Category Archives: cover letters

Down but not out! The power of the past!

Snail mail can work!

Old methodologies can work! Today the pace of technological change is phenomenal and the process of searching for a new job has moved away from the more traditional methods towards online, electronic strategies. Tried and tested techniques once standard for job seekers are now becoming at best outdated, and in some cases, totally obsolete. Career coaches are constantly hammering home to job seekers how important it is in today’s job search market to keep abreast of the wide variety of job seeking tactics that are available to us all on the internet. Included in this list are professional platforms such as LinkedIn, online job listings, other social networking sites, company websites and so on.

Embracing change
However, there is now a half a generation at least, who know of no other way of looking for a job other than online. Older demographics are also starting to understand that change is inevitable and even the Luddites embrace parts of this brave new world, albeit reluctantly: posting LinkedIn profiles, joining Facebook, uploading CVs electronically and raising their online visibility. But younger demographics, mainly out of ignorance, can at times be just as closed to trying out something, not necessarily new, but new to them.

Other than seeing things on old movies or Mad Men, they are not familiar with, and have no experience of, job search processes that weren’t carried out via the internet. However, there are times when traditional time-honoured methods cannot be totally ruled out and can even bring some benefit.

Mr. Postman
I was working recently with a young man based in Buenos Aires. He is engaged to be married and wants to relocate to Europe, to at least be on the same continent, preferably in the same country as his fiancée, who lives in Munich. They had agreed that he would be the one to move: he was entitled to Italian nationality via his grandmother and could therefore work in the E.U. He also speaks 5 languages fluently, compared to his wife to be, who has a mere 3 under her belt.

Together we created a career transition strategy, identified his transferable skills, raised his general visibility and targeted the companies he would like to work for. Despite his best efforts, progress was slower than he would have liked, which was putting pressure on his relationship.

Long shot
So I thought and suggested (somewhat tentatively) that he could write some letters. There was a silence. Then the dialogue went something like this:

Pietro: – ” But I have written. I’ve sent all sorts of mails and LinkedIn messages”
Me: ” I know – but what about writing a letter, printed on paper ( I’ve seen his hand writing – not good. It would be hard to believe he is older than 9) put it in an envelope and post it in the mail with a copy of your CV. It’s something you haven’t done and might be at least worth a shot’
Pietro: ” Wow – you mean like a letter? Like in snail mail? That will take ages. How do I know they will get there, or anyone will read it?”
Me: ” Yes I mean like a letter, like in snail mail. How do you know anyone’s read your emails? You don’t. You could send a registered mail but that might seem a bit over the top for a CV! Give it a try.”

Long shot
So he did and 8 letters were duly dispatched addressed to the contact names he was trying to reach in his preferred target companies, giving dates of his next planned trip to Munich. During the next month he received by various means, 3 requests to contact the company to set up information interviews. Not a bad result for a long shot.

So there are things that we can usefully blast from the past and there are others that could prove difficult. I saw one old school suggestion of unannounced visits to a potential employer. Now 30 years ago that might have worked. Today it’s unlikely that any unscheduled caller will get beyond security, particularly in large organisations where even gate keepers have gate keepers. But in small informally run companies – even that might work on a lucky day . The visitor will find out soon enough if his/her presence is considered intrusive and they find themselves unceremoniously on the pavement.

Down but not out!
So the moral of the story is not to have a closed mind no matter what age you are and to assess all the tools in the job search box. Just as older job seekers have had to adapt to new ways of navigating the market, so Gen Y can learn from tried and trusted methodologies, which although mainly gone, should not be totally forgotten.

Motherhood and the CV Gap

 Wally Bock in Momentor says “Even with men taking paternity leave, women face a career challenge that few if any men will ever face. This one of those situations where there are no easy answers, only intelligent choices. Dorothy Dalton lays them out for you in what is the very best post I have ever seen on this topic.”

How to bridge the gap in your resume
One of the most frequently asked questions  that I am ever asked,  both as a recruiter and as a career coach,  is  about handling gaps in a CV caused by taking time out to raise a family. Response: there is no one magic wand answer. Or at least not one that I can think of.

