Covering letters – are they redundant?

A number of respected career coaches are adamant that cover letters are not necessary in the modern recruitment world. Notably, career coach Phil Rosenberg, President of US-based consultancy ReCareered, carried out extensive research with hiring managers and directors, almost all of whom say they don’t read – and often don’t receive – cover letters. So, are they a good or a bad idea?

Phil goes so far as to suggest that adding a cover letter can detract from your application, rather than enhancing it.

By contrast, I would no more suggest to a client that they send a bare CV with no cover letter than I would suggest they attend interview without wearing a tie (or equivalent for ladies). Why are our views so different?

A waste of effort?

Phil’s argument hinges on the fact that cover letters are simply not read. He’s right on that: up to 80% of them are immediately disregarded. Most cover letters aren’t even scanned into HR or recruitment databases, so they’re not even useful for key-word search.

But what if content is not the reason recruiters like to receive cover letters? As a long-time hirer-turned coach, I believe that a cover letter serves an entirely different purpose.

A cover letter is an indication of good manners – something sadly missing from many applicants’ kit-bags these days. I like to see that someone has bothered to find out who they are communicating with and send them a cover letter. It’s an indication of respect. It’s a politeness, not simply an adjunct to a CV (resume). It says: please let me introduce myself, and thank you for considering me.

I would actually think less of a candidate who did not extend this basic courtesy, even if I had no intention of reading the letter, scanning it into a system or otherwise passing it on. I think sending a CV on its own (unless this is what you’ve been directly asked to do) can seem presumptuous, if not rude. For this reason, especially in direct-application scenarios, I’d always advise a client to add a covering letter.

Focus your effort

However, Phil is right on one thing. A recruiter will spend about 15 seconds considering an application before deciding whether to shortlist for interview. If you put all your effort into crafting and tailoring a cover letter, it’s likely to be wasted effort.

Instead, put your energy and thought into tailoring the front page of your CV so that it has immediate and relevant impact.

January 13th, 2010 | Posted in application, CV, employer, job hunting, stand out | 1 Comment

Why is there such a long delay in the recruitment process?

I have been chasing a relatively senior role with a major blue-chip company since November. I’ve had three interviews – two in person and one by phone – and still have not seen the hiring director. Now the recruiter has called to say they want me to complete a psychometric profile. I feel as though I’m being made to jump through hoops. How can I bring this to a conclusion in my favour?

Just for a moment imagine you’re the hiring director and not the candidate. Organisations are driven by cyclical events and day-to-day challenges, politics and budgets, any of which can impact on the process and the timescale for filling a vacancy.

The fact that the hiring process has become lumpy and extended could well be an indication that the post you’re interviewing for has become caught up in some internal wrangling such as a disagreement about funding or reporting lines.

Or, it may be simply that the hiring director is struggling to find diary time to complete the recruitment process. It could be year-end; they could have had a poor set of figures or results that need to be urgently attended to; there may have been some high-level changes of staff or strategy. In short, the delay in progressing the recruitment may be nothing to do with you.

Go with the process

Rather than halting the process, the hiring director may be trying to find ways of keeping things moving, one of which may be having others interview you first.

It may also be that, conscious of the delay and not wanting to lose you, they are creating extra steps in the process to keep you ‘occupied’. So, in this sense, it may be that you are being made to jump through hoops.

The good thing is that there is nothing here to suggest the process is not going well for you. It may just be a case of being patient. That said, I would advise anyone in this situation to carry on applying for other roles. If this vacancy is withdrawn, or if you are the unluckier of two candidates in the process, you will be glad you had other options.

Hold your nerve

However frustrating it is to be at the mercy of a slow process, there is nothing to be gained by trying to hurry it. If the hiring director feels you are putting him or her under pressure they may decide to put the whole process on hold and release you.

Try to keep your nerve and not get impatient. The best things you can do in this position are to participate in every task as enthusiastically as you can; make sure the recruitment consultant knows you are both keen and prepared to wait because you really want this job; and to get the recruiter to keep pushing for an intended timeframe so that the process keeps moving without you applying any undue pressure.

Your best hope is that positivity and patience will pay off.

January 7th, 2010 | Posted in application, employer, hire, interview, recruiter, test | No Comments

How can I make New Year’s resolutions I’ll stick to?

Every year, I make New Year’s resolutions with every intention of keeping them, only to break them within a couple of weeks. I don’t seem to have any willpower! I work hard to achieve all kinds of things in my work life, so why can’t I do the same for personal goals?

A lot of people make New Year’s resolutions and then don’t keep them. In fact, psychologists at the University of Hertfordshire found that 78% of people fail to keep them.

