What should a cover letter cover?

Break through the crowd of cover letter with these tips!

Only send a cover letter if they ask for one.  When they ask for a cover letter, it’s usually because your resume is going to be screened by software or a low level HR clerk, neither of which is equipped to interpret your resume to determine if it matches the job description.  Instead, they want a shortcut.

The purpose of your cover letter is to give them that shortcut. Therefore, a cover letter should be a clear, concise and coherent summary of a match between you and the key/essential requirements of the position. 

Think of it as a fact-matching exercise

List their key requirements in one column then correlate your experience and skills in metric terms with those requirements.  For example, if they require a degree in a field, name your degree and year of completion’ if they ask for X years of experience with a certain software, provide them with your number of years; if they want to know what kinds of projects you’ve worked on, be specific (name of project, duration, objective, your role, budget, results); and so on.  Once you’ve done the two-column exercise, you can formulate a one-page cover letter.

You then refer them to your resume for details.  The cover letter is not for you to emote about how much you admire the company and what a great candidate you are.  The purpose of the cover letter is to give them a good reason to read your resume where you demonstrate your  “job specific knowledge” and provide evidence of why you can perform the required “duties and responsibilities”.

Customize

Cover letters and resumes need to be customized to a job posting.  They are marketing documents that help differentiate you from other competitors.  In order to optimize your chances of breaking through the glut of applications and rise above the noise, get professional help!

Right Stuff for Starting a Business

To start your own business or not?

I recently worked with an MBA client employed in a Fortune 500 company who commutes 2 hours each way.  He’s tired of it and wants out.  He’s been exploring the option of buying a franchise business.

He thinks he’d be good at it but contacted me as a reality check, i.e. to make sure he’s not simply acting on a confirmation bias.  Instead, he wants to know:  “Do I have the right stuff to run my own business?”

He knows what to do.  After all, he’s got an MBA so he knows how to design and implement business systems that work.  What he really wants to know is whether or not running his own business aligns with his strengths and motivations. 

Definition: an entrepreneur is a person who organizes and operates a business or businesses, taking on greater than normal financial risks in order to do so.

He asked for a quick and easy assessment to help with his decision-making.  He presented me with a matrix of job duties that he did and did not enjoy in previous jobs.  Clearly, he has many financial, operational, and managerial skills that align with running a business.

But was he motivated to use those skills in the circumstances of starting a new business?

Clues

A natural entrepreneur has a knack for spotting opportunities and acting on them quickly.  This talent usually shows up early in life, not just in work-related activities but in other circumstances too, such as school projects or volunteer activities.  To uncover such events in a person’s life, I often ask simple questions.

– Tell me about a time when you felt strongly about something and were able to recruit others and lead the charge down a new path or new venture.

– Give me an example of where you motivated others to start up a group in order to bring about some kind of change.

– Tell me about any projects that you’ve started from scratch with others.

– Tell me about a business or hobby enterprise that was failing and you got excited about turning it around.

– What is easier for you—getting a project off the ground or maintaining it once it’s up and running?

– When you find yourself as part of a group or team and things get bogged down, how do you normally react? (Can you give me an example of when you took the ball yourself and ran with it?)

My client’s answers to these questions revealed no knack for taking the initiative or recruiting others to help him start projects.  Instead, they revealed a strong inclination to be recruited by others and work on solving problems related to new business ventures.  The challenge and variety of such problems brought out the best in him.

He often gravitated to roles in new ventures where he could operate as a Key Contributor, getting involved in activities that were crucial to the success of the project or business.   Other team members valued him as a stabilizing influence in what were often very fluid, challenging situations.  He was the kind of team player that may not always be noticed when he’s there but is very much missed when he isn’t.

New Path

When this pattern was pointed out to him, he realized that his entrepreneurial aspirations were really a reaction to his current job as a cog in a very large wheel of a Fortune 500 company’s with firmly established policies, procedures and practices.  He was expected to do the same thing day in and day out, which was a direct conflict with his natural inclination to be involved with a variety of challenging problems related to new ventures.

Of course, he can start his own business, using determination and business skills…but over the long run he would probably be drained by such a venture and be unmotivated to continue, or find that recruiting others (as staff and customers) might be too stressful.

