Thursday, October 29, 2009

Targeted Cover Letters

I just edited a cover letter to add in more specifics about the position and correlate the person's past experience with their needs. Usually, those letters are more effective than the ones that simply talk about your experience.

A cover letter is a marketing tool. The goal of any marketing is to demonstrate that you understand your market's challenges and have the experience and skills to help them meet those challenges. Thus a great cover letter will make the case for why you (the product or service) are the right person for job (solution) at the company (your market). A great cover letter will help an inside connection make the case for you, too.

From my own experience writing and editing hundreds of cover letters, two great marketing tools for a cover letter are:

* Do the analysis for the employer
* Speak the employer's language

Here's a simple way to construct a targeted cover letter: take the lead responsibilities and craft sentences that blend your experience with language from the posting, to show the match between your background and their need. For example, this is the first responsibility of a job for a facilities and space planner at a financial institution:

- Understand key business and market drivers and develop workable long-term and implementation plans that support business needs and meet annual and multi-year portfolio performance targets.

For the cover letter, I take key words and write a sentence something like this:

At [name] Investments, I developed and oversaw the implementation of many excellent and workable facility plans that enabled a range of internal clients to increase their business effectiveness and meet their performance goals.

I used the words "implementation," "workable," "business" and "performance" from the posting to match my experience to that responsibility. Using the word "workable" was key to because it is an uncommon word that is specific to this posting. Words like "implementation" and "performance" are likely to be picked up on a key word search.

I also could have used the phrase "business and market drivers" because it is clearly a buzz term for the company. In a complete letter, I would probably insert this phrase somewhere else to reinforce that I understand their core business needs and fit in with their culture.

Hope this helps!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Becoming a Consultant

I've worked with a few people to develop a consulting "brochure" to help them make some money while looking for work.

Generating income is one big benefit of being a consultant. Another is keeping your skills current. A third is having a reason to get up in the morning and having actual work to do.

All that may be obvious. A less obvious benefit to developing a consulting brochure is that you get to look at what you really want to do, what skills you love to use and are really good at, and the value you deliver sufficiently to get paid for it.

It doesn't have to be fancy and printed; in fact, it's better as an electronic PDF attachment to an e-mail. You can use it to network, announcing to people that you are launching a consulting practice and they should feel free to pass this on to people who might be interested. In this way, your name gets out there attached to precisely the kind of work you want to do full-time. You never know what will happen. Just yesterday, one person just landed a full-time job doing exactly what she described doing in her consulting piece.

Knowing what you can and want to do is the key to finding your "right fit work" whether that is working at a job or starting your own business. Being a consultant is your own business.

Often, the biggest challenge is shifting your mindset about how you get paid. Employees get a salary and usually work whatever hours they need to get the job done. Consultants get a fee, usually on a retainer or project basis, and sometimes with a daily or hourly rate. Your time and expertise both are resources, and consultants need to understand the relationship between the two.

Here are some ways to start thinking about Fee Structure.

1. How many hours can you give each client a week or month?

* that determines your ideal number of clients
* can have a range of services, some more time intensive than others - all are valuable
* no client needs to know what you do for the other
* Managers have multiple clients all the time; as long as you meet the client's needs, they don't care who else you work for (with some bizarre exceptions)

2. How much client turnover do you expect? Meaning how long will clients sign up for to work with you? AND how much time off during the year do you need, are you willing to give yourself?

* rule of thumb is to figure 40 weeks of the year working (sometimes people figure 32 or 36 weeks, depending on how constant the clients are)

* some of your time has to be focused on marketing your services and getting new clients

* your fees are sufficient to cover all your costs; shared among several clients, you can give them a relative bargain AND make what you want to make

3. What's the basis on which you want to get paid? Here are some options and what they mean.

* Monthly retainer, where over a year the client gets an average number of hours a month, with some months heavy and others lighter. This is best all around because you and they can count on regular income and expense, so it's great for budgeting. Only caveat is you must produce enough outcomes for the client to be satisfied with this monthly outlay. This is a great method when you are involved in a lot of different projects or areas with a client, including "soft" projects like advising, coaching, and strategizing with a senior person.

