What goes in an awesome letter of recommendation

positive job search tipsOne of the more important tools of your job search portfolio is the Letter of Recommendation.  It is important to capture not only the facts about when and where you worked, but to give the reader a real sense of what you did in the previous job.  Plus, when you ask your contacts for a letter, it lets them know that you are looking for a position – a valuable networking tool.

 Unfortunately, many people may be willing to give you a letter of recommendation, but they don’t know what to write. As a result, they either write a very poor letter – or procrastinate and never get it done.

 To escape those traps, here’s some tips for recommendations that matter:

 First Paragraph – Establish the job

This is the facts of the position – dates, title, company and location.  This doesn’t have to be a boring repetition; in fact, you can start with the accolades right away:

“I am happy to recommend John Smith’s work for our company.  John worked as our Accounting Manager from 2005 through 2010.  Under his pro-active management, we always had accurate reports within tight deadlines…

 

Body Paragraphs – Details of what you did

Once the introduction is done, the recommendation needs to cover more specifics about not only your duties, but the significant outcomes or quality of your work.  Letters of recommendation are more valuable when they include specific details about the job:

“John not only managed all of our financial reports, but also led a team of five accountants and clerks. As a leader, John made sure that all team members were receiving the continuing education and development to handle our rapidly-growing company.  Thanks to his forward-thinking tactics, our billing turn-around significantly improved our cash flow for the company…

 Personal Paragraph – A bit about you

Recommendations are not just about duties and accomplishments.  They should reflect something about your personality or working style:

“John is highly-detail oriented, making sure that everything is accurate as well as easy to understand.  With his pleasant nature, John was able to stay cool, calm and collected, even under stressful situations…

 Closing – Would they hire you again?

The final paragraph is the strongest recommendation language.  It should definitely include a phrase about willingness to hire you again:

“In conclusion, I can whole-heartedly recommend John Smith for any position.  He was an extremely valuable member of our management team, and I would happily hire him again.

 Further follow-up

Some employers will verify letters of recommendation.  Make sure that your reference knows this, and includes his contact information in the letter:

“Please feel free to contact me at 303-555-5555 or fakeemail@email.com if you have any questions.”

Does your resume tell your story?

Domestic staff resumes are more formalIn a world that has become driven by key words, relevant experience and short attention spans, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that resumes are actually telling a story.  In this case, it is the story of your professional career.  When your resume can convey you story, you greatly improve your chances of landing an interview.

This doesn’t mean that we are going to write in a long narrative, or include a novella just to get your foot in the door.  Instead, the story within your resume is the turns and twists your career path may have taken, and why they led to where you are today.

The Complex Path

I was recently working with an executive on his resume.  I quickly noticed that there was a pattern to his work history: every one to two years, he changed his job.  A typical recruiter may assume that he was a job hopper.  In truth, he was part of an established corporate succession plan that groomed him for more senior management positions as he completed critical components in each rotation.

When we re-designed his resume, we added in a summary of the leadership program into the overall company description, with the individual jobs falling underneath.  Now instead of a job hopper, he looked like he was successfully climbing the corporate ladder – a highly desirable trait for senior management positions.

Career Transitions

Telling your story is also critical when doing a career change.  In this case, the challenge is convincing the recruiter not only that you have the skills to do the job, but the passion to make it in a new industry.  One case where we frequently see this scenario is the transition into private service.

One way to show relevance in the new industry is to focus on transferable skills.  It increases the key word count while allowing us to include important life skills.  However, just loading up key words will only get so far.

Whenever work passion comes into play, the resume must have a strong personal profile or summary.  It needs the short paragraph to explain why the candidate wants to make the change.  In some cases, it may be a life-long dream.  For others, it is the satisfaction in anticipating someone else’s needs.  For another, it is knowing that they can deal with any contingency that may arise, all with a cool and calm demeanor.

The point?  When the recruiters and the employers understand your passion, they are more likely to grant you the interview.  Smart employers hire for the fit and train for the skill; part of any fit is a passion for the job.

I once helped a new college graduate with her career transition.  Previously, she worked in IT, but went back to school to gain a degree in marketing.  Following graduation, she had a series of interviews with a marketing company for a Marketing Coordinator position.  She was not the most qualified candidate; in fact, she was missing some of the software applications critical for the job.  However, we worked with her passion statement and coached her to speak about that passion in the job interview.  In the end, she got the job – and before her first day, the company paid to send her to an InDesign class.  And mind you, this was in January 2009 – at the height of the Recession.

Final note – Key Words still matter

In our search engine-driven world, key words still do matter as a major factor in any resume.  While important, that doesn’t mean that need to be arranged in a boring manner.  It is possible to tell your story while still capturing the right phrases to survive the screening process – it just takes some finesse and strategy.

