September 2011 Archives

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The fresh words on the street are from the recruiters who visited the EMS Student Council sponsored Career Fair on September 20, 2011.

Most of the comments from the recruiters were positive. For example, Jeremy Corbett, manager of recruitment for Teach for America, said "the event was great, and I like how the résumé book is set up." Also, all the recruiters commented favorably on the employment documents. Many recruiters mentioned that EMS is one of their favorite colleges to visit because the students are superior. 

Jim Rourke, a meteorologist for AccuWeather, Inc. commented, "This event is a nice, informal way for the students to interact with recruiters, without much stress involved. I very much enjoy meeting new students, seeing familiar ones, and giving them pointers and advice as they pursue their degrees in their respective fields."

A few of the negative comments were related to the location of the Fair. Some recruiters pointed out the hallway was crowded, and it may be better for future Career Fairs to have either a designated area for each recruiter or find some venue that's larger so students and recruiters don't feel so constrained. Another recruiter commented that some students seemed more interested in visiting with each other and eating the free food than with interacting with the recruiters.

Another area mentioned as having room for improvement is appropriate job-seeking attire.  One recruiter commented that some female students wore skirts or dresses that were too short.  She encouraged students to be conservative in dress.  Another noted the general casualness and wrinkled appearance of some male students. Both recruiters mentioned that they understand if the student doesn't have enough money to purchase an expensive suit, but it doesn't excuse inappropriate or unkempt attire.

Once again, the overall response from recruiters was positive. I can tell this too because many of you have written to me to let me know what interviews you've gotten from your participation. Nice job!

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Dear Del,
I have a question about cover letters. If you can't find the person whom you would address the cover letter to, is it okay to put "Dear Recruiter" or something like that?

The short answer is, YES. You may address it to Dear Recruiter. Similarly, you may address it to Dear Selection Committee, or Dear Hiring Manager, or any other generic opening that's not a department. In other words, address it to someone who reads. Departments don't read, so you don't want to write, Dear Human Resources Department.

Of course, the long answer is more complicated and more accurate.

It's not preferable to begin your letter with a generic salutation. Think about how you feel when you get home from a long day of classes and spy a letter in your mailbox addressed to Dear Resident. Do you put everything down and tear into it. Absolutely not. Without your name, it's not very engaging. You probably take it out of the mailbox and toss it in the trash.

How can you avoid the circular file during your employment quest? Start by using an appropriate name and title on your cover letter.  The best plan is to check the company's website for the name or any contact information. Call the company using the contact information. If you a person answers, state the following: I'm interested in XY position. To whom may I direct my employment documents? This isn't being pushy or annoying. It's being resourceful.

Also, remember to avoid the gender biased salutation: Dear Sirs or Gentlemen. And Dear Sir/Madam is awkward and so 1990s!  And NEVER write a cover letter (or any other letter for that matter) with the salutation, "To whom it may concern." If you do, it will concern no one.

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Most résumés include a Work Experience Section in which you give your employment history. Remember even if you don't have employment related to your field, you should include some kind of employment or volunteer experience. Your potential employer is looking to see if you have the maturity and professionalism that comes from job experiences. 

Include the following in this section:
1.) the title or position you held,  
2.) the name of the company,
3.) the city and state of the company,
4.) the dates of your employment,
5.) the tasks you performed,
6.) and the skills you learned and developed through completing the tasks.
The most common error in this section is to inadequately develop the tasks and skills as they relate to the specific audience you are targeting.

Here's an example. This student worked on a farm that sold plants, but she doesn't want to do this when she graduates. Here's what she wrote originally.

Patchwork  Farm    Burlington, VT                            (Summer, 2008)
        Cashier and general worker.

As you can see, this is concise and that's important, but it isn't developed enough to be relevant. (Also, the formatting could use a little work.) As an employer is skimming your résumé, he/she is thinking, "why should I care?" Keep in mind if your tasks aren't related to what you hope to do in the future, you need to help your employer understand why they are relevant.

To accomplish this, marry your tasks to skills you know your employer wants. Consider this revision:

Cashier                                                                                            Summer 2008    
Patchwork  Farm, Burlington, VT     
•    Developed strong mental mathematics skills through tallying customer sales receipts
•    Participated in teamwork and problem solving  to install custom flower beds
•    Demonstrated integrity and responsibility in taking cash receipts to the bank     

In this example, the tasks are combined with skills that are transferable. The potential employer can more easily understand the relevance of your experience as a cashier to his/her vacancy. The key to accomplishing this connection is to study the job description and make this section relevant to your specific audience.