* Project basis, where you get paid for producing a specific outcome over a period of time. Usually there are several payments, one upfront to get started, then one or more milestone payments tied to progress, and a final payment to be paid after satisfactory completion. This is the best method for facilitating an entire strategic plan (not simply advising), writing a funding proposal (or indeed any kind of writing where there will be edits), and delivering a specific product within a specific time frame.

* Daily or hourly rate, where you are paid for your work based on an estimated time involved. This kind of payment is best when you are doing something that is pretty straightforward and it is easy to give the client an accurate estimate of how much time is needed. Examples of such services are training, word processing, facilitating a retreat, advising on strategic planning, and one-on-one coaching.

So think about yourself as a consultant. What would you do? What services would you offer? What could you do for a client that they would love to pay you for? How would you talk about what you do? What would be your 5-second pitch description of what you can deliver to a client? Chances are that's what you want to do in a job, too. You may even discover that you love being in business for yourself.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Creating and Using the Must Have List

Here's a living example of how I guided someone through the questions in the Must Have List, to help her identify what she wants to do next in her work life.

What AC Wants
Say in policy & ownership

* Recognition and appreciation of her value & skill
* Authority and responsibility to determine path
* Leeway to adjust
* Shared ultimate responsibility

Reasonable schedule
Combine practical tasks with relationship building

* Be organized
* Talk to people
* Small things toward a much bigger goal – steps toward achieving goal

People she respects and likes
Dance (but not ballet)

* Possibly more than one company

Well-paid, good benefits

* $100k
* Way to make as much as she wants to afford a house and car and put some away for retirement

Based on this list, and looking at where she naturally goes, a few things became apparent. First, it seems that she is very senior in her industry, and that she is the peer of many of the power players. Second, she is sick of working for people less able than she is. Third, she craves diverse and varied work. Fourth, she really likes having a substantial positive impact without having the entire financial responsibility for a company on her shoulders. So here's the possibility that emerged:

Go into business for herself as independent producer and/or company manager with several clients at a time. This is a way to make money and have a broader positive impact.

Obviously, there is a difference between going into business for yourself and working for a salary. I'll address Becoming A Consultant in another post.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Follow-up on Resumes

A coach posted this article that provides more insight on resume length.

Survey Shows Longer Resumes Now More Acceptable

MENLO PARK, CA -- The "keep your resume to one page" rule may be on its way out, a new survey suggests. While more than half (52 percent) of executives polled believe a single page is the ideal length for a staff-level resume, 44 percent said they prefer two pages. That compares to 25 percent polled a decade earlier who cited two pages as the optimal resume length; 73 percent of respondents preferred a single page at that time. Respondents also seemed more receptive to three-page resumes for executive roles, with nearly one-third (31 percent) citing this as the ideal length, compared to only 7 percent 10 years ago.

Both national polls include responses from 150 senior executives -- including those from human resources, finance and marketing departments -- with the nation's 1,000 largest companies. They were conducted by an independent research firm and developed by Accountemps, the world's first and largest specialized staffing service for temporary accounting, finance and bookkeeping professionals.

Executives were asked, "What is the preferable length of a resume for staff-level employees?" Their responses:

Current / 10 Years Earlier
One page: 52% / 73%
Two pages: 44% / 25%
Three pages or more: 3% / 1%
Don't know/not sure: 1% / 1%
TOTAL 100% / 100%

They were also asked, "What is the preferable length of a resume for executives?" Their responses:

Current / 10 Years Earlier
One page: 7% / 28%
Two pages: 61% / 64%
Three pages or more: 31% / 7%
Don't know/not sure: 1% / 1%
TOTAL 100% / 100%

"Many employers are willing to spend a little more time reviewing application materials so they can more easily determine who is most qualified and act quickly to secure interviews with these candidates," said Max Messmer, chairman of Accountemps and author of Managing Your Career For Dummies® (John Wiley & Sons, Inc.).

