How to Write a Cover Letter:
The cover letter is sort of a relic from the past; a holdover from the days of paper and mailing in or faxing your resume to prospective employers. However, it can be a powerful tool in your job search, if used properly.
- DON’T include your cover letter as the first page of your resume. That’s annoying to most recruiters and managers, and they will skip it altogether and jump directly to your resume.
- DON’T attach it as a separate attachment. It won’t get opened! Again, the recruiter or hiring manager will jump right to your resume.
- DO write your cover letter as your email introduction to the recruiter or hiring manager. This is where it will get noticed.
- DON’T make it too long. About one paragraph is ideal; much more than that and it won’t all get read.
- DO tailor your cover letter to the individual position, company, and manager! This is the BIGGEST MISTAKE I see. I get cover letters addressed to other people and for different positions than the one being applied for. Instead of working FOR you, this kind of cover letter works AGAINST you as I look at it as a lack of attention to detail. You would be better off with no cover letter at all.
- DON’T cover all your experience in your cover letter. That’s what your resume is for.
In a nutshell, your cover letter should introduce yourself, make a quick, one to two sentence synopsis of your background, then address how YOU will help the company be successful. That’s another thing I see go wrong a lot in cover letters: They talk about the candidate’s goals and plans. Companies and managers want to know how you are going to help them be successful. After all, if they didn’t need some help, they wouldn’t be hiring someone.
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Yes, the IT job market is pretty hot right now. Especially if you are a mobile app developer, and still very strong for JAVA and C# developers too! But I have a few words of caution for you…
So you have job offers pouring in. It’s tempting to accept a job, then turn around and reject it when you get a better offer. Beware, though, as that kind of behavior can burn a bridge or three. I know you need to do what is best for you and your family. No doubt about it. Just be careful of how you go about navigating these waters. Do this and you can get blackballed by a recruiter or hiring manager. Believe me, both of those parties will remember you, and will make sure to tell their friends who are in a position to hire that they should be careful with you.
How do you best handle this? Well, make sure you don’t accept any offer that you are not totally happy with. If you have unresolved interviews, put the offer off and few days and try and get feedback from any and all companies in which you are interested. If you do get an offer, ask for a few days to finish your interviews with other companies. Almost all reputable companies are going to allow you to do that – they should want to make sure you really want to work for them before you accept an offer.
If you already did accept the offer, and then another one rolls in that seems better, be careful. Weigh all the options – is this other offer truly better? Why? If there are tangible benefits that are plusses to you (time off, pay, etc), take that back to the company with the first offer and be honest with them. They may be able to work something out with you. Also keep in mind that no job is truly permanent, especially in IT. If you bail on the first company to go with the second, and you live in a “small” IT market (like Denver), you may find some real ramifications to that decision. A bad reputation will preceed you and may cost you jobs in the future. And if the first offer was so horrible in the first place, why would you have accepted it? The grass isn’t always greener, as they say.
In the end, you do need to do what is best for you. I’m just advising that you also weigh your future career moves into the decision, and not solely base it on your current situation.
What are some important questions to ask yourself during a job search? 1 answer on Quora
I know some of you out there don’t like working with recruiters. I know some of you probably don’t like recruiters in general, much less working with them! However, there are good recruiters out there, and we do in fact help people find positions. I know the conventional wisdom is to use your network, etc, etc (which is true), but you can’t ignore the reach of a good recruiter. I’m going to outline a few ways you can maximize the effectiveness of the recruiters with whom you work.
1) If the recruiter refuses to tell you who the client company is, don’t work with them! I have been in this business for over 11 years, and can literally count on one hand the number of truly confidential positions I have worked on. I always share the client company with the candidate. Why? Well, I don’t want to waste both of our time if the candidate is already in process. Second, and perhaps more importantly, some companies will discard a resume if they get it from multiple sources. If I won’t tell you who the client is, how can you determine if your resume is already there or not? And you don’t want your chances at the job ruined!
2) If a recruiter sends your resume to a company, and you never hear from them again, never work with that recruiter again! You should always get feedback from a recruiter if you have gone down the path far enough to be submitted. Good recruiters understand the value of a long term relationship. Bad recruiters are just in it for the quick hire and don’t care to stay in touch.
3) If the recruiter gets angry or offensive when you indicate you’d like time to consider an offer or that you have other interviews / offers to consider and need more time, MOVE ON! Again, a good recruiter should want to place you, but should also want you to make the right decision, even if it is with a different company. As we all know, jobs are rarely truly permanent, and a good recruiter will want to place you the next time.
4) Make sure you and the recruiter work together to tailor your resume for the position. The main benefit to working with a recruiter is the direct communication with the hiring manager. Thus, the recruiter should have a good idea of the key requirements for the position, and those should be highlighted on your resume. If this doesn’t come up in conversation, ask the recruiter what the keys are and how you can make them more visible in your resume.
5) Get interview tips before you meet with the client company! The recruiter should have some talking points for you, and may be able to share with you some of the things that the hiring manager does and does not like in interviewees. Again, if this isn’t brought up by the recruiter, make the suggestion yourself!
6) Make sure to ask the recruiter what other positions they have open that might work for you.
7) And finally, if you have some specific companies you are targeting, ask the recruiter if they have any contacts or insight into how you could get an interview, even if the recruiter isn’t working with that company directly. Good recruiters can often make introductions or even get you a job, even when they may not get paid for it. Yes, that really happens.
The over-riding concept in all of this is communication. There should be lots of open communication in the recruiting process. If you feel like you are being shoved through, without really being helped or having your questions answered, you should question whether or not to continue working with that recruiter.
