Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Stand Out with a Strong Cover Letter

“Do I really need a cover letter?” This is the question I often get when I ask people if they have one. The question is not really about needing it but about how much you really want the job.  When you’re passionate about something, you don’t do the bare minimum – you go the extra mile. That is where the cover letter comes in. It’s that extra step, the enhancement to your product (which is your resume) that can be the difference between “Hi! We’d love to have you come in for an interview” or “Thanks for your interest, we have decided not to move forward.” For job seekers who are really interested in securing that interview, the cover letter is essential.  A cover letter is your golden opportunity to share your communication skills and really highlight your value to the employer

So, let’s get started on your stand-out cover. There are several things to remember when crafting the cover letter because a poorly written one can definitely hurt your chances. Here is a list of some of the best tips to consider when you begin writing.

  1. Do not re-state your resume. Compose your cover letter as if you are talking directly to the recruiter. Imagine being stuck in an elevator with a recruiter for 5 minutes (the elevator pitch as it is widely known).  How would you make a strong positive impression that would have the recruiter itching to get back to his or her office to set up an interview with you? Think about this scenario and then start writing your cover letter.   Use your cover letter to really showcase your  credentials and accomplishments so the employer clearly understands the value you would bring to the company 
  2. The first paragraph is crucial. You have to hook the recruiter right off the bat and show them why you are a perfect fit for their company. Show passion and show interest.  Make sure the employer can clearly see that you know who they are and then tell them why you are interested in working for their company.
  3. Understand that it’s not really about you. Don’t go on and on about why this position is perfect for you. Tell employers what you can do for them. Remember to put yourself in the employer’s shoes when writing the cover letter. They wrote the job description and they are focused on what they need so show them you have what they need.
  4. Don’t just focus on your past experience but clearly tell the employer how your past experience will benefit them in the future. Refer to your research on the company and the job description to help you focus on clearly showing why they should hire you. You can do this in a narrative but there are other ways to get that point across as well. You can craft a direct statement such as “Here is what I can specifically deliver in this role…” and then give bullet points using the PAR method (problem, action, result) to show exactly what you can do. Creating a table listing their job requirements alongside your matching skills is also a great way to make sure you are showing the employer how you can help them now.
  5. Never sell yourself short! Even if your experience is not an exact match, you still have much to offer. Let your enthusiasm and high energy come across. Show your transferable skills and your positive attitude. You would be amazed how your unique combination of intelligence, positivity and willingness to learn can tip the scales in your favor. 
  6. Be yourself. Showing your professionalism and communication style is important but it is also very important that you be yourself. Give the reader a sneak peek at your personality along with your qualifications. Be original and engaging, tell a story, or share an interest.  You will stand out from the pack and make an impact that can get you that coveted interview.

For additional tools and resources to assist in creating a powerful cover letter, please visit the WGU Career & Professional Development website. For individual assistance in crafting your cover letter, email careers@wgu.edu. We look forward to assisting you in reaching your career goals.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Guest Blogger: 10 Tips for Jobseekers 50+

If you are like me and have been otherwise occupied, such as raising a family and/or going to school, searching for employment in newspaper classifieds and job boards will get you nowhere. I’m a recent graduate, jobseeker, and over 50.  I’ve also learned a few things about today’s job market.  Here are some other tips:
  1. Don’t PANIC.  Get help.  You’ll flag quickly if you try to go it alone.  The staff here at the WGU Career & Professional Development Center will give you as much/little help as you need.  Check out everything and use what works for you.  There’s a firehose worth of information out there---the trick is finding the trickle that you need.
  2. Use Social Media.  From someone who is allergic to it, try it.  A LinkedIn profile with accurate privacy settings will get viewed, and there are jobs on LinkedIn that are listed nowhere else. There is a LinkedIn Job Search Checklist on how to set up your profile on the WGU Career & Professional Development website.
  3. Identify your passion and stay focused on it.  Thinking outside the box is okay, off-planet is not.
  4. Make a master resume with everything on it.  Cut and paste only what you need to answer the job description.  If you’re not sure what a master resume is, contact a WGU Career & Professional Development Specialist to help you.
  5. Consider a pay cut.  If it’s the job you really want (you know, the one that will make you jump out of bed Monday mornings with a smile), consider it anyway.  Current employment makes a difference on your resume.  
  6. Remember nothing is permanent.  No matter your age, your next job is not necessarily your last.  The “one job until you retire” idea is as outdated as the Model T Ford.
  7. Look for jobs where your experience is appreciated.  Websites such as Idealist.org, Encore.org, and Work Reimagined may give you new ideas.
  8. Make Connections.  Online connections are very important, but in-person connections are better. Talk with people, like the guy in the coffee line with you, or the lady that cuts your hair---you never know who has a connection for you. 
  9. Modernize your hairstyle and wardrobe.  Some say to cover the gray, but I am more comfortable and confident with natural, but nice.  If it makes you feel more confident, do it.
  10. Cut yourself some slack.  Job hunting is likely the worst, unpaid, full-time job you’ll ever have. Remember to take some time for yourself.
In his editorial column, “Between Us” in AARP The Magazine, Editor-in-chief Robert Love states, “…U.S. adults who are over 50 [are] the third largest economy in the world, trailing only the gross national product[s] of the United States and China,” so “Who’s afraid of a little gray?”