Although employers may be willing to review longer resumes, job seekers shouldn't go overboard, Messmer noted. "Employers want to see that applicants can prioritize information and concisely convey the depth of their experience," he said.

Accountemps offers the following do's and don'ts for determining what information to include in a resume:

• Describe key contributions you made at prior roles and how they impacted the bottom line.
• Summarize software expertise and other specialized skills.
• Devote extra space to describing work experience that is most relevant to the job description.
• Use terms referenced in the job description if they apply. Firms often scan resumes for key words included in the job description.
• Reference your activities with professional civic associations, community involvement and knowledge of a second language -- if they relate to the job opportunity.

• Use exact dates of employment. Months and years are sufficient.
• Include irrelevant details about your personal life or list your hobbies.
• Misrepresent your education or career experience.
• Use professional jargon and abbreviations.
• List references or include a lengthy objective.
• Use complete sentences; short bulleted statements are better.

Accountemps has more than 350 offices throughout North America,Europe, Australia and New Zealand, and offers online job search services at

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Building a Consulting Business

When people are looking for work, it is helpful to have a few things going on at the same time. I recommend that people engage in consulting - using their skills on projects for pay.

Reason #1: Multiple activities help fight the discouragement that comes from continually looking for and not yet finding the right thing and the "yes, you're hired!" that signals the end of your search.

Reason #2: Usually, people need to make some money to pay bills.

Reason #3: Consulting keeps your skills current, and gives you something to put on your resume that shows you are continuing to work.

Consulting is quite different from working for a salary, and it takes some shifts of attitude and consciousness. It especially takes new skills and knowledge of how to run a business. When building a business, it's good to remember that there's lots of trial and error involved for you to find your comfort zone in terms of fees, scope of work, and time it takes to complete a project.

My friend Sam wrote asking for advice regarding the price she should quote a potential client, knowing that the client doesn't have a lot of money yet is working on a very interesting project. Here are the suggestions I made to her; hope they are helpful to you!

It's obvious that you give your clients a lot of time, more than you originally estimate. My way of estimating time is to double the amount of time I think it will take. Sounds like you are finding that out already - $34/hour is about half your minimum rate!

Re quoting rates to clients, it depends on:

* how much you want to work for the particular client
* how much time you really have to do discounted work
* how much money you need to make within the time you have available for doing the work
* understanding the "opportunity cost" of taking on this work - clients you WON'T be able to take on because you are doing this work
* the boundaries you can put on the work, e.g. I can do one proposal for this price, period.

An effective way to handle pricing in this case is to say something like this:

I really want to work with you and I'm sensitive to your budget issues. My usual rate is $750 a day. I estimate that it will take me 5 full days of work to complete one proposal - including one round of revisions; identify 10 potential funding sources; and submit them. So that would be $3750. Because I really want to work with you, I want to know what you can afford right now. You can always pay me the rest later, but I do need something now.

The thing about this is that you are promising only ONE proposal with one set of revisions, a set number of funding sources and submission. Those boundaries can help you manage yourself, as much as managing her expectations. Part of being in business for ourselves means managing ourselves.

If you're anything like me, you put in a lot of extra work on the job. And when you work at a job, you are recognized and often rewarded for going the extra mile. Going the extra mile in a consulting job is fine, except when it takes away from doing other work. Your time is limited and you need to make a certain amount of money to cover your costs and hopefully put some money away in savings.

So the first thing to do is figuring out how much you need to make. I use a very simple formula:

The sum I want to make per year before taxes, divided by 40 (or 36) weeks. I use that number because I build in time between clients, time to develop new relationships and get new clients (also known as "marketing"), and time off. My client fee needs to be sufficient to cover ALL my costs. To come up with an hourly fee, then I divide that number by 40 hours. For a daily fee, divide by 5.

