Ask A Recruiter: Are Cover Letters Important?

Q: Are cover letters important?

 

A: Yes, cover letters are still very important. They present a terrific opportunity to differentiate and sell yourself as the best candidate for the job opening.

 

Cover letters should always do more than just preview what’s in a resume. Job seekers can summarize and highlight their professional history and strengths, as well as specific soft skills and traits that they wouldn’t include on a resume.

 

Other things that you can include in a cover letter, but not a resume:

  • Talk about why you’re interested in the opportunity or the company – This is the primary purpose of the cover letter and something that the hiring manager will be looking for, especially if it’s not obvious from your resume.
  • Explain ‘red flags’ that may be in your resume – While you should stick to factual information on your resume, the cover letter is a good place to briefly explain things in your work history that may be questionable, such as an employment gap or your location.
  • Mention a personal connection– If you have a personal connection to the job opening, i.e. you know someone who works or worked at the company, and mentioning their name could help you get a foot in the door, the cover letter is a good place to communicate that connection. Of course, it’s advisable to get the contact’s permission first.

 

Some best practices for writing cover letters:

Length – Just like a resume, length is important. A cover letter should be no longer than a half page or 3-4 paragraphs.

 

Keep it fresh – As I mentioned above, the cover letter shouldn’t repeat what’s in your resume. Keep the content focused on why you’re a good fit for the company or position.

 

Address it to a specific person – It’s better to address the cover letter to a proper name than to use a general greeting such as “To Whom it May Concern.” Do your research; call and ask who to address in your cover letter.

 

Personalize it – Use the cover letter to differentiate yourself among other candidates by revealing who you are and what your personality is like. Consider the questions that interviewers like to ask and mention your career goals, aspirations, and/or where you see yourself in the future.

 

Demonstrate knowledge – The cover letter is a good opportunity to show that you’ve researched the company you’re applying to. Incorporate the research into your reasons for being interested in the opportunity or into an explanation of why you’re a good match.

 

Know your audience – While the cover letter presents a good opportunity to communicate your personal interests, it’s also important to match your style with the hiring organization. Different organizations have different workplace priorities and values that can depend on their size, industry, competitive landscape, whether they’re a headquarter location vs. a branch office, etc.

 

Always Proofread – Have someone proofread the letter for you before sending it. Nothing will get you eliminated faster than typos!

 

Gwendolen Andre is a Senior Group Manager on the Major Accounts Division at Professional Staffing Group. She manages four teams that work with a variety of clients within the higher education and healthcare industries.

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Ask A Recruiter: Why Your Resume Didn’t Get Past the First Round

Q: I haven’t been called for an interview for the past few jobs I’ve applied to. What am I doing wrong?

 

A: A decade ago, job seekers used resumes to get their foot in the door for an interview. However, in today’s job market, resumes are used to screen candidates out. Even if you’re qualified for an interview, your resume could prevent you from getting to that step, so it’s important that you have a bulletproof resume to avoid getting screened out. Here’s how it works: a ‘screener,’ who could be a human or could be automated software, quickly scans your resume and gauges whether it’s worthy to go to the next round where it will be given more careful consideration and where you’ll perhaps be invited in for an interview.

 

Screeners spend less than one minute looking over your resume so it’s important to show them your best attributes right away and not waste their time. Don’t bury your most essential or biggest accomplishment – put it right at the top of your resume. For example, if you’re a recent college graduate, your degree will likely be your biggest qualification. If you’ve worked in a certain industry or in a certain role for a few years, summarize that as your biggest qualification. Don’t waste important ‘real estate’ on your resume by putting a summary or your objectives at the top of the page. While those statements may be important to you, they’re not what the screener is looking for.

 

Here are other things that screeners look for:

 

A resume that’s easy to read – Think about it: the screener has a huge stack of resumes and not much time – are they going to want to dig in to a multi-page resume with cramped type? No. They want to see a sleek, easy-to-scan, one page document that highlights the candidate’s most important attributes.

 

Location – From the screener’s perspective, seeing that a candidate lives out of state or far from the job site is a red flag. They might assume that the candidate will need to relocate or want to negotiate commuting. While a resume may otherwise be very strong, if the screener has an abundance of candidates and needs to knock some out of contention, resumes that point out a long-distance address could go to the bottom of the pile. If you’re in this situation, try listing generic contact information (such as a gmail account) or putting your contact information at the bottom of the page.