As I always say, there's only one rule to writing your résumé; it has to be error free. But there are many ways to increase the likelihood that an employer will select you for an interview. Crafting this section with your audience in mind is one of them.

This week I leave you with a humorous note of something I found on a résumé. A student wrote that he was receiving a Bachelorette Degree (not a bachelor's degree). Luckily he hadn't sent it out yet. Proofread carefully!      

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You're in an elevator. Serendipity! You find yourself riding to the next floor with the head of the company you've identified as your first choice for employment. Do you stand there mute, or do you introduce yourself and give your 30 second "elevator speech"? It probably depends on whether or not you're prepared.

The term elevator speech refers to any short persuasive speech that can be delivered in the time it takes to ride an elevator to the next floor. This week, a student writes seeking advice on her elevator speech.

I was wondering if you have any advice about approaching recruiters at the job fair. I'm a sophomore and want to attend for the first time. I would like to put together my "30 second speech" but don't really know what direction to take.

She's smart because she realizes an "elevator speech" is a necessity. Many job seekers focus on their written communications and forget about the oral communications that may be necessary in the job search process. They're unable to give a short speech that sells what they have to offer, and their oral pitch sends their listeners reaching for their earplugs.  How can you get the perfect pitch for your elevator speech?

CONSIDER YOUR AUDIENCE. This is essential to any effective message. If your short speech is not relevant to your specific audience, it's not likely to generate interest in bringing you in for an interview. In other words, the first step is to consider the key components from your listener's perspective. This means doing your homework. Know as much as you can about the companies in your field by networking, reading online and in databases such as Hoover's Online, Jobstar, Occupational Outlook Handbook, and more. You can find these through your library. For your top picks, understand why makes the company unique and why you are a good match.

KNOW YOURSELF. Of course, knowing why you're a good match means knowing who you are. What makes you unique? What are you able to do? How can you benefit your audience? Peggy Klaus is a Fortune 500 Communication Coach and author of Brag! The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn Without Blowing It. It's an easy, interesting read and offers this "Take-12 Questionnaire" to help readers generate the raw material of their elevator speeches. It can be found online, and is also printed here.

BRAG! Take-12 Self-Evaluation Questionnaire ©
Don't feel that you have to answer these in order. You can start anywhere and skip around. As you move through the questions, you'll likely think of things you might have overlooked when answering earlier ones. In fact, you'll probably want to go over your responses once more after you have completed the evaluation. Remember, the more time you put into this exercise, the more specific details you provide, the easier it will be to create brag bites and bragologues that will be crystal clear and interesting to those who don't already know you well.
1.    What would you and others say are five of your personality pluses?
2.    What are the ten most interesting things you have done or that have happened to you?
3.    What do you do for a living and how did you end up doing it?
4.    What do you like/love about your current job/career?
5.    How does your job/career use your skills and talents, and what projects are you working on right now that best showcase them?
6.    What career successes are you most proud of having accomplished (from current position and past jobs)?
7.    What new skills have you learned in the last year?
8.    What obstacles have you overcome to get where you are today, both professionally and personally, and what essential lessons have you learned from some of your mistakes?
9.    What training/education have you completed and what did you gain from those experiences?
10.    What professional organizations are you associated with and in what ways member, board, treasurer, or the like?
11.    How do you spend your time outside of work, including hobbies, interests, sports, family, and volunteer activities?
12.    In what ways are you making a difference in people's lives?
Source: From Brag! The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn Without Blowing It
(Warner, 2003) by Peggy Klaus

Basically, as you respond to these questions, you're generating your key points. Once you have answered the questions, underline what you want to highlight. Focus on the contributions you can make to the company.

WRITE YOUR SPEECH. Take the underlined parts and write a sentence or two to develop them. Keep it brief. If you're going to keep the entire speech under 30 seconds, you need only about 90 words. Connect the sentences by grouping similar ideas. Add logical transitions. Revise and edit. Cut all unnecessary words, and avoid repetition. Read your speech out loud slowly. If you trip over a sentence, rewrite it until it flows naturally.

PRACTICE YOUR SPEECH. Now practice the speech until it becomes rote. Stand in front of a mirror and rehearse it. Deliver it with a pleasant, controlled, authentic voice and time it. If it's too long, go back and reorganize and cut. Try it out on your friends and family. Ask for feedback. Listen to their suggestions, but remember this is your speech, and in the immortal words of George W. Bush, you are "the decider."

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