What to do when somebody hates your resume

bad resume review don't panicResumes are pretty subjective documents.  What one person loves may very well be loathed another.  So chances are, sooner or later, your resume will be hated by somebody (and yes, it even happens to us pros).   So what do you do now?

Consider the source. 

Some resume writers have been known to give excessively harsh reviews in an attempt to scare a job seeker into buying their resume service.  I have known some institutions of higher learning who have done the same thing.  Even recruiters or head hunters can be unsympathetic to a candidate, especially if they don’t want to invest the time to get to know someone personally.

 Take a calculated look at your resume.

Does it:

  • Have a professional appearance?
  • Incorporate the right key words for your target job?
  • Highlight your accomplishments?
  • Speak about previous responsibilities in a way that other people can understand?
  • Build on strengths while minimizing weaknesses or areas of concern?
  • Address the unique quirks for your industry?
  • Reflect the real you?

In many ways, I consider that last point as one of the most important.  When I write resumes, I tend to have a matter-of-fact style to my writing.  My eight years of recruiting experience has shown me that managers, head hunters and HR departments appreciate something that they can not only read in 30 seconds, but gain some understanding of the candidate in those split micro-seconds.

However, not everyone wants or likes that style of writing, especially when typical advice tends to favor statements like “results-oriented professional with 10 years of experience in building dynamic teams for superior outcomes.”  This does not mean that my writing is bad by comparison; it is just different and more direct.

Think about it this way: I love the Beatles but my sister hates them.  Does that make the Beatles music bad? No – it just means that we have different preferences on how music should be written.  The same is true for resumes.  As long as the key factors listed above are satisfied, your resume is probably effective.

Get a review from someone who understands your industry.

Every industry has unique aspects to it.  While resume reviews from friends and family can help with issues like spelling and grammar errors or the visual appearance, they may not understand the subtleties that impact your field.

For example, private service resumes often reflect more personality in the summary or profile section, in addition to including a picture of the job seeker.  Practically every corporate or business job out there would reject a resume with the picture on it.  Why? HR gets very nervous about even hints of discrimination, which includes personal pictures.

Similarly, a resume for a Federal job is an entirely different ball of wax than practically anything else out there.  In fact, these resumes are so specialized, we at the Personal Touch Career Services hired an additional writer with expertise in that field.

When to get help.

The best test on if your resume is working or not is based on the number of interviews it generates.  Couple of months ago, I reviewed a salesperson’s resume that was, well, to put it honestly, was ugly as sin.  However, it did list her key accomplishments (which were extensive) and longevity (which was impressive)  in her field.  In the end, she didn’t get a new resume … but it didn’t matter, as she had a new job within the month anyway.

On the flip side, I have seen people struggle to get interviews with beautiful resumes that are not key word optimized or not showing relative skills, strengths, accomplishments or responsibilities.  The best resume is the one that is a mix of all of these factors.

If you have sent out 20 resumes and have not gotten a single interview, it is time for a resume review.  However, don’t just ask one person or one resume writer: make sure to get a second opinion before you count your resume as terminal.

Want to see how your resume stacks up? Email us at donna@personaltouchcareerservices.com for your free resume review.

100 Words every writer should know

EzineArticles.com recently published a list of words that every expert author should know.  (Read the full article at http://blog.ezinearticles.com/2013/05/100-words-every-expert-author-should-know.html).  While job seekers may not necessarily need to be expert author, taking time to expand one’s vocabulary is a great skill – plus it can be fun!

Now, you wouldn’t necessarily use all of these words in your writing.  For example, terms like simile, antonym and juxtaposition are technical writing terms.

Others are just important to know on the fun scale: with a slight change to the spelling, they mean very different things.  “Ludacris” is a rap star; “ludicrous” means ridiculous.   “Loquacious” means someone who is talkative or long-winded, while “Locutus” is the name that Captain Jean-Luc Picard is given when he was assimilated by the Borg.  (Yes, that is a Star Trek: The Next Generation reference; I am a nerd.)

So enjoy your new words for the day – and don’t feel bad if you have to whip out a dictionary.  I did!

100 words writers should know

How to handle your hands during the interview

proper hands during an interviewAs a job interview coach, one thing I see people struggle with is what to do with their hands.  Extroverts let their hands fly all over the place, creating serious distractions.  Introverts keep them close to their body, or worse, let them dive in between their legs like a wedge.  (Don’t laugh, I see people do this all the time.)

So what should you do to get control of your hands?

For Extroverts:

Ideally, you want your movements to look natural and to emphasize your points, not distract from the message.  For the hand-talkers, be conscious of how far your hands travel – you don’t want them to get higher than your face or too much beyond the outer edges of your shoulders.

Try using a prop: bring in a pad of paper and a pen.  Ask the interviewer if you can take some notes.  You won’t actually be doing more than jotting down a word or two; the whole point of the pen is to give you something to hold so your hands are focused.