 

Education–It’s not always the case that just because you have information to share, it should be included on your resume and the Education category is a good example. First, consider which is stronger – your education or your work experience – and put the stronger attribute at the top of your resume. If you’ve been working for a few years, it doesn’t make sense to highlight non-essential education information like the high school you went to or a GPA that isn’t very strong (3.8 or higher). If you are a new graduate and want to put the spotlight on your degree, it’s fine to highlight leadership experience from school or classes that are relative to your industry or area of work, but don’t highlight unimportant parts of your education.

 

 

Requirements – Some companies, especially large organizations, use tracking systems that pre-screen resumes. In this situation, it’s important that your resume contain the keywords that the software will be looking for. These keywords are taken from the job description, often they will be listed as “requirements” in the job description. It’s important to incorporate these keywords as often as possible in your resume – as long as they’re applicable, of course.

 

Hobbies & interests – While talking about a unique hobby could help a candidate appear to be well-rounded or break the ice in an interview, listing that hobby on a resume comes across as a waste of space. Screeners would rather see resumes that list skills, certifications and/or awards instead.

 

Spacing & formatting – One of the first pieces of advice resume writers receive is to triple check that there are no grammar mistakes and typos. Here is a second piece of advice: make sure your resume is formatted correctly throughout, that the font and size are uniform, and that everything is bolded and italicized that should be.

 

 

Jim Pickering has worked at Professional Staffing Group for 8 years. He started in PSG’s entry-level training program and is now a senior recruiting manager. Jim oversees a team that sources and pre-screens candidates for PSG’s clients.

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The Best Time to Look for a Job

Job seekers stymied by the ‘summer slow-down’ can take heart: your in-box will start buzzing again soon.

PSG’s President Aaron Green recently shared his thoughts with Boston.com about the best and worst job-seeking ‘seasons.’  However, while some periods may be slower than others in some industries or at some firms, Green advises that the best time to look for a job is “when you need one.”

Read the full article here.

Ask A Recruiter: Temp-to-Hire

Q: What does the term “temp-to-hire” mean?

A: There are several ways you can be employed when working with a staffing firm: as a temporary employee, a temp-to-hire worker or as a direct-hire.

A temporary employee is someone who is employed by the staffing firm, but goes to work for a client of the firm. The client company manages the employee while the staffing firm pays the employee. A temporary job can last anywhere from several hours or one day to many months. Temporary employees are sometimes called ‘contractual,’ ‘seasonal,’ ‘interim,’ or ‘freelance.’

Direct-hire means that the firm’s client hires the employee directly. The staffing firm is used to recruit and screen candidates for the role, but once the employee is hired, they no longer have an affiliation with the staffing firm and go directly on the client firm’s payroll.

Temp-to-hire is a middle ground term and it means that the employee begins as a temporary worker, but if the job goes well he/she may be offered a permanent position. Sometimes this is also called ‘temp-to-perm’ or ‘right-to-hire.’

Sometimes an open position is designated as a temp-to-hire position right away, because the employer knows they want to fill the position with a permanent employee, but wants to use evaluate temporary workers in the role to find the best candidate. Other times the position is advertised as a temporary position, but the employee does a great job and the employer decides they want to make that worker a permanent staff member.

Many of the candidates we meet with would prefer to find a permanent position. However, temp-to-hire opportunities can be just as beneficial to the candidate as they are to the employer. There’s only so much information that each party can learn about the other in one or two interviews. It’s only when you’re immersed in the job on a day-to-day basis and interacting with co-workers and customers, that you can truly understand whether the situation is a good fit.

About the Recruiter

K-CoppinsKristen Coppins has 10+ years of experience in the staffing and recruiting industry.  As a Director and member of the management team at Professional Staffing Group (PSG), she oversees the new hire training and development program. Kristen is also a member of ASA’s Continued Education Committee.

Ask A Recruiter: Signs It’s Time for a Job Change

Q: I’ve been on the fence for a long time about whether I should look for a new job. Are there any tell-tale signs that it’s time to move on?

A: The answer to your question is different for every person, but in our experience there are several legitimate signs that it’s time to change jobs:

Not being challenged – Workers who have been in their position for a long time can become frustrated if they aren’t challenged with new responsibilities over time. If the job becomes stagnant, it can feel like there’s no opportunity for growth and that it’s not worth staying. However, if you find yourself in this position, I recommend first trying to fix the situation by sitting down with your manager and explaining that you’d like to be challenged more at work.

Lack of growth opportunities – Employees also like to be recognized for their growth with promotions and higher-level titles at work. If there’s little room to grow – for instance, if a manager’s or supervisor’s experience level is close to your own or their own growth opportunities are limited – it becomes difficult to see a path forward or future at the company. However, again, before deciding to leave, it’s important to validate your perception by talking to your manager about your interests. Perhaps there’s a growth path within the company that you haven’t noticed yet.