As we explore options together, he may find that a much better job fit for his combination of experience, education, strengths and preferences is to rebrand for a senior Manager role in a high-growth company or franchise where his knack or solving new venture problems would be recognized and rewarded. 

Measure your Job Satisfaction

Job satisfaction is cited in many employee surveys as the #1 factor for staying in a job.  But what is job satisfaction and how do you measure it?

First, let’s be honest, there is no such thing as a perfect job where you are 100% happy and satisfied all the time.  The world is just not organized that way!  Second, let’s look at two key aspects of a job: (1) your key responsibilities or core job duties, and (2) the context or work environment in which you perform those duties.

Core Job Duties

Most job descriptions list about 10 key responsibilities that you are expected to perform regularly.  Ask yourself, what percentage of an average work day do you spend performing job duties that energize or stimulate you, as opposed to drain or bore you?  One key to job satisfaction is to spend 60% of your day or more performing job duties that energize you.  Because, let’s face it, many job duties are just grunt work, things you can do but don’t really enjoy doing—in fact, you probably roll up your sleeves, grit your teeth, and wipe the sweat off your brow to get them done.  This is the down side of your job.

Job satisfaction often depends on your ability to limit the downside of your job to 40% of your key responsibilities…which means that the remaining 60% of your job duties should engage your strengths and motivations—things you do naturally and effortlessly.  But, in my experience, most individuals end up performing dull or boring job duties 60-90% of their day, which is a recipe for stress and burnout…and helps explain why depression is the number one workplace disability today.  Why would you want to go to work and spend most of your day performing boring or dull job duties?

This 60/40 split becomes increasingly important as you grow older and have less energy available to you. However, you need to be aware of the likelihood that many times this ratio may slip to 40/60, in which case you may feel drained by brief periods of routine work.  This is nothing to be alarmed about as long as the ratio returns to 60/40 in due course; if it doesn’t, you’ll need to take action.

Work Circumstances

Besides a 60-40 split in terms of core job duties, job satisfaction is often a result of certain factors, such as good relationships with co-workers, especially your immediate supervisor.  You could have the best job duties in the world but if your compensation doesn’t allow you to pay the bills or get ahead, then job satisfaction declines.  Or, perhaps your commute is killing you.  Or, your metabolism can’t adjust to shift work.  Being in work circumstances that align with your values, priorities and preferences also contributes to job satisfaction.

For example, numerous studies point to the following factors that influence satisfaction on the job: a lot of job security; relatively high incomes or university degrees; how much say you have over what you do and the way you do it; small workplaces; the amount of time you spend commuting or working at home; dealing with people; who controls the pace of work is critical…tight deadlines and high-speed is a source of job dis-satisfaction for many people; while small freedoms—such as being able to move your desk or change the lighting—adds to job satisfaction for others.

As you can see, jobfit and career satisfaction are influenced by many factors related to what energizes you in terms of core job duties and what brings out the best in your in terms of a work environment.

When to Pivot your Career: 3 Signs to Watch for

A career change is not the same thing as a job change.  It’s a reboot–a wholesale change of employer, job duties and job title.

When should you consider such a big project? 

Here are three signs to watch for:

1. STAGNATION.  You’ve had the same job title, same job duties and same employer for 10+ years.  Your career feels stuck on autopilot.  A stagnant career is not a healthy one, especially if the economy shifts and you have nowhere to go to sell your skills and experience.  Now is the time to explore options.  It doesn’t mean you have to change now but it does help to be ready if or when you want to shift.  A career change can take most people 9-24 months.  Don’t underestimate the time needed to identify a new career target and then market yourself to that target. 

2. FRUSTRATION.  You aren’t doing work you enjoy.  Your core job duties drain you rather than energize you.  You have little energy at the end of your day or week to give to your family or friends or hobbies/interests.  It feels like all you do is work, sleep, eat, and veg out.  You feel like you should do other things but can’t find the motivation or energy to do so.  These are clear signs that your job is not a good fit,  You might be on the path to burnout or worse.  The cause of your burnout might be the job itself or it might be the circumstances/environment that you work in—they are not the same thing.  Your job environment can be fixed through better coping strategies, renegotiating your working conditions, changing employers, or other means.  But if what you do day in and day out in terms of your job duties is draining you, then you should explore other jobs that require skills and knowledge in alignment with your natural talents and interests.