I went to the local QA user group meeting last week (SQuAD, found at http://www.meetup.com/SQUADCO/) , and wanted to jot down some of my feelings on the discussions we had. The meeting was actually about looking for a job, or looking to hire (if you were a hiring manager). There were 3 hiring managers in attendance, and the rest of the folks were potential job seekers. The recruiters on the panel included Bev Berry of Modis, Sam Schreiner of ProtoTest, and yours truly.
We started out with some quick introductions, and dived right into the questions. The bulk of the questions seemed to revolve around how exactly to get consideration for open jobs, and what skills seem to be most marketable right now. And the obvious follow-up to the latter question was, if one doesn’t have those “hot” skills, how does one acquire them?
I’ll address the last question first: Right now, the hot skill set in QA seems to be open source tools, or at least that was the consensus opinion. That, combined with a push to have QA Engineers be more coder than they have been historically. How does one get these skills? Well, one great answer that came up was this: Since the hot tools are open source, and open source is inexpensive (or free in most cases), find a small side project at your current job where you can implement an open source tool (Selenium was one that was mentioned multiple times). If you can utilize the tool professionally, even if it isn’t the “main” tool used, it’s something you can put on your resume and use to sell yourself for that next opportunity.
As far as finding a job goes, the main opinion seemed to be persistence and using a varied approach. Obviously networking is a key, but you can’t ignore using recruiters or even job boards. A lot of the conversation revolved around how to sell yourself to the hiring manager or recruiter, in order to even get yourself the interview. Again, the biggest key seemed to be versatility – having a varied background and all in all, the right attitude and aptitude for QA.
It was a lively and entertaining discussion, and I know I walked away with some good information. I hope everyone else did too, and I’d like to thank everyone for coming and for being asked to sit on the panel!
As always, please contact me if you have questions or comments.
Interview ethics….what does that mean? Well, as the IT market in Denver has gotten better and better, I have seen more and more candidates cancel interviews at the last second, not show up, not call and not show up, etc. In general this is because a seemingly better offer materialized, and the job for which the interview was scheduled is no longer so desirable. I want to make clear – that sort of behavior is not only unprofessional, but not a good idea! Here’s why:
First, I’ll start with the selfish side: When you no call / no show for a client interview, it makes ME look bad! I know, you may not really care what the recruiter’s reputation is. But you should! This will sour that recruiter and their entire team on ever working with you again. So what, you may say? There are hundreds of firms out there. True….but recruiters know each other, and do share information on candidates – which ones are good, and which ones are BAD. Do it enough times and you may be “blackballed” with most of the recruiters in town. And it doesn’t really matter if it’s the same person – once you are marked DO NOT CALL in a company’s database, no recruiter at that company…..EVER….is likely to call you again.
Second, it makes YOU look bad to the client company and manager. Again, you may not care. But what if you run into that company again, or even that manager? I know many hiring managers that keep spreadsheets and notes of candidates they interview, and they take it with them from company to company, If you don’t show up, what do you think your chances are of that manager giving you another chance? The interview is your BEST behavior. What are you going to do once you are employed there and get comfortable?
Third, what if that opportunity you didn’t interview for turned out to be WAY better than the job you took? I know, you could keep interviewing for months, and eventually have to make a decision. But if you have an interview scheduled within a day or two of another offer coming out, go ahead and interview! What if you were to find something out about this new company that you didn’t know? What if the salary was much better than you thought? What if the environment or technologies are much cooler than you thought? You don’t want to shoot yourself in the foot and miss out on something.
Finally, an interview is also an opportunity to get to know a hiring manager, and potentially some team members. You never know, if you make a good impression or connection, when one or more of them may remember you in the future, or become a member of your network, and help with a position in the future.
Many people, upon finding a shiny new position, immediately shelve their resume and all networking efforts. This is 180 degrees from what you should be doing! As soon as you start your new job, update your resume!! I know when you start that new job, the last thing you want to think about is looking for ANOTHER job! But you and I both know you won’t be there forever! Keeping your network warm is absolutely necessary for that next time.
You don’t want to get laid off only to have to spend a month fine tuning your resume and trying to remember all the projects you worked on. Add them to your resume as you go instead of waiting until you need your resume. Similarly, you don’t want to only network with people when YOU need a job. Effective networking means interacting with people on an ongoing basis, and there should be a back and forth dialogue all along.
Now I’m not saying put your resume out on Monster and DICE as an active job seeker. I AM saying to update your LinkedIn profile, and keep updating it as your job changes over time. Here’s what else you should be doing when you start that new dream job:
- Keep your resume current. This includes new skills, new projects, and new accomplishments. LinkedIn is a fantastic way of doing this, as you can keep your resume current and updated, and it won’t appear as if you are looking for a new job.
- Ask for recommendations and references. This means getting recommendations on LinkedIn, letters of reference, and most importantly, personal contact information from your past peers and managers. If you don’t, how will you find that manager when they leave your last employer?
- Immediately connect with your new co-workers on LinkedIn. Sure, they won’t be the ones to help you get out of there right now, but let’s say you work very closely with someone for a year or two, and they leave. More time passes, and now you’re looking….perhaps you should ping this former co-worker? Of course you should! But it’s easiest to start this connection while you are working together and helping each other, instead of waiting until you need them.
- Connect with a bunch of recruiters, ideally ones with whom you have spoken. Why? Because connecting with recruiters is a sure fire hint you are looking for a job. (Yes, I have heard of HR groups that keep an eye on this sort of thing.) However, connecting with a bunch of recruiters right when you first start a new job looks more like you are connecting with the people who helped you. Now, when you do need to look, you already have a network of recruiters!
- Continue going to networking meetings, like user groups. Ideally, many of these people will work for companies other than the one you work for, and if you ever need to move on, you can touch base with them. Again, it’s much harder to ask someone to refer you when they know you only as “the guy who shows up at meetings when he needs a job”.