About the Author
Joy Gruver is a recent WGU  Washington graduate (Bachelor of Arts in Educational Studies). Adult Educator, Amateur Radio operator,  former EMT, and avid recycler.  She has several years of experience as an adult educator and is currently seeking a position that aligns with her interests, passions, and career goals. Please visit her LinkedIn Profile: http://www.linkedin.com/in/joygruver/

Monday, September 22, 2014

Back in the Saddle: Re-entering the Job Market

Lately, students have been asking how to deal with gaps in their employment when they’re writing their resumes. These gaps range from stay-at-home parents to returning veterans. They tell me they’re nervous because job descriptions require 3-5 years of experience and they don’t believe they’re qualified. Well, the truth is people step in and out of jobs all the time.  I tell them that if they listed everything they did in their home-jobs or on the battlefield; they might come across as over-qualified. I advise them to consider the following:

Use a hybrid resume format, which is a blend of a skills/functional based and chronological based document.  A chronological resume is the most popular format but if there are holes in your chronology, it might be a red flag. Also, some recruiters say that a pure skills based resume that includes a job history section with no employment dates is a red flag. So, why not mix it up to give the best of both worlds? The hybrid style will start with a robust “Summary of Qualifications” at the top, followed by a “Core Competencies” section. The summary highlights your best practices, what you’re known for and what you’re most proud of as it relates to the job you’re seeking. The competencies section includes the things you know how to do (e.g. balance budgets, cost control, project management, client relations).

List any volunteer or part-time projects or jobs. This shows that you’re putting your skills to work and not just sitting home keeping your couch warm. Any hiring manager will want to see that candidates are “self-sustaining” by proactively taking initiative. Make sure that you create this section to be as “business-like” as possible. You want those who make corporate decisions to take your resume seriously.

Networking… I know! This can be a tiresome buzz word but it still is necessary. Miriam Salpeter, a job search and social media consultant for US News & World Report, strongly advises to take advantage of every kind of networking tool including in-person opportunities. She says that LinkedIn, job clubs and mixers are all “equally important for job seekers who really want to solidify relationships with the potential to earn them introductions to key decision-makers at their target companies”.

Remember, your job search may take time, trial, and error but be patient with yourself and with the process. This is still a brave new world and the rules are in constant flux. Pay attention to how interviews and phone screenings go. Assess how you think you did, celebrate your progress and make course corrections along the way. In the world of job searching, patience and persistence will be your best friends. Giddy up, y’all!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Interviewing: Tell Me About Yourself

Most interviewers will start with a request to “Tell me about yourself.” Even though it is an easy request to anticipate, it often causes undue stress and anxiety, resulting in rambling responses that include complete life stories. With a little preparation, you can use this question to clearly articulate your strengths and accomplishments, setting a confident, positive tone for the rest of the interview.

To craft a strong response, start by carefully reviewing the job requisition, researching the employer, and asking these questions:

  1. What strengths do you have that are pertinent to the position? (3-5)
  2. What are key accomplishments that have benefitted past employers and are relevant to this position? (1-2)
  3. What personal traits (or soft skills) do you have that complement your other skills?
  4. What educational credentials enhance your employment background? (diplomas, degrees, and professional certifications)

Create a script including information from your answers.  Keep your response relatively succinct. It is surprising what can be said in just 30 to 45 seconds.  For example:

My passion is numbers. With more than five years experience in accounting, I have been recognized for completing complex accounting projects under stringent time restraints. In my current role as a fund accountant, I generated over $230,000.00 in cost savings by identifying expense reduction opportunities. I enjoy collaborating with others to understand my employer’s pain points and addressing problems head-on.  My bachelor’s degree in accounting is a strong foundation for my accounting career and I am currently on track to obtain my CPA License by this October. 

In most instances, avoid sharing personal matters or ancient work history. Instead, focus on highlighting:

  • how you can do the job
  • what you have previously accomplished 
  • how you can help the organization

Practice with your script until you feel confident, but avoid memorization. Your response should sound natural and conversational. With a thoughtful, prepared response, you are bound to make a memorable and positive impression.

For additional assistance or to schedule a mock interview, please contact WGU Career & Professional Development. We are here to help.