3. RELOCATION.  The kind of work you want to do is not available in your current location.  But you feel tied down due to family obligations, fear of failure, lack of finances, whatever.  Or, you want a better work-life balance in a preferred location.  Or, you hate the climate or culture of your current location and feel a strong desire to relocate but don’t know where to go or what to do.  Changing careers might be one option.  But advancing in your current career into a similar job with a new employer in a better location might also be an option.  It’s just that the prospect of change seems overwhelming to you now.  Just know that many people pivot to jobs in other locations.  You are part of a workforce that is very mobile.  It takes planning and commitment but it is do-able.  For example, I’m currently working with a client that set a goal to relocate from Canada to the UK to work as a nurse. Although trained as a nurse, she has not worked as one for over a decade.  So, there are many obstacles to overcome…but we put together a 2 year plan that involves milestones each step of the way and she has derived great satisfaction from achieving those milestones.  She is on target to relocate with a job in hand by end of this year.  In the meantime, she has continued to work, live and play.  But, this project has been the highlight of her life for that past few years.  Relocating can be fun and invigorating!

Stagnation, frustration or the desire for relocation are all signs that you might be ready to explore a career change.  Remember, exploring a career change is not the same as making a career change.  One comes before the other.

Good decisions take time.  Seek the help of people who specialize in change.  They can help you plan and pivot for success! 

Interviews–listen, laugh, & land the job!

I often use this blog to talk about the importance of narrative in career development.  Telling good stories in an interview can be essential to getting a job offer.  Here’s why:

“I must sell myself.”  This is the mindset of most individuals when they go into a job interview.  They presume that the interview is primarily about them.  After all, the opening question is usually some variation of “Tell us about you.”

I know it’s counter-intuitive but the interview is not really about you; it’s really about the needs and priorities of the organization conducting the interview and, more specifically, about the needs and preferences of the manager that you might report to.

When I coach my clients through interviews, I ask them to take some time after the interview to write down the questions they were asked.  For example, here are some questions a client was asked at a recent interview for a Business Systems Analyst (BSA) role:

– What are some of the challenges I have had with communicating to stakeholders?

– What are some of the challenges I have had communicating with employees? 

– How do I deal with not sticking to a deadline and how do I communicate this with stakeholders? 

– How have I contributed to the productivity of my previous team? 

It doesn’t matter if you don’t understand what a BSA does.  What matters here is that these Qs reveal the concerns of the employer, they reveal the internal challenges or pain points this company is experiencing in their current client service operations.  They want to make sure that this candidate knows how to deal with such challenges and can solve these problems, not make them worse.

Most people think of an interview as a test, a one-way street on which interviewers ask questions and the interviewee must give the ‘right’ answers in order to pass the test and get a job offer.  Again, I know this is counter-intuitive, but an interview is actually a conversation or dialogue conducted by an employer who is trying to get to know you well enough to decide if you are ‘safe’ to hire.  Your goal in the interview is to make it easier for the employer to hire you because you are, in fact, a ‘safe’ candidate, someone who will make the manager’s job easier not harder.

Because I had prepared my client for such Qs, he told stories of himself in action solving these types of issues and getting quantifiable results for his previous employers.  He even managed to insert some humour into his stories. 

Think about this:  who is the most popular person at a party (besides the host providing the food and beverages)?  It’s usually the best joke teller or storyteller.  We live in a narrative culture, immersed in stories all around us—it’s what binds us together socially.  The strongest communicators among us are often the most popular, sometimes the most likeable.

Everybody enjoys a good laugh—just like the strong communicator at the party, you will become instantly likeable in an interview when you share a funny anecdote that gives people a chuckle.  A human hires humans not resumes. 

In summary: the best way to increase your chances of landing a job offer is to tell compelling stories of you in action solving problems for previous managers that are relevant to the manager you are interviewing with while getting quantifiable results…and generating a few chuckles along the way!

