Sunday, May 28, 2006

Successful Cover Letter

I recently had an interesting discussion with Melanie who wrote:

Mr. Peterson,
Thank you for your informational blog. I have a question regarding security clearances. As a recent college graduate, I do not have a clearance in a field where practically every open position requires one. Many times I have heard, "thanks, but we need an employee with an active clearance." How do I politely say that I'm willing to do lesser jobs if they are willing to start the paperwork on a clearance?

My reply was as follows:

Thanks very much for your kind words Melanie. I'm glad you could find some small use for the site. This is an excellent reason to write a cover letter. A little-known advantage of using a cover letter is that you can explain unusual situations. For example, if the candidate is in an unusual degree program, they can explain why the degree can bring value to the organization and why it makes them unique.

My advice would be to suggest something like the following in your cover letter:

"Considering that I can bring your organization the most value with a security clearance, I'd like to propose an arrangement that can benefit your needs and as well as my career goals. I know a clearance is a great asset to a career and I am certain that my background is clearable. I'd be more than willing to volunteer my services for a position I am slightly overqualified for such as an assistant or technician while I go through the security clearance process."

After a few months, Melanie wrote again:

I know its been a while but I'd like to thank you again for sending me a copy of your book. I found the section on writing cover letters especially helpful as well as the chapter on interviewing. By implementing your advice and suggestions, I was given a interview and later job offer with the perfect company. I start my dream job on Monday! Thanks again--your book made it possible.

Ecstatic to hear about Melanie's success, I asked what things made the difference and how she got this great job:

Actually, security clearances (or lake thereof) should not be a problem. I'm working for a technology consulting firm in San Francisco, and while the projects I'll eventually be staffed to will be varied, I'll be able to work in areas I've studied and areas I've never seen before. Should I be assigned to a project requiring a security clearance, they will certainly find other projects for me to work on in the meantime.

However, from reading your book I learned I was making some major mistakes applying for jobs. One of the major ones, which seems obvious now, was not including a cover letter, or including a letter that was little more than "I'm applying for this position". Another mistake was not adequately preparing for phone or in-person interviews. Another mistake was not following up after an interview. A neat trick that I think helped my resume get noticed was the bit about including ascii characters in online resumes. I didn't have any contacts at this company and they didn't recruit at my campus, so it was probably a combination of a snazzy html resume and a good cover letter that got me considered.

Hope this helps. Like I said, I would not be where I am now had I not read your book.
Thanks again,

Monday, May 22, 2006

Why a Resume Gap Beats Flipping Burgers

The Wall Street Journal is running a story titled Why a Resume Gap Beats Flipping Burgers. The article essentially advises to leave off remedial work from your resume. This applies for college resumes as well. Students are often of the opinion that including their fantastic performance at a restaurant chain or department store may be that little something that gets them a bit ahead from the competition. It may seem like a logical point of view, but what looks better--two roses or two roses with a dandelion?

You may be surprised to find that a resume is read for 15 seconds on average. Your goal should be to maximize those 15 seconds by providing quality content that is easy to navigate, read, and retain. I often advocate that the best way to improve a resume is not to hand it to someone to correct at their convenience, but rather to hand it to them for 15 seconds and then ask them to repeat what they remember from it. If after 15 seconds the reader does not pickup the most vital information you want to convey--that you are very good at project management, that you have public speaking experience, that you know how to get things done, that you interned at Yahoo--then you know exactly what you need to clarify and needs to be summarized.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Tips on Reducing Nervousness

Apologies for the big gap in posts.

Everyone gets a bit nervous before an important interview. Fortunately, there are some effective measures to take for what is a serious concern--many candidates are chosen simply because of what seems like natural confidence. If you are under the impression that thinking "Relax everything will work out if you try your best" is the only thing you can do to reduce the pressure, consider these tips gathered from some of the finest new-hires of the information age:

Become knowledgeable about the organization. Doing some research can give you an added edge of confidence over other candidates. Company research reduces the unknown which experts agree to be a fundamental cause of anxiety.

Practice. Practice until marketing yourself is second nature. It can only improve your confidence. Consider answering a list of behavioral questions or pitching your accomplishments outloud.

Tell your friends and relatives about interviews only after you have completed them. Shocked? Take a moment to think about who has the highest expectations for your success. If your loved ones often hold you to a high standard or incessantly gossip about your future, it can add a great deal of pressure while interviewing. Not worrying about how you will tell your parents if you don't get the job can take quite a load off your back. If you decide to use this approach, it will be a pleasant surprise to your loved ones when you do get offers.

Get safety offers. There is a big difference between looking for a job and looking for a better job. Having an offer in your pocket can add a sense of security that almost invariably makes a difference.

Do something active. The power of physical activity in reducing stress is very effective according to a wealth of studies. Take a few minutes the morning of the interview to stretch, go for a power walk, rollerblade, or whatever your favorite activity is. If you don't often exercise, more is not necessarily better; attending an interview tired and sore could reflect poorly upon you.