Passed over for promotion – Being passed over for a promotion can make employees feel neglected. While such an event can be an opportunity to talk about your future at the company and what it will take for you to be selected for promotion, it can also (especially if it happens more than once) push employees to the conclusion that there’s not an opportunity or future for them at the company.

Company instability – It’s said that “change creates uncertainty,” and at the workplace changes like a merger or acquisition, a new outsourcing strategy, or lay-offs can cause workers to feel as though their job is at risk. The changes can also cause opportunity – if your job is not eliminated there may be lots of new opportunities for you. However, if the company really appears to be shrinking and heading in the wrong direction, that could be a good reason to make your move.

Supervisor or manager is leaving – Many times people look to their supervisor or manager as a role model and aspire to be in their position someday. If that person decides to leave, it can raise doubts about whether it’s wise to stay yourself, i.e. if the person you admire and aspire to be has found better opportunity elsewhere, perhaps you will too. Of course, their leaving can also open up an opportunity for you to grow and take on their responsibilities.

Culture change – Workplace culture can be an important factor in job satisfaction, and if the culture of an organization changes and is no longer what it used to be, or what attracted you originally, it may be time to make a change. Workers’ needs change over time, too. For instance, working for a fast-paced, fast-growing organization can be exhilarating and rewarding, but it can also cause burnout and prompt an employee to look for a different job in a more stable environment.

Job Description has changed – As I mentioned earlier, workers look for change in their job over time, especially changes that give them the opportunity to learn new skills or take on new responsibilities. However, when a job changes in a way that minimizes the employee’s responsibilities or they feel their role at the company is being threatened, it could be a sign that it’s time to move on.

About the Recruiter

greg-menzone-pic1Greg Menzone is a 10-year veteran of the staffing industry who has made hundreds of successful placements. Greg and the team he manages specialize in direct hire placement of accounting and finance professionals. 

Ask A Recruiter: Deciding Between Multiple Job Offers

Q: After interviewing for a long time, I’m about to have more than one job offer to consider. Do you have any advice on how to make the right decision?

A:  Congratulations on receiving multiple job offers!

When it’s time to make a tough choice, I recommend creating pros and cons lists. I always tell candidates to make a list of the top three things they are looking for in a new job and it’s not too late for you to do this, too. Having a written reminder of what you’re looking for will make it easier to decide if a job offer is right for you.

For example, I recently worked with an HR professional who had told me that advancing her career was a top priority. We found an opportunity for her that would meet this goal– the new job opportunity offered more responsibilities and room for growth – but it also would mean a longer commute. The commute was a serious consideration for this candidate, since she has a young child at home, but she had prioritized her desires, and after careful consideration, she decided that pursuing career advancement was the most important objective for her at this time.

As you think about your priorities, here are some categories to consider:

Long-term career objective – It can be tough to take yourself out of the ‘here and now’ and imagine how a brand new job will develop over the long term. However, it’s important to consider how the role aligns with your long-term career objectives or how it can help your career in the long term. For instance, if you are a software engineer considering different types of work – perhaps one that involves a heavy amount of coding and one that is focused more on project management – if you are qualified for both positions, you might be tempted to take the one that pays more. But it’s important to consider what skills you’d develop in the different roles and how your responsibilities could develop over time in each position, as well as how much growth you’ll have in the position.

Your everyday role – Think about what you’ll be doing on a daily basis, including your role at the company, responsibilities and with whom you’ll be reporting to and working with.

Type of Employer – There’s a big difference between doing the same job at a startup and at a global corporation. Some people thrive on the culture at a small business where they can be exposed to a little bit of everything and other people prefer working in a more structured environment with access to larger networks. The type of company you work at will impact your professional development opportunities, the types of mentors you will find, your training and how many peers you’ll find in a similar role. Many times your career reputation is linked with your company’s reputation, too.

Location – For some people a short commute is a critical factor when considering new jobs. If it’s important to you, consider overall commute time, public transportation options, nearby amenities, parking and any other commuting factors.

Compensation – I don’t like to see candidates place salary at the top of their priority list, but it’s obviously an important consideration. Consider benefits and perks as well as salary when weighing an offer.

Everyone feels differently about these categories and feelings can change over the years. It’s important to consider what matters most to you when weighing your work options.

Jess-Salerno-photo1About the Recruiter
Jessica Salerno Incerto has 10+ years of experience in the staffing and recruiting industry. As a director and member of the management team at Professional Staffing Group (PSG), she oversees career placement, client consultation and management and training. Jessica is also a member of NEHRA’s Diversity Committee.