For example, I want to make $100,000 gross (pre-taxes). I divide $100,000 by 40 weeks, and come up with $2500 a week. My daily rate is then $500, and my hourly rate is $62.50. I'd round that up to $65 or 75 an hour.

These are points to start with.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Resume Length

I just saw answers to the question "how long should a resume be?" on an e-mail from the coaches' special interest group (SIG) to which I belong.

Just as I expected: most coaches believe resumes should be no longer than two pages. Some felt it could be one page for someone relatively junior in their careers, and two for a more senior person. One person said it could go as long as three pages, and one felt it should be no more than one - no matter what.

My experience tells me that successful resumes are as follows:

* one page for a relative newcomer to the world of work - zero to ten years
* two pages for someone with more than 10 years of experience
* possibly two and a half pages for someone who is incredibly experienced and has many awards or publications or affiliations or something really extraordinary. Really, though, all those things should be distilled into two pages with headings that say "AFFILIATIONS (selected)," "PUBLICATIONS (selected)" and the like. If you just can't leave anything out, put them into separate attachments instead of in the resume!

In my opinion, someone who is experienced should always have two pages, because a single page subliminally tells readers "this is a junior person" and "don't bother reading this one." If you're applying for a senior position, that is NOT the message you want to communicate. You want to communicate "I am experienced enough for anything you throw at me" and "I deserve your consideration for this job." On the flip side, if you have more than two pages, the subliminal messages are "this is an arrogant person" and "this person doesn't respect my time." These are messages designed to get your resume put in the NO pile if not the recycling bin.

There are times when people have to produce a resume or curriculum vitae that conforms to a specific format or standard. One person I know, a medical doctor, has a ridiculously long CV - 8 pages at least - because his institution mandated the format. If he is looking for work, however, I'd advise him to develop a two page resume with attachments.

One poster mentioned an incredibly important point: no matter its length, a resume needs to be easily read. The point of submitting a resume is for someone to read it. If the reviewer has to reach for his/her reading glasses, that's a point against you. Our job as applicants is to make it as easy as possible for the reviewer to see our skills and abilities. That means they should encounter no obstacles.

To me, readable resumes avoid fancy formatting. Most often today, people submit resumes electronically. Many times, the fancy formatting doesn't come through accurately. Instead of those beautiful arrows you used to itemize your accomplishments, a question mark appears. Or the line appears as a bunch of dots. Or text disappears or appears somewhere else. Or page breaks happen in odd places and suddenly you have a four page resume.

You get the point. The last thing you could wish for is any implication that there is any question about your accomplishments! So use the dots provided for in Word.

There's an important point in the previous sentence: use Word! It's the most common word processing package; even Mac users have it now. And save it as a "doc." It's the only format that just about everyone reliably can open.

Readable resumes use simple fonts like Times Roman, Garamond and possibly Tahoma or Verdana. The last two are sans serif type faces which are always more difficult to read, so I don't recommend them as a first choice. Times Roman is familiar and that's a good thing. We want the reviewer to immediately feel comfortable with us; it's one less hurdle for us to get over in the job search process.

Font alone doesn't make a resume readable. One also much use a big enough font. I prefer 12 point for Times Roman and no smaller than 11 point. I read somewhere that Garamond is a more elegant version of Times Roman, which is the case. However, it also is a bit smaller, so I opt for 12 point type - never 11 point. Tahoma and Verdana are big enough that 11 point is sufficient.

Legible resumes also follow an easy-to-read format. And that's a post for another day.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Starting a New Job

I have the happy news that three people have just started new jobs - jobs that meet their Must Have Lists!

Because they've been out of work for a while (one for almost a year, the others for six+ months), the three people are understandably nervous about how to be successful in this new gig. I suggested that they create some goals for themselves using this framework.

At the end of 90 days, and at the end of a year:

1. What do you want to be known for?
2. What tangible or measurable outcomes do you want to have accomplished?
3. How do you want others to perceive you and feel about you?
4. How do you want to feel about yourself in this specific area?

