deserves to be dumped into the trash can. Gimme a break — your work history shows you bounce around like a ping pong ball and you expect a manager to overlook it until she gets to meet you in person to see what a wonderful, unique individual you are and that your job hopping was due to extenuating circumstances that you can explain, given the opportunity?

Just stick a fork in your butt — trust me, you’re done. You not only job hopped, you’re advertising it to the world by applying for jobs with a resume. Do you really expect a manager is gonna “understand” when she doesn’t even know you? You are revealing that, on top of being a job hopper, your judgment sucks.

(If you try to hide your job hopping on your resume, you’re gonna get busted. Those clever techniques for obscuring when and where you worked — they make you look like you’re hiding something. Which you are. So cut it out.)

Does this mean your career is over? Of course not. I write this blog to help people deal with in-your-face problems, and this is one of them. But that fork sticking out of your butt — it’s real, and it hurts, and pulling it out is gonna hurt even more. There is no easy fix.

I’ve never known a job hopper who was not in pain. And I’ve never known a successful professional who wished he had five jobs in a six-year career. The fix is not to sell a little career crack to job hoppers and tell them that we envy their exciting lives. The fix is to help them become more stable and to build a healthy reputation.

Two suggestions:

  • First, toss out your resume. Trash it yourself, before an employer trashes it for you. And I don’t mean you should get a better resume. I mean, Stop using a flyer that says KICK ME on it. Period. No resume. Search for a job strictly through personal referrals and face-to-face contacts which enable you to make your case before your butt is kicked into the can.
  • Second, find a place to work where you can stay put. Penelope Trunk — who tells you loyalty doesn’t matter and job hopping is good — is sticking a needle in your vein, pumping you full of happy juice, and leaving your career to die while she drives off to the bank to deposit the GoogleAds checks she collects for advertising career crack to confused GenY’s. Stay off the juice. Stay put. Establish a reputation. Then trade on it.

You don’t have time to do all that hard work to be successful? That’s your problem, not an employer’s.

Now, here’s the coda: You don’t have to be loyal, and the reason might be that employers haven’t been loyal to you. You might have doubled your salary in each of the six hops you made in ten years. You might be the guru of whatever it is you do, free to wander anywhere you like. Good for you. Congratulations.

But when you can’t find your next job because you’re viewed as a job hopper, hop along. Remember that your career record is your own choice.

When Lazy Careerist Penelope Trunk offers you the needle, just say no. Kudos to Mark Suster for delivering tough love to job hoppers who want to get straight, and to savvy professionals who want to stay clean.

(If the distinction between job hoppers and consultants, and between temporary and full-time employees suddenly makes you nervous, check out Journeyman Or Partner?)

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Readers’ Forum: Initiative

Discussion: April 27, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter

In today’s Q&A: Last week at the Chicago Booth School of Business I gave the keynote presentation to an alliance of the top 30 Executive MBA schools in the world — including Stanford, Harvard, London School of Business, INSEAD, Duke, UCLA, Northwestern. In attendance were the career center directors from these schools — the folks who coach working professionals about career development and how to get their next jobs.

My topic was The New Interview. And what I discussed was the importance of initiative on the part of the job hunter — executive or otherwise. I told them that the in-your-face question people want an answer to is, How can I stand out?

Without a clear demonstration of initiative, there is no standing out. You’re just another candidate. If you’re an Ask The Headhunter regular, you know what I’m talking about.

What does initiative mean to you when you’re job hunting? If you’re a manager, what have candidates done to demonstrate their initiative to you in ways that matter? (Alternately, how do people blow it? If you’ve got a personal disaster story, please share that, too… we won’t tell anyone… and we might learn something from your experience.)

[UPDATE: Due to lots of requests, today’s edition of the newsletter is now available online: click here.]

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How to Say It: Is this a good place to work?

Discussion: April 27, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter

A reader asks How to Say It:

When I’m in a job interview I figure I get very limited time to figure out whether this is a company I really want to work for. (Even if they decide to make me an offer!) So here’s what I’m trying to figure out how to say. What can I say or ask that will give me the best idea of whether a company is going to be a good place to work?

Hey, I know this one with my eyes closed… And I’ll share my suggestion after the rest of you post your ideas. How do I know this is a good company to work for?

How do you say that?

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Readers’ Forum: Spanking HR

Discussion: April 13, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter

In today’s Q&A: (Well, it’s not a Q&A!) This week I printed comments about the corporate Human Resources function that bear thinking about. A seasoned HR manager says HR should get out of the business of hiring and recruiting and go back to making sure paychecks have the right amount of money in them.

I agree. I think HR has no business handling recruiting and hiring. In fact, I think HR has a conflict of interest.

What do you think? Can companies get by with managers doing their own recruiting and hiring? Would these functions be better served if HR stopped doing them? Is HR actually doing companies a disservice by mucking around in the hiring process of corporate business units?

I’d like to know what you think. (The full article from today’s newsletter is here: Time for HR to exit the hiring business.)

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How to Say It: Can I try again?

Discussion: April 13, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter

A reader asks How to Say It:

I was interviewed but did not get the job. I’ve heard of cases where the right kind of thank you letter has resurrected candidates and led to other jobs in the same company. The format I’ve seen goes like this: “Thank you for interviewing me even if you did not hire me. I am disappointed, but I hope you’ll consider me for other positions in the future.” It sounds kind of hokey to me. There has to be better wording. How would you say it?

It seems simple enough to me, and very clear: I’d like to try again if you’ll have me.

Is there a better way to say it? Have you succeeded at getting a second chance with an employer? How did you do it? How did you say it?

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