About that cover letter…

It used to be that job search was all about a good resume and cover letter.

When it came to evaluating applicants, the resume was the meat and potatoes. The main course, if you will. And the cover letter, well, that was more like the fancy appetizer. That special little something that not only looked impressive, but whet the hiring manger’s appetite and made them hungry for more.

Job seekers spent hours crafting their resume and cover letter templates, understanding how both pieces worked together to give potential employers the full meal deal.

But today’s recruiters aren’t as interested in cover letters. Forget the puff pastry bites! They’re going straight for the meatloaf.

Has the cover letter become irrelevant?

Today’s talent search begins online. Candidates are asked to fill out forms and applications and submit information electronically, and cover letters are often optional. Resumes are put through applicant tracking systems (ATS), scanned for key words and skills, then sorted by relevance.

After all that, the average resume only gets about 6 seconds of eyeball time before being tossed into one pile or another other. If recruiters are barely glancing at resumes, why on earth would they take the time to read a cover letter?

Good question

Many of them won’t. According to one study, the vast majority of recruiters don’t think cover letters matter much. And yet 26% of recruiters said they considered them to be an important factor in their hiring decisions.

So while the importance of cover letters is dwindling, they haven’t completely disappeared.  Are they a prerequisite? Not usually. Can they still be helpful in some circumstances? Most definitely.

If you use them correctly.

Fair warning

Your cover letter isn’t simply a recap of your resume. If this is what you’ve created, you might as well toss it aside because it won’t add any value to the process.

A well designed cover letter should provide something new. Something extra. More personal than a resume, it should be a summary of why you’re a good fit for the position and how you plan to bring value to the organization.

There’s a fine line here, and you need to be careful not to cross it.

Cover letters aren’t about why you want the job or what you want out of it. They’re about what you have to offer the organization, and why you’re the best fit for their needs. 

An employer doesn’t need to know how they can help you. They need to know what you can do for them. And this is where a great cover letter can make that extra bit of difference.

Dos and Don’ts

Even though the majority of recruiters readily admit they don’t read cover letters, there are times when it is appropriate to provide one.

When to include it:

  • The job listing rob requires or requests it
  • If someone has referred you for the company/position
  • You have additional information about why you’re a good fit

When to leave it out:

  • If job posting forbids (or politely requests) no cover letters
  • If your cover letter is generic, poorly written, or redundant

Tips for job seekers:

When cover letters are optional, many applicants will breathe a sigh of relief and happily skip it. In fact, 47% of job seekers did not submit a cover letter with their most recent job application. Including a well written cover letter with your resume can help you stand out in these situations.

That said, a bad cover letter can also make you stand out. But not in a good way.

A poorly written cover letter can actually be worse than no cover letter. If you’re going to write one, make sure it sends the right message— how you can help the business achieve its goals.

Tips for employers:

Forbidding cover letters may seem like a recruiting time saver, but it can also prevent you from having an additional way to differentiate between candidates, with little to no effort on your end.

You’re not required to read every cover letter, but if you’re down to the wire on a few candidates, cover letters can be a helpful decision making tool.

Take it or leave it

You may think cover letters have gone the way of VCRsroller disco, and Pepsi Light. And you may be right. But sometimes a little nostalgia hits the spot.

Should you or shouldn’t you incorporate cover letters in your job or talent search process? There’s really no wrong answer here.

Use your judgement based on the position, the candidate pool, the hiring manager, the job listing, and any other relevant factors. Then make the decision that seems best for you.

 

Photo Credit  stokkete

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How to Get Stuff Done

How many to do lists do you have going? If you’re like most people, you probably have more than one. But be honest. Are these things actually getting done?

Setting goals and creating a list of the tasks necessary to achieve them are two critical steps toward productivity. But the best intentions don’t always yield the best results.

You’ve got to commit

Making goals and plans and lists feels great. Sometimes, it feels so great that you forget to follow through and actually make it happen. If your plan only involves yourself, you might be able to let it slide. So you didn’t read War and Peace. No big deal.

But if you’re a business leader, your plans probably involve lots of other people. Your plan and your tasks are all part of a much bigger system. And when you don’t come through, it’s a much bigger problem.

In this case, what you need some good old accountability. But not the old kind, where you get rapped on the knuckles when you do something wrong. If that worked, we’d all have nothing but sore fingers and checked off boxes. What you want to do is collaborate with other people who are working on the same plan, and find ways to support each other in getting things done.

Check in regularly

Weekly check-ins can be an extremely helpful tool for accomplishing this. Call it your weekly meet-up, your team check-in, or your accountability planning session. Whatever works! The key is to have a partner you work closely with such as a coworker, colleague, manager, supervisor, or leader, and get together to talk about the week’s activities and results.