Starting and raising a family is one of  the greatest challenges of  not just being a woman, but being a woman in the work place. We all handle it differently. There is no right or wrong way. Some return to work and balance  a career and professional demands with a variety of child care and support arrangements. Others decide to focus exclusively on their families for different lengths of time.

Experience
Both my kids are in their 20s and I can honestly say that I am familiar with many of the thought processes and situations that professional women go through when they have a family. I have probably experienced most combinations of childcare and work set-ups  imaginable: flexi-time, part-time, remote working, NOT working (aka ME) and  self-employment. I have been guilt tripped by pretty much everyone, including my kids and bosses in equal measure. My son is dyslexic and required  educational support when younger, but my business/family stress was finally reduced  when he discovered as a teenager,  that dyslexia is an anagram for “daily sex”. That helped with his learning difficulty more than anything I ever did.

Tough decisions
Becoming a full-time parent today is a luxury decision that few are able to make, but many still do. Very often for either economic reasons, or simply a desire to have a different purpose, many women choose to go back to work.

But frequently Rosanne Barr’s  one-liner  ” I can do anything. I’m a  mom”  doesn’t ring true for a large number.  It certainly doesn’t ring true for many employers.

Transferrable skills
Employers tend to want new hires to hit the ground running and are reluctant even to look at the transferrable skills from individuals who  come from another  business sector,  let alone anyone whose sector activity  has been running a home (hospitality, finance and facility management) school runs  (logistics) raising kids (team building, succession planning, change and conflict management, negotiation) supporting a partner (coaching, internal communication and external relations).

The soft skills that women possess in abundance, combined with the hands on managerial abilities ,  which are a prerequisite for running a family, should be easily transferrable into a business environment, particularly with some on boarding support. Unfortunately, many employers are unwilling or unable to see this. But equally many women don’t see it either. The years outside a corporate environment leave a large number feeling less than confident.

Strategic preparation
Some  career columnists recommend  adding a cover letter  of explanation as a returning Mum that you are now willing and able to re-join the work force.  Truthfully, that will no longer cut it.  That cover letter may not even make it past an ATS system. The pace of change in the recruitment sector has been so great that strategic preparation is important.

The earlier you start preparing a viable business case for your return to the market place the better. If you create a strategic plan before your offspring arrive on the scene, so much the better, but if not, just as soon as you can. You’ve heard of planned pregnancies? Well career planning is the same! It’s not enough to say  “Hey -ho, I’ve got a babysitter, I’m back”  and doors will swing open.  Whether the gap is 7 or 17 years the principles are the same.

  • Stay or get up to date in your profession. It’s not easy after spending a day dealing with the minutiae of every day family life to flick a switch and get into biz mode and read up on any developments  or trends in your now old profession but it’s worth it.  Cosmo  might be more appealing  than the Economist, or the packed lunches might be calling,  but try to allocate some time for your once professional self.  If you let this slide over the years , start getting up to speed quickly.
  •  Stay or get connected:  carry on if you possibly can with your professional networks. Subscriptions,  workshops and conferences can be pricey without corporate funding.  But there is still a lot of material  available on-line and social media networking is free. Sign up on LinkedIn  or any other professional site. LinkedIn has many different groups for mums –    over 26 pages when I just checked. There has to be something that suits you. If not create your own.   There are special groups on-line and in your own towns, specifically to support women in transition. Find yours and attend their events.
  • Stay or get in touch with old colleagues. They will give you the heads up on any opportunities.
  • Network –  any contacts you make in the course of your daily life may help.  Keep business cards, follow careers and stay in touch ( see above)
  • Consider working from home: is there anything you can do before you return to work to ease yourself gently into a business environment ?
  • Consider setting up your own business: Read my post Women who Make it Happen.  4, really normal  women recount their successful transition into entrepreneurship following periods raising their families. If they can do it –  so can you !
  •  Re – train  – this is a good opportunity to think about doing something different. What are your passions? What would you like to do with the rest of your life?  What are your skills? On- line courses make it easier to combine acquiring new skills with childcare and domestic responsibilities.
  • Invest in yourself – think long-term. Make your personal development ongoing.
  • Volunteer  – many women are very often involved in voluntary activities that rival any corporate activity. Fund raising , event management, PTA President, school or charity treasurer. Make sure that when you write your CV you include any metrics that support your efforts in terms of results and  processes. Raising  250K  for the new school library is a big deal and no different from meeting sales targets! Organising a gala garden party for your church with 600 people attending is no different to corporate event management.
  • Check your business image: if your wardrobe is full of office attire circa pre-motherhood –  a trip to the charity shop is essential. Nothing dates you more than looking out dated.