The answers to these questions can help you set priorities for yourself and organize your efforts and energy to achieve these outcomes.

What are some possible answers?

Go back to your Must Have List to remember your values, the kind of work and activities you love to do, the standards you have for yourself, the kind of culture you wanted to work in, and the kind of outcomes that make you happiest and proudest. This gives you clues for answering these questions.

In my case, after 90 days, some of what I'd want is: to be known as someone who delivers more than I promise, who starts and ends meetings on time, who has integrity, and a good sense of humor. I'd want to meet all my staff and established my standards and priorities, as well as a regular schedule of meetings with my direct reports and leadership team. I will have met many of the key stakeholders and accurately assessed the power dynamics of the organization and begun to make strategic relationships. I'd want to identify some easy early wins to demonstrate my grasp of the subject matter. And I'd have a plan for the next 9 months, with buy-in from the necessary players.

Planning like this can also help with your job search. For example:

* What do you want to be known for by your network and prospective employers?
* How do you want to feel about yourself during the search?
* What tangible outcomes do you want to achieve within 90 days? 6 months?

Structure and forethought really help you achieve your goals.

Friday, October 9, 2009

A Note Regarding Interviews and Work Transitions

"Helen"* saw a job description for a big job at a non-profit organization and commented: "that's supposed to be even more dysfunctional than the place I work now!"

My response was in the form of a suggestion:

"If it's the kind of work that interests you and the kind of prestigious organization that appeals to you, see if you can get an interview.

An interview is really the only place you can get to know for yourself what an organization's culture is like. The first interview can give you a pretty good gut indicator.

Other people may find a place dysfunctional, and it may be the kind of dysfunction you thrive in. My theory is that most places are dysfunctional in some way, so part of the transition process is to find the one that maximizes my effectiveness and minimizes my dissatisfaction.

That's why the Must Have List is so important - it's the place you identify where and how and in what circumstances you are happiest and doing your best work. Going to an interview armed with that self-knowledge is very empowering - you now are interviewing them at the same time they are interviewing them. It changes the power dynamic from the get-go. Your consequent self-confidence will really help you recognize and then listen to your gut impressions and feelings.

It's also very empowering to go to many interviews, to "try on" various jobs and organizations so you're more and more certain of what fits and what doesn't. And when you find your "right fit," it all just falls into place. Thus, more interviews than less are highly desirable.

Our goal right now is to get you interviews, not to get you a job. That comes later. At this point, interview experience is our data base. Also, did you know we have a sort of brain in our gut? That's the one to start listening to. And that takes practice."

We'll see what she decides to do! As I like to say, more shall be revealed...

* changed to protect privacy

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Acing An Interview

I am prepping several people for interviews - hooray! What a great opportunity for them to further explore whether this is the right fit job for them.

Obviously, in this economy, people are grateful that they have even gotten an interview. It IS wonderful to be asked to come to an interview. Remember that you've gotten the chance because you did your homework and made the case that you would be a good fit for the job. That should help you avoid the temptation to mold your responses to what you think the employer wants to hear.

You clearly have the basic qualifications - that is certain if you get an interview in this climate. There probably are many other people who meet the qualifications as well.

So why did you get an interview? The employer liked the personality and message you initially conveyed.

In the interview, the employer wants to hear more about how you will meet their needs and to see if the "chemistry" is right between the two of you. The interview also is your first opportunity to hear how well the employer meets your must have list.

Here are some things to do that will improve your chances of doing well in the interview.

* Stick to the strategy you used in your cover letter.
In answer to any questions you can, tie your experience and skills to the employer's needs and challenges. Complete your answer and then say how you see this skill or experience as relevant to the employer's situation.

* Tell stories to imprint your experience and skills into the interviewer's mind.
The stories should be short - maybe 30 seconds long, with a beginning/middle/end. Rehearse some stories to illustrate one of your key skills or experiences that relate well to the employer's situation. Then say "I'll do that for you in xyz area" to draw the direct comparison. They need to know the link, and to know that you've thought enough about the situation to make that connection.