Write Content + Write Form = Right Career

All job change skills are actually storytelling devices whether it be a resume, networking, formal and informal interview situations, or salary negotiations…it comes down to one human being sharing their story with another.

Storytelling is a skill that anyone can learn because we all have an innate ability to do it.  The trick is to organize our stories around two key elements: content and form.  What we say and how we say it will determine how much impact or influence we have on a listener, viewer or audience. 

Luckily, we  have many sources and examples to draw on because we live in a storytelling culture.  Think about how much time you spend watching TV, DVDs or movies. Or reading newspapers, blogs, magazines, websites, graphic novels or books. Or tweeting or posting on FB or LI.  Or listening to radio broadcasts, podcasts, or audio books. Or playing charades, attending theme parties, concerts, or the theatre. We are all immersed in narrative, in a cultural soup of content and form.

For example, a resume consists of a 1-2 page summary (form) of our work history (content).  An interview is a conversation (form) that gives a picture of us in action demonstratng skills, knowledge and achievments (content) that align with  key selection criteria. Each story-telling device can be learned and applied to tell your story efficiently and effectively to achieve your job change goals.

As a career professional, I spend a good part of my day crafting stories for my clients (e.g. writing resumes, cover letters and other documents) or coaching them on how to communicate their stories with clarity and confidence (e.g. interview prep).  But, I also have my stories to tell (e.g. writing this post, or my books, or one of my creative projects). 

For many of us, telling a story in a professional context requires writing.  It takes time, energy and some skill to choose the right content and the right form.  But, when I’m not sure what I want to say or how I want to say it, I find that writing in the company of others is helpful and, sometimes, inspiring. 

Last month, I joined a Virtual Write-in moderated by Maria Ford at Phrase Strategy.  I’d been stuck on a writing project for months but joining this group of professionals for 2.5 hours of structured writing time not only got me unstuck but increased my production in an efficient and enjoyable manner.

The results of this one write-in session were so productive and pleasurable that I’ve booked another session.  You can learn more about a Virtual Write-in here and how to register for one.   Your first session is free.

Writing and comunicating well is essential to career advancement (and good for personal growth too!).  I encourage you to take advantage of such resources to write the right content and the right form to get your career right!

Fighting #FOMO with the write hack

We live in anxious times…especially in matters related to economic security.

We are all subject to pressures of competition, achievement, production and acquisition– fears, worries, anxieties about work and money are just part of navigating our economic rat race.

Most of us worry about finding a job, keeping a job, advancing with a job; we worry about paying our bills, making enough money to buy a home, or raising a family, or saving for retirement. We fear missing out on life’s many pleasures and promises.

Our anxieties are further fuelled by news reports highlighting precarious work with no benefits; corporate bankruptcies; failed government policies; the increasing reliance on robots, automation and artificial intelligence in our workplaces, and the replacement of jobs by such technologies. The future is uncertain.

Anxiety is a nervous disorder characterized by a state of excessive unease and apprehension. It often manifests first in a general restlessness, loss of appetite, insomnia, sometimes panic attacks or compulsive behaviour. If it carries on long enough, it can develop into serious illness, such as depression.

I know the telltale signs for myself, such as pacing, ruminating, procrastinating, a vague and general restlessness that interrupts, even prevents, restfulness. When feeling anxious, I know that I make poor decisions, so I’ve learned to tackle my anxiety head on.

    The write hack

We all need a work around when it comes to dealing with our anxieties. One of the first things I do when such symptoms appear is to take out a paper and pen and do a very effective writing exercise (known in some circles as morning pages) that quickly calms my worries.

If you are feeling anxious about your work and money, try this: get up in the morning and write for 3 pages non-stop about your career decisions up to this point in your life. How did you make those decisions? What were you thinking at the time? What were you expecting in terms of an outcome?

Don’t judge or censor yourself, just write whatever thoughts and feelings come to mind. Don’t stop writing until you’ve completed 3 pages. If you get stuck with writer’s block then keep writing the same thing over and over until another thought comes. You must complete 3 pages.