For Introverts:

If your body language tends to be on the tight side, try to place your forearms lightly on the table, hands holding each other.  You can place them on your lap as well, but if you start to let them drift in-between your legs, it makes your shoulders raise up.  This telegraphs nervousness and insecurity.

Practice your introduction in front of a mirror, ideally one that can show you sitting down.  Your introduction is your answer to that first question: “tell me about yourself…”  Once you have your introduction written, do run-throughs including the hand gestures.  Some options are doing a finger count when listing attributes or past duties; leaning forward and reaching out your hand slightly to emphasize a strength; and even resting your hand on your chin to show introspection.

A prop pad of paper and a pen can help you as well, although in a different capacity.  Think of it as your little shield, setting up a boundary between you and the interviewer.  This helps a lot for nervous interviewees.

Bad advice for everyone:

I recently taught a class where several people had been advised to sit on their hands during the interview, especially for hand-talkers.  This is a major red flags to potential employers.  It says “I am so uncomfortable here I am going to sit on my hands like a 6-year-old who needs to go to the restroom.”  Plus, think of this: would you really want to shake hands with someone after they were sitting on them for 30 minutes.  Kinda gross.

Who DOESN’T Want a Job? The Un-Job Fair

CFU unjob fairOn Saturday, June 1, 2013 the Colorado Free University will host their 4th annual Un-Job Fair in Denver!

Favorite presenters return and many new experts in the area of business development join in. The Un-Job Fair is created for people who own their own business or are considering launching one. Get great tips and strategies for success in a business you are already running or get ideas for new businesses to launch. Our team of self-employment experts have all been in the trenches themselves and have real world experience. No hype, just lots of practical, proven strategies for launching and sustaining your own profitable venture.

The full-day program includes:

Why Aren’t We All Self-Employed?  – Barbara J. Winter
Whether you are already on the path of self-employment or are just considering starting your own business, explore the myths, rumors, and opportunities of becoming you own boss.
Zero-Cost Marketing Strategies  – Paul Mladjenovic, CFP
No matter what product or service you want to provide or what opportunity you pursue, the obstacle every entrepreneur faces when seeking success boils down to marketing!

Pay Yourself First – Jennifer Croft
So you want to be self-employed—how much money do you want to make? Learn how to use a simple 5-minute formula to calculate how many products or services you’ll need to sell to pay yourself the salary you need.

Developing Your Digital Marketing Strategy- Jennifer Hilburn
Explore what is involved in creating a digital marketing strategy and how it can lead to business success.

Stay Motivated in Your Business – Donna Shannon
You have a lot riding on your shoulders and it’s easy to lose your direction when building a business. Learn five great ways to fight the distractions and personal doubt to create a powerful business model.

Great Small Business Ideas to Start Quickly & Cheaply – Stan Carpenter
Get ideas for starting businesses that are easy to start-up at low cost and low investment.
Maximizing Personal Productivity – Simon Zyrd
One thing all entrepreneurs have in common is too much to do and too little time. Learn the key principles of personal productivity and powerful disciplines and systems that anyone can use to exponentially boost their productivity.

10 Ways To Market Your Business On The Internet – Jennifer Croft
Learn how to increase your exposure on the Internet! Discover 10 Internet marketing strategies, most of which are free, and some of which take less than 10 minutes to implement.
Innovation for Entrepreneurs – Drew Volle
Creativity is essential for success in business today. Drawing on research from psychology and neuroscience find how the creative process works.

Creating a Compelling Presentation – Erik Palmer
Building a business often involves some public speaking. Learn the 5 key elements to building a speech that people will actually listen to.

Inspired & Unstoppable: Wildly Succeeding in Your Life’s Work! – Tama J Kieves
It’s time to live from inspiration instead of fear, vision instead of convention. You can catapult your creativity, vision, or business into the world and pay your bills at the same time.

 Using Digital Marketing to Sell Products – Dan Wilson
Businesses need to be strategic in their use of online marketing. Understanding how the advent of digital marketing has changed the sales cycle is critical for determining how and when to use your digital marketing campaigns.

Legal Entities 101 – Elizabeth Lewis
Every new business owner faces legal and tax questions – These answers and more will be discussed in this presentation.

LinkedIn for Business Promotion – Lindsey Day
LinkedIn isn’t just for job seekers! More and more businesses, including every Fortune 500 companies, are using LinkedIn to promote their company.
Turning Personal Experiences Into Profit Centers – Barbara Winter
While it could be argued that every business is influenced and informed by our personal experiences, a great deal of opportunity goes unused when we fail to see the potential of putting that experience to work.

Profitable Mega-Trends & Opportunities – Paul Mladjenovic
There are tremendous opportunities unfolding right now that you can profit from as a micro-entrepreneur, on a part- or full-time basis.