Go over your must-do projects together on Monday so everyone is on the same page for the week. But you can’t just stop there. You will also want to talk about how you can support each other in achieving your goals, and then report your results to each other at the end of the week.

This may seem a bit intrusive and daunting at first, but the results are fantastic— and addictive. The amount of productive work that gets accomplished when you know you’re going to be supported during the week and held accountable at the end of the week is amazing. You can move so far so quickly when you are able to focus on the projects and activities that generate results, rather than just filing your day with unstructured tasks, to do lists, and busy work.

Accountability brings focus

Making lists is easy. Making progress is much harder. Implementing a quick, efficient, and standardized accountability system will help you do both.

When everyone knows exactly what they are supposed to be doing during the week, your team will be more efficient, more productive, and less stressed. Finishing one thing no longer requires stopping to figure out what comes next. All you have to do is work down the weekly list.

How should you maintain this list? There are many options. Adopt a system that works for you and your team. Whether it’s an old school notepad or planner, or a fancy project management platform doesn’t really matter, as long as it helps you accomplish your goals and track your results. At the end of the day, the best planning tool is the one you will use. Just make sure you it’s a reliable method so your planning is easy and consistent.

The real value doesn’t lie in the sophistication of the document or the tracking system, but in taking the time to think about your business, and what critical tasks need to be completed by the end of each week to keep you moving forward toward your goals.

 

Photo by langstrup 

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Why You Need to Invest in Professional Development

You know you it’s important. You know you should do it. But it can be expensive. And time consuming. Plus, you’re just so busy! And you’ve got a business to run. All of these things may be true, but so is this simple fact:

If you don’t take the time to improve and grow, your business won’t either.

And while you may be able to survive a serious development drought on a personal level, your organization can’t. If it doesn’t wither and die, it will quickly become overshadowed and hidden by the growth happening all around it.

It doesn’t matter what business you’re in. No industry, market, or sector stands still. Laws, regulations, technology, consumer needs and expectations are constantly changing, with or without you. You can choose to keep up, stay stagnant, or fall behind. You can also choose to get ahead and be looked to as someone who is leading the change instead of fearing or ignoring it.

Sounds good, right?

You’re darn right it does. Because the difficulties that come with change are nothing compared to the stress of being left behind.

When you’re leading the charge, you get to determine what it looks like and how it gets executed. You also get to collaborate with other like-minded leaders who are trying to accomplish the same things, which increases your confidence, your influence, and your effectiveness exponentially.

But you have to be strategic

There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of professional development opportunities out there. A quick scroll through your in-box will easily prove this to be true. Everyone’s got an angle. Everyone wants you to sign up for their service, adopt their platform, or attend their seminar. Unfortunately, many of these so-called opportunities are, in fact, a waste of time and money.

There are four ways to approach these opportunities:

1.) Be a whale

It can be tempting to want to take in everything that comes your way. If a little personal development is good, then a lot must be even better, right? Not so much. Whales have a very efficient filtering system that allows them to keep what is useful and discard the rest— before they spend a bunch of time trying to digest it. Unless you’ve got a fleet of people with lots of time on their hands, you don’t have that luxury. Biting off more than you can chew will only give you indigestion.

2.) Be an ostrich

You know these folks. The ones who are always putting their heads in the sand. To be fair to our real, live ostrich friends, they actually have good reason for doing this. They’re nesting. But you’re a business person, not a giant bird. Putting your head in the sand will only keep you in the dark. And focusing too much on your cozy little nest will only ensure that you stay squarely in your comfort zone. Which isn’t going to move you forward.

3.) Be a deer

You want to improve yourself, your business, and your chances of success, but you’re overwhelmed by the fear, the circumstances, and the sheer number of options. Instead of propelling yourself forward, you stay frozen and immobile, unable to make a decision. “Deer are crepuscular,” says David C. Yancy, a deer biologist with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. When a headlight beam strikes eyes that are fully dilated to capture as much light as possible, deer cannot see at all, and they freeze until the eyes can adjust. “They don’t know what to do, so they do nothing.” We all know how this story ends.

4.) Be a falcon

“The Peregrine falcon is not your average avian predator. When hunting, this remarkable bird will fly to great heights, then dive bomb its prey abruptly at speeds of up to 242 mph,” says the Smithsonian Channel. Um. Yeah. This bird is your new idol. First, he finds a solid perch where he can take a good look at the bigger picture. What’s happening in the landscape before him? What opportunities does he see? What obstacles are in his way? What exactly does he want to go after? Then, once he sets his sights on his goal, he’s 100% focus. We’re talking all in. At 242 miles per hour, he can’t afford to be distracted, or go after things he doesn’t need.

Which one do you want to be?