* Whenever you can, focus on the problems you'll solve for the employer, and the value you'll provide.
The interviewer is very familiar with the challenges and issues they face, and wants to know that you are also. Make sure you do your research before the interview. Read the website to see the company's purpose or mission, the future plans they may have, market conditions they face, their competition, and key projects and activities. See how your job will fit in with all of that.

* Make sure you tell the employer why you want to work for THEM in particular. Sincere flattery works wonders to impress on an employer that you understand how great they are. Also emphasize that you really want to work on the challenges they offer.

* Ask the interviewer questions that will help you assess how well the employer and job will meet your "Must Have List." If you are concerned about culture, ask "what is the culture like here?" If you want to know about the position's influence and impact, ask what would constitute success in the position. Ask about the company's future plans. One exception: Hold off on talking about compensation. The first interview is NOT the time for that.

* In the interview, remain enthusiastic and friendly. Even if you hear something you don't like, file the information away and continue being open. This is the time only for information-gathering. It is not the time to decide whether you want the job or not. Simply register the information. You will use it later to make a decision.

* Allow yourself to really want the job.
Your enthusiasm for the job and your conviction that it is the job for you will come through as enthusiasm, not desperation. By asking your own questions, you will naturally temper any hint of what could be construed as too much eagerness. In general, employers want to hire people who want to work for them. If it turns out the job is not for you, you can handle the disappointment. By allowing yourself to want it, though, you could give yourself the edge you need to be offered the job.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Job Search: Creating Your "Must Have List"

This is a list of 5-6 aspects of a job or work that you MUST have. This is not “want to have.” This list is the things that you must have in order for you to be satisfied and content in your work, the things that will make it possible for you to be excited to start the day when you wake up every morning.

You’ll want to have a “must have” in most or all of these categories:

1) Type of work
2) Role you will play
3) Impact of your efforts
4) Physical environment
5) Colleagues, culture, emotional environment
6) Compensation

1) Type of work

What do you like doing? What do you want to occupy yourself doing for work? What are your skills, talents, preferences, likes and dislikes? What brings you joy? What can you lose yourself in so time flies? Single focus or variety of tasks?

2) Role you will play

Will you work for someone? For yourself? With others? Be a leader or a follower? Do you like working alone or in a team? Being visible or behind the scenes? Lots of variety or the same kind of role consistently? How much time do you want to spend working? Do you want to be someone others depend on or free of responsibility for others?

3) Impact of your efforts

Does your work need to matter to anyone other than yourself? Do you want to make a difference? If so, what difference do you want to make? Does it matter what kind of company or organization you work for? If so, what kind of company? And what impact will it have? Is there anything that will make it worth doing drudge work?

4) Physical environment

What do you need to be at your best and do your best work? Do you need privacy, light, quiet, noise, open floor plan, a desk and comfortable chair, no desk and always being outside? There are many variations – only you can decide what kind of physical environment you thrive in. Also can be about location, commuting, hours.

5) Culture and colleagues

What kind of emotional environment do you want? What kind of people? Do your values need to mesh with the values of your workplace and colleagues? What kind of atmosphere helps you do your best? Lots of deadlines or little pressure? Competitive or supportive, or a little of both? Structured or flexible? Formal or casual? 9-5 or varied? Task or mission focused? Start-up or established organization/company? Close supervision or self-direction?

6) Compensation

What’s the bottom line dollar pay or salary that you can live with? A figure that covers your basic needs and then some? You can have a figure you request that’s higher than your “I can live with it” figure. Are there other ways you can be compensated, such as time off, benefits, recognition, or travel? How much compensation do you need to reflect your value to your employer, or to quit a temporary or maintenance job to work full-time for yourself?

c Julia Erickson 2007 (with thanks to Linda Hall).

"He can who thinks he can, and he can't who thinks he can't. This is an inexorable, indisputable law." Pablo Picasso