Do this for 5 days as early in the morning as possible. [Of course, the sooner you start this exercise when feeling anxious, the better; it’s not a substitute for clinical treatment if you’re depressed!]

By the time the fifth day rolls around, I can almost guarantee your anxiety will dissipate to the point where you can look for patterns in your pages that reveal the roots of your anxieties. Some of those roots may be internal and grounded in biology, beliefs or behaviours. Some of them may be external and rooted in your experiences with work and money. You might want to share your pages with a close friend or a professional to help you find the patterns and move forward.

    How to Move Forward in your Career

It is my experience that this kind of mental/emotional house cleaning is necessary before you can move forward in life with good decisions and powerful actions. There is something magical about such simple writing exercises.

That is why JobJoy is collaborating with Phrase Strategy to help leaders move forward with their careers. Maria Ford, Phraseologist, refers to writing exercises as pre-marketing, and necessary for the growth and development of leaders. Read her most recent post to learn more about how such “magic” might help you.

How To Get Away With Murder of your inner critic

It’s the start of another year…but are you still haunted by an inner critic from your past? We learn as children to please others who are important to us, such as parents, teachers, peers and coaches. And when we earn their criticism instead of their praise, we often internalize that critical voice for the rest of our lives.

It doesn’t take much—a verbal criticism of something you said or did, a big red fail on a written exam, or a cold shoulder, a sharp rebuke, a stinging reprimand—and you never wrote another poem, or played another game of soccer, or sang another song, or designed another dress, or did whatever gave you joy, made you feel free, or deepened your sense of accomplishment. Because, after that…every time you tried, the inner critic reared its ugly head and crushed you with that ‘voice’ in your brain.

I think we, as individuals, underestimate the influence of others in our young lives. We are, after all, social beings who want to be liked and loved by others. As children, we usually aim at becoming something that will please others long before we take the time to find out who we are.

Many individuals are channeled down a certain career path using ‘can do’ skills based on the advice of these well-meaning influencers. This can create problems later in life, not the least being stuck in a dull or meaningless job that fosters deep dissatisfaction.

Kill the critic

The best way to kill this inner critic is to replace it with your ‘authentic’ voice. Since 1986, research from more than 200 studies shows that creative, expressive and reflective writing about thoughts and feelings in a structured safe space helps individuals gain control over a negative life event. There are many exercises for killing that inner critical voice in order to make room for your own voice. Years ago, I had a lot of fun doing this one:

I found a list of the 1001 ways to kill somebody. I picked one that I felt would suitably avenge my inner pain. Then I wrote a letter to my persecutor describing in detail how I was going execute them. I was shocked at the depth of my anger and pain! These transgressions against our souls, our very beings, create deep wounds…the pen I held was my sword of vengeance!

How to get away with murder

Remember, this is an exercise, a form of creative play in a safe place, so a few words of caution are necessary: put your bloodthirsty letter in an envelope…but don’t mail it…you could end up in jail! Instead, burn it, bury it, cut it to pieces, do whatever feels right…but don’t actually send or give it to the transgressor. Kill that inner critic figuratively not literally–that’s how you get away with murder!

This simple writing exercise liberated me from an inner critic. It helped me trade in that ‘other’ for my own. Since then, I have expressed my voice through this newsletter and blogs, through several books, articles in newspapers and career magazines, through academic journals, as well as through creative writing, my own radio show, and at career conferences. It’s all fun; it gives me to have my voice engaged in meaningful conversations that influence others.

Reclaim your voice

If you feel that your voice has been swallowed up by the values and priorities of someone else in your life, then draw on this scientific method of killing that inner critic. Simple writing exercises combined with an experienced coach will help you think, feel and write your way though rigid beliefs or behaviours that keep you stuck in life or work.

Liberate yourself! JobJoy is collaborating with Phrase Strategy and its Essential Voice programs to help individuals to see reality in a new way and find their voice. Claim your freedom by uncovering YOUR voice! It will enrich and enlarge your life and work…

Real Job Security is knowing your Motivational Pattern

From our childhood to our current career, we tend to gravitate towards activities and projects that require our natural strengths. Why? Simple—we get pleasure from using our talents in situations that motivate us.