The falcon, right? (Please say it’s the falcon).

If you’re a whale, at least there’s hope. But if you’re an ostrich or a deer, you need to change your ways. Like, yesterday.

Take a look at where you currently are, and where you want to be. What kinds of skills and tools do you need to get from point A to point B? Evaluate your business, your clients, and your market. What strategies are working for you? What strategies are falling flat? Where do your strengths lie? Where do you struggle?

Once you’ve uncovered areas for improvement, don’t jump onboard with the first thing (or everything!) that comes your way.

Do your research. Look into different groups, events, and options. Seek out industry people and companies you admire and look at the kinds of things they’re doing. See what organizations and associations they belong to, what events they’re attending, who they’re connected with, and what books they’re reading. Ask around, get advice, and choose carefully. Your time and resources are a precious commodity, and you need to make them count.

It’s like your mom used to say, “You are who you hang out with.” Make sure you’re seeking professional development from organizations and colleagues you admire, respect, and trust.

Once you’ve figured out what you need and how you want to go about getting it, you can begin to shift your mindset and start thinking about professional development as a critical investment you can’t afford NOT to make.

After all, if you don’t invest in yourself, why should anyone else?

 

Photo by  Radachynskyi Serhii

5 Pillars of Employee-Related Expenses eBook

How to Reduce Workplace Conflict

Conflict happens. It’s a fact of life. But when it’s happening within your organization, the negative effects can run far, wide, and fast.

If you want to avoid the chaos, you’ll need to step back and examine what causes workplace conflict, how you may be contributing to the problem, and ways to help diffuse or prevent it.

The problem

Occasional workplace conflict is natural and inevitable. But left unattended, it can quickly settle in and become part of the fabric of your company. As this happens, you will begin to experience some very unpleasant consequences:

  • People stop communicating and/or are afraid to speak up
  • People stop listening and/or only hear what they want to
  • Employees form factions, or disengage all together
  • Increased workplace stress becomes the order of the day
  • Employee productivity and trust sink to low levels
  • The organizational focus shifts from the mission to the conflict
  • Turnover increases, culture suffers, and employee attraction becomes more difficult
  • We start to create conflict-based business practices that hold us back instead of success-based business processes that move us forward.

Any one of these issues will hit your business where it hurts, but taken together, they can be a lethal blow.

Who is fighting who?

Conflict can show up in a variety of different ways. Common examples include:

  • Management vs. subordinates
  • Sales vs. marketing (or other departmental divides)
  • Tenured employees vs. new employees
  • Union vs. non-union employees
  • Corporate mentality vs. local mentality
  • Status quo vs. change-makers

No matter what groups or individuals are involved in the conflict, the cause is almost certainly the  same: The inability to understand an alternative point of view.

What are they thinking?

We’ve all had plenty of these moments. The ones where we literally have no idea how an individual or group of people reached a particular conclusion or why they reacted in a particular way. Sometimes, all you can do is shake your head. 

But this lack of understanding doesn’t have to be a given. We can learn to relate to people in ways that help bridge the gap.

Here are several ways to mitigate misunderstandings and the conflict that often comes as a result.

Cover Your Bases

Sometimes, the causes of workplace conflict are pretty simple: People have different views of about what is expected from them and their teammates, they’re frustrated by their lack of power, or they don’t feel supported or appreciated.

Communicate – Make sure everyone in your organization has a clear definition of their individual roles and responsibilities, where they fit in with the rest of the team, and how they contribute to the overall company vision. Conflict is much less likely to show up when everyone is on the same page.

Empower success – Once you’ve defined roles and responsibilities, you must also provide adequate tools and resources for everyone to perform well and achieve their goals. Scarcity breeds conflict. So does frustration. Make sure your team has what they need to be successful.

Focus on the team – A little competition is healthy, but too much competition will eventually result in an every-woman-for-herself mentality. Resist rankings, comparisons, and fostering a winner-takes-all mentality. Nothing squashes conflict better than a tight-knit team that looks out for each other.

Show appreciation – You can have the best communication, resources, and team in the world, but still end up with an organization riddled with conflict. How? By neglecting to acknowledge the value and success they bring. Thank your employees, recognize their work, and appreciate them as people. These three simple things will go a long way toward reducing conflict in your company.

Take off your filters

We all see the world through a particular lens. Our tendency is to take one particular story we’ve created or believe, and then use it as the filter for everything else that comes through. The result of this behavior is that any story that doesn’t conform with ours is automatically seen as wrong.

But is it really? If two people see the same incident and describe it in different ways, is one of them completely right and the other one completely wrong? Chances are both stories have merit, and differ based on where each person is standing, what they saw, and their primary filtering mechanisms.