Factors which helped the 22% who did keep their resolutions included breaking bigger goals into smaller steps, not being put off by temporary set-backs and lapses, and setting up rewards for each step achieved.

Leverage your life plan

Personally, I think it helps to set your goals in context of what you want to achieve for your life. New Year’s resolutions are easily swamped by daily events, but making them into logical building blocks or stepping stones toward a bigger aim can give you more motivation to stick to them.

Try working out why this resolution is important to you: what will it lead to? What will be different because you did this? What else will you be able to achieve as a result of keeping your resolution?

For instance, giving up smoking is laudable as an aim in its own right, but the pay-off is in your health, the health of those around you, how fast you can walk and what else you could buy with the money you save. It’s easier to value these pay-offs if your overall aim is a fitter, richer you.

A bigger step is to use the New Year as a time to reassess your life priorities; what you’ve achieved personally and professionally up to now, and where you would like to be, personally and professionally, a year or three from now. Then set your New Year’s resolutions as the first steps on that path.

As to your finding achieving for work easier than achieving your own resolutions, maybe there’s a New Year’s resolution in there, somewhere.

December 29th, 2009 | Posted in career changer | No Comments

I talk too much in interviews

I’ve just completed a mock interview and the main piece of feedback was disappointingly familiar. I can’t answer a question without loading it with so much detail that the interviewer loses interest. I also write that level of detail when I’m doing interview prep – pages and pages of it. I know my subject and I don’t suffer with nerves. How can I train myself to be more succinct?

Working in endless amounts of detail is a form of nerves. You feel as though you have to tell the whole story, not just the headlines, and you’re scared to leave anything out in case it’s important.

But the truth is, your interview will be more successful if the interviewer is allowed to ask all the questions they need to ask, and if you are able to get over everything you want them to know about you. This can only happen if you learn to précis or shorten down what you have to say.

Tackling the waffle

If you can, work with a friend. Work back through previous interview questions and this time, aim to answer each question in three short points, as though you’re talking in bullet points. Get the friend to stop you as soon as any bullet point becomes too long and waffly. The first few times you try this, you’ll stumble over what you want to say because the instinct to add detail will be very strong. You may not even realise that you’re adding too much detail.

To help keep your answers short, imagine that each point has to fit into 6 lines written on a standard Post-It note. Another useful tip is to count off the points on your fingers (without waving them in the air, obviously). This sends you a subtle physical message about how long you’ve been talking on one point.

As you practice, the discipline of answering in three points will become easier and more instinctive. Next, add in a follow-up question, and aim to answer it in just one bullet point.

Notes, not reams

When you do your interview prep, don’t allow yourself to write reams of detail. Prepare a short dossier on the employer (eg, ‘the top ten things I really need to know about this organisation’), and then prepare against possible questions.

Discipline yourself to keep the three-bullet-point format without making longer notes to cut down from. Simply think and prioritise on what your three points should be, and when you’re ready write them down. Eventually, you will need less thinking time to formulate your three points, because answering briefly will come naturally.

December 11th, 2009 | Posted in answers, feedback, interview, preparation | No Comments

Help! My skills are getting rusty!

I’ve been out of work for a few weeks now. I love my work, and I have always been able to talk about it confidently, and strategise on the hoof. A recruiter called me this morning to talk about an opportunity – luckily not a job that really suited – but I found myself tongue-tied because I couldn’t remember some of the most basic vocabulary from my industry. What’s happening?! Am I losing it?! And what can I do to stop it getting any worse?

Don’t worry! Any skill we don’t use regularly gets a bit rusty, so all you need is to find ways to practice what you usually do to keep your hand in.

Look about for someone or something that needs your skills – perhaps offer your skills as a volunteer for a few weeks, or create a hobby project. All the better if you can find something that requires you to work as part of a team, as unused team-skills and confidence can also get rusty.

Now would also be a good time to get a manual, ask for an intern placement or take an online course to add to your skill set.

In addition, look online, pick up or find in the local library the trade publications for your industry, to keep abreast of any significant new developments.

For people whose trade lends itself to doing so, read online blogs and articles and then comment on them – don’t just read, get in there and get your feet wet. Most online publications that allow comment also allow you to make your signature into a hyperlink, which you can link back to your own web site or Linked In profile. Even though it seems like a long shot, people who are impressed with your views will begin to get in touch and network with you.

And, networking, as we all know, is a very powerful method of job searching.

November 30th, 2009 | Posted in experience, job hunting, recruiter, rusty | No Comments