The problem is we do some things so naturally and effortlessly, we think, “Doesn’t everybody do it this way?” No, they don’t. You have a knack for achieving certain results using certain talents because that’s what energizes you—and you make it look easy. Other people might be able to do the same thing due to training or experience but it’s grunt work for them.

    What energizes you?

For example, some individuals get energized by having an impact on the physical world. If there is a piece of equipment, or machinery, or a vehicle, or a household appliance that breaks down or is performing poorly, they repair it, or restore it to its original state. You can tell it energizes them because you can hear them humming, or whistling or singing, or just bouncing around happily as they do what comes naturally and easily to them.

If this talent is caught early in life and channeled into a particular vocation then recognized and rewarded by an employer, they might even end up with a long and happy career as an aircraft mechanic with an airline, or a pipe-fitter in a refinery, or a mechanic in the military, or a maintenance worker for public transit, or one of hundreds of jobs available from hundreds of different employers.

Even if they lose one job, they can quickly adapt or retrain for something similar in another sector because equipment, machinery, and vehicles will always wear out, or break down, or need replacing and require individuals who have a knack for impacting such physical objects with their natural talents and learned skills.

The same is true if you like to have an impact on people, or like to control how, when and where a project or plan will proceed. Or, if you are energized by pursuing and reaching a goal or a target. Or, if you get juiced by engaging in a process of discovering, developing or expressing.

    Motivation matches right work

Each general human inclination can be narrowed down to reveal your particular motivational pattern, and that pattern can be matched to dozens of specific jobs in specific work settings.

This is true job security. When you take the time to understand your motivational pattern then you don’t have to worry if you lose a job because you will already know what other sectors of the economy will recognize and reward you for what comes easily to you.

Don’t let our volatile economy catch you by surprise. Get a JobJoy career assessment done today so that you can do some long-term planning for real job security.

You already have in your hands the right tools to repair and grow your career. Put them to work in your favour.

Storytelling is key to career change

Your life story is not fixed but fluid. You are not trapped but, instead, you have access to many opportunities that may be more rewarding and enriching than the one you have now. We make our story because we make our life. We have choices. You can create and live a better story!

Storytelling opens up a space for challenging our current identity, for re-interpreting our life experiences in a way that opens up space for new career options. You can change your career, your job, and your life without losing money or status or health or whatever is near and dear to you. There is evidence to prove it. There is the example of thousands who have done it.

The employment trap

As a career counsellor in private practice for the past 25 years, thousands of individuals have confided in me about their motivations for working. For most of us, it boils down to this: we work because we have to, simple as that, in order to pay our bills and provide for our loved ones.

Until now, most of us have had no real reason to question a way of life that is organized in its most simplistic form around our potential to get a good education, secure a stable job, purchase a house, grow a family, and follow a life script of working and buying as a reward for what we do. This is The American/Canadian Dream—‘work hard, play by the rules, get ahead.’

Except that getting ahead is getting much more difficult (even impossible) for many of us due to various social, economic and technological forces. For some, the link between work and wages amounts to ‘wage slavery’ if the work is dull, dirty or dangerous…while others feel stuck in jobs with ‘golden handcuffs,’ because the wages and benefits are too good to give up no matter how much they dislike the actual work.

Even for those who like their work, we must acknowledge that depression—often caused by work-related stress and burnout—is now the #1 disability in North America, costing billions in productivity losses, billions more in social welfare, while eroding family security.

Adding fuel to that fire, we find wages stagnate while housing costs soar and inequality between the very rich and the rest of us increases dramatically. We lose our job security when companies move their operations to cheaper labour markets. Robots are replacing unionized factory jobs. Automation is replacing white-collar jobs. All this is now business as usual. And we accept this entirely, well … because we have to.

Escape the trap

Really? Do we, as individuals, have to accept this state of affairs as rational and inevitable? Does winning at life mean we must accept this story of work with all its built in assumptions? One of the most effective ways that I know for stepping outside this employment trap is to write out your story and get it analyzed for a pattern of meaning.

You have key success factors and they can be clearly identified and defined so that you can re-package them for a better career and live a better story!