For example, if you’ve never been harassed at work, you may not believe that workplace harassment is a big issue. But if you have been harassed at work, you may believe that it’s the biggest issue there is.

Now let’s imagine that each person took off their filters for a moment. Could you understand how a person who hasn’t experienced something might be less inclined to view it as a problem? Could you also understand why someone who has been personally affected by something might be extremely concerned?

Instead of digging your heels in, take a moment to step into that person’s shoes to understand where they might be coming from and what story they are using as a filter. Then, take a step back and start with something you can both agree on.

In this case, consider the evidence. It’s very clear that workplace harassment exists, even if it seems highly unlikely to happen in your organization. And very few people would argue that a workplace harassment case is quick, easy or inexpensive. Start with shared pool of unfiltered data and work your way out from there.

See the person, not the conflict

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our differences that we forget about the simple fact that there’s a real, live person on the other end of them.

People are complicated. And so are relationships. Reducing an individual you disagree with down to a single action, opinion, or thought isn’t just inaccurate. It’s unhealthy.

When tensions are high, remind yourself that there is a complex person on the other end of your conflict or disagreement – someone who might also shelter foster animals, volunteer at the food bank, or be dealing with personal trauma. Learn to practice empathy in your interactions.

The beautiful thing about compassion is that it tends to spread. If you offer it, you will often receive it in return. And kindness is a pretty great way to diffuse conflict.

 

Photo by Elnur Amikishiyev 

 5 Pillars of Employee-Related Expenses eBook

Need to Make Changes? How to Get Yourself from Indecision to Decision

Are you holding back from making a major organizational change you know is best in the long term, but you just don’t know how to get started?

Whether it’s changing your business model, upping your marketing game, or rethinking your customer service practices, some decisions just seem so, well… big. And intimidating. And downright painful. In these situations, we can become paralyzed and unable to take action.

But inaction isn’t the answer. Because the longer you avoid the decision, the more scary that decision becomes. Likewise, the longer you avoid change, the more daunting change becomes.

Don’t get caught in the indecision trap! Take these steps and you’ll soon be on your way to being Captain Decisive! Or at least Corporal Decisive.

Step 1: Educate yourself 

Inaction often comes from a lack of knowledge and understanding that prevents us from being able to make a good decision. Overcome this problem by doing your homework. Read up, ask questions, and seek advice from knowledgeable people.

A word of caution: Be careful about turning to well-meaning friends, family members, or associates who want to give you advice but don’t really have the knowledge or experience to accurately assess the situation. Talking with people who are familiar with the subject matter will allow you to gather facts instead of emotional reactions.

Step 2: Make a decision 

But only in your mind. If you’ve gathered your facts and think you’re ready to commit, but still have hesitations about putting it out there to the world, you can make the decision internally and sit with it for a bit. This can work for teams as well. Just keep it quiet amongst the group until you’ve collectively decided to move forward.

Try it on for a while and see how it feels. Think and act as though you’ve made the decision and the change. Does it feel right? Do your shoulders feel lighter? Is there a spring in your step? Great! Then move on to the next step of telling people about your decision.

But what if doesn’t feel right? What if you’re losing sleep or getting the sweats over it? This could mean a couple of things. Either it’s not the right decision, or it is the right decision, but it’s going to be tough.

Ask yourself what you’re really afraid of. Is it the decision itself or the fear of what it’s going to take to follow through with it?

If it’s the fear that’s holding you back, you need to think about your long term strategy. Lots of things that are painful in the short term are worth doing. Childbirth. Exercise. Eyebrow waxing. If the results are what you want, the fear shouldn’t stop you.

However, if the decision itself feels unfair, unrealistic, or even unlawful, those are legitimate red flags. Make some tweaks to your internal decision and try again. Re-evaluate until you get it right.

Step 3: Get started 

How do you climb a mountain? One step at a time.

You can use this same logic to move you toward your decision and your goals. Commit to accomplishing one thing each day, and keep that momentum going.

No matter how big or small, do something that will move you in the right direction. It might be as easy as making a phone call, reading an article, setting or attending a meeting, writing a plan, or making a commitment to hire or reallocate resources.

Some days will be more productive than others, and that’s okay. If you’ve got multiple people working on this issue, make sure everyone on the team is participating in the one-thing-a-day program, and your results will be exponential.

Getting unstuck

Making decisions can be stressful, but being stuck in the land of indecision is even more nerve-wracking. There’s no clarity, no direction, and nowhere to go. There is only the pain of knowing something needs to happen that isn’t.

Once you’ve made a decision, you can focus on solutions. You can focus on mitigating damage. You can focus on improvement, learning, and growth. Sometimes, this means focusing on your next big achievement.

And that’s where the magic happens.

 

Photo by Yulia Kireeva

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