Facebook, Social Media and Viral Marketing: Connecting the Dots – Bill Eager
Get an overview of how Facebook can benefit your business. Learn how it can help you connect with prospects and customers.

Write a Book and Become an Expert in Your Field – Othniel Seiden, MD
Having a book can be the key to getting invitations for public presentations. It is not as difficult as you think to put your ideas and your professional story into print.

 

Read more and register at https://www.freeuregistration.com/CourseStatus.awp?&Course=8941E

Delaying a job search costs candidates dearly

LongTermUnemploymentScaryI recently read an article in the Atlantic about the staggering and frightening statistics around the long term unemployed in America:

 http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/04/the-terrifying-reality-of-long-term-unemployment/274957/

According to a study by Rand Ghayad, a visiting scholar at the Boston Fed and a PhD candidate in economics at Northeastern University, and William Dickens, a professor of economics at Northeastern University, job seekers who have been unemployed longer than 6 months are significantly less likely to get an interview than someone who has no experience in the same field but has been out of work only short-term.

What makes this particularly devastating is that over the past few years of speaking to networking groups, I can’t tell you how many times a job seeker told me that they took some “personal time” after leaving a job.  This could be because they were burned out, or because they received a severance package.  Then when they did become “serious” about their job search, they were shocked at how difficult it was to find a job.

Before they knew it, six months had passed with only one or two interviews – and no job offers.

At that point, many job seekers become willing to accept help with their job search.  This could be hiring a coach, like myself, or tapping the resources at their local Workforce Center.  They ask friends to look at their resumes.  They may attend some workshops around job searching, or check out books from the library.

All of these can help.  In fact, I encourage job seekers to make the most out of all the tools at their disposal and consider many different sources.  What is most important is to NOT WAIT to ask for help.

Job searching has changed drastically in the last few years – so much so that I had to revise my own book, “How to Get a Job Without Going Crazy.”

When I hear job seekers state that they haven’t had to look for a job in 5, 10 or 20 years, I really encourage them to learn about the modern job hunt.  And the sooner, the better.  If your techniques have not been effective, try something new.  Be bold and contact managers directly.  Build your network through LinkedIn.  And always be willing to ask for help, especially if the long term unemployment monster is breathing down your neck.

How to create a custom LinkedIn URL in 2 minutes

One of the great tools to use on your resume or business cards is a custom LinkedIn url.  It looks more professional and makes it easier for people to find you on LinkedIn.  In this 2-minute video, learn how you can personalize your own LinkedIn webpage.

Why tag clouds won’t tell the right resume key words

Most people know that key words are crucial to the job search.  HR departments and employers rely on key words to screen and select candidates.  Without the right key words, candidates will never get to the all-important interview.

To try to identify the right key words, many job seekers are using tag cloud generators to find the most common words in any job description.  But there is a huge problem with this: the most common terms are not the words that HR is using to screen candidates.

To get an accurate idea of the right key words, job seekers must analyze several job descriptions for the same job title  to find the key words that are repeating across the spectrum, not in any one job ad.

At the Personal Touch Career Services, we developed the Key Element Detector tool to do just that.

Want to know more about our Key Element Detector system?  Check out my book, “How to Get a Job Without Going Crazy” HERE

Do HR departments really hate job seekers?

grumpy HR business woman pointingIf you’re looking for work, it might feel like the Human Resources (HR) department is your sworn enemy.  They can be non-responsive to your application.  They don’t offer feedback on why you weren’t selected for a job.  And worst of all, sometimes you don’t get any acknowledgement that they even received your resume.

Keep this simple fact in mind: HR is expected to cut 95% or more of all candidates that apply for any given job.  It is not uncommon for HR to receive 300-500 applicants per job opening. This means that they must rely on procedures and screening tools just to get through the massive amount of applicants for any particular position.

It’s not that they hate you.  They need to detach personally in order to get their job done.

Radio Silence

“Radio silence” – such as the lack of any communication – is a product of both detachment and time saving devices.  Often times, if HR doesn’t set up an automatic reply email in their Applicant Tracking System (ATS), they won’t have the time to reply to each and every submission.

After the job is filled, rejection emails are delayed for the same reason- plus, it’s cheap to be rude.  Replying to all the candidates means taking time, even if it is an automated system.

Many departments like to keep the job open, at least until the first day of the new person.  This way, if something happens to their top candidate, they can revisit all of the applications in the ATS.  It is cheaper to go through previous applications a second time, rather than repost the job on Monster or CareerBuilder.

No friends here

While HR doesn’t hate you, they are certainly not your friend.  It is their job to cut you, not hire you.  Keep this in mind whenever you apply to a job.  It is your responsibility to make your resume as HR friendly as possible.  This includes using the right key words, being relevant to the job and following the directions in the job ad.  And of course, send a copy of your resume and cover letter directly to the hiring manager.

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