Even if you have done none of the above – it’s never too late to start.  As covered recently in Forbes , hiring managers are convinced by commitment , backed up by evidence that you can add value.  Their eyes will glaze over if the  only talk you can offer,  no matter how proudly,  is of raising your family.  Regrettably,   sometimes professional women can be  tougher than their male counterparts.

But occasionally wisdom comes from unexpected sources:  “ I’m a mother with two small children, so I don’t take as much crap as I used to.”  Pamela Anderson

So do you?

The Cover Letter Debate

Do you ever wonder about lists?

I do!

We seem to like lists. You must have seen them. 10 ways to write a perfect CV. 20 job search tips. 10 things not to do in an interview. 12 ways to stay positive. They seem to give our lives structure in so many different ways and help us feel in control. Of course, when we feel in control – we feel secure.

Don’t get me wrong! I’m no different! I love lists.

But sometimes I wonder if sticking to lists, stops us thinking for ourselves, trusting our instincts and responding creatively.

The rules are gone

One of my observations about job search strategies over recent years is that there are no long term hard and fast rules and procedures any more. Any structures and systems seem to exist for a short time only, before we need another set of rules to deal with them.

This is just one example. I read an article the other day, about sending cover letters with CVs. A small thing. STOP using them it exhorted in Tahoma 22. Never send them. Waste of time and energy. This communication went out globally. There was a strong implication that life, as it was known to that point, would be positively overturned by a flood of interview opportunities.

My immediate thought was – yes! Great advice. Totally true! Of course, it will get peeled away by some word recognition recruitment software, the second your CV is downloaded by an HR assistant or hits an internet job site.  Hiring managers claim they rarely see cover letters. If you’re applying for a job, say, as a Product Manager with an international conglomerate, headquartered in London, New York, Paris, or Sydney with highly automated recruitment processes, the chances of that happening are almost 100%. So, absolutely right, save your time and energy for other things. Enjoy your great, new, interview filled life.

Wait..

But then I thought. Hang on! Wait a minute! What if you are approaching a small or medium sized business, perhaps in your home town, which might be Stratford (US or UK), Grenoble or Gannons Creek? You might know several key managers, which actually gives you some leverage. So would it still be wise to do that? What if you’re contacting a CEO, or senior manager, of any organisation, anywhere at all and had been referred by a mutual connection? Would ditching a cover letter under those circumstances be good advice? What if your CV is in English and the reader might not be Anglophone? Could including a cover letter in another langauge help?

Cover letters can be key

My answer in these cases is categorically, a cover letter might turn out to be key. You have connections. You might be/are in the same network, professional or social. You might have a qualified referral. They might know your current employer, your aunt, a teacher, a golf buddy – or even you! So not to send a cover letter might not only be construed as being rude, but it would definitely be under utilising the opportunity to maximise your personal connections, to sell yourself and your obvious talents and experience. You might be able to demonstrate foreign language skills.

So what do we learn? Yes, there are indeed some, perhaps many, occasions where not to use a cover letter will save you time and energy. But there are also times when it will be extremely helpful. You will still need to customize your CV and in case it does get peeled away or not passed on to the hiring manager, never put any information in your cover letter that isn’t in your resume.

Each opportunity is unique

So although there might be broad underlying patterns and trends in some areas, each opportunity and relationship is unique and should be considered as such. Circumstances vary and each job application requires a flexible and different approach. So you need to be prepared to tweak your basic CV and orientate it towards each opportunity, with or without, a cover letter. Only you can decide.Does that make your life easier? No, of course not. That would be too simple. It means you have to assess each organisation and opportunity, research them and make a judgement call! Then take responsibility and make a strategic decision.

Isn’t that control?