Follow the Rules

Lately, I’ve been recruiting to fill a job in my department, and I can’t tell you how frustrating it is when job seekers don’t follow instructions. Before they click the “apply” button on the website, applicants are advised that they must be prepared to upload a resume and a cover letter and that their cover letter should express their salary expectations.

My estimate is that less than ten percent of applicants meet all three of those simple requirements. Because the system requires two documents, about half load their resume twice – once as a cover letter and once a the resume. No more than one-in-ten mention salary.

Job seekers – when you fail to follow simple and explicit directions in the application process, it makes it extremely hard to convince the employer that you will follow simple and explicit directions as an employee.

You must read and follow all directions in the application process. Even if you think the directions are silly, if you think they ask for information they don’t need, or if you think answering the question will negatively affect your application, you must follow the rules. If you don’t, you run a strong risk that your application will not even be considered.

I’ve written before about the importance of a cover letter, and you should never submit a resume without a cover letter (unless they specifically instruct you NOT to submit a cover letter – which I’ve never heard of).  A cover letter is a necessary tool in framing your resume.

Now, you don’t just have to follow the rules. For example, if they don’t require a cover letter, you should still send one. They might tell you to apply via human resources – and you should – but you should also attempt to get your cover letter and resume directly to the hiring manager. You may need to explain why you can’t supply something they have requested, but at least that is better than simply ignoring their request.

So, simple lesson for today, follow the rules. And then find ways to expand the rules in your favor.


If you want more advice on how to write a resume, how to network, or just how to find a job, check out I’m Fired?!? A Business Fable about the Challenges of Losing One Job and Finding Another. Available as an eBook and soon in print! Click here for more details.

New Year – New Resume

For a successful job search, you need three consistently good pieces of paper (or electronic documents for you young ‘uns). You need a resume, a cover letter, and a target list. (I’ll talk about the Target List next time). If you search this blog for Resume or Cover Letter (and I encourage you do that) you’ll find lots of good information. Resume Magic Parts I & II and The Second Most Important Bullet in Your Gun are great starting points. But for the impatient reader, here are some highlights:

Both documents must look good – clean, well-formatted, PERFECT spelling and punctuation, good white space, one font, etc. They need to look like they came from the same person – same formatting, same letterhead, and same style. Here’s the deal – if you cannot execute a flawless resume and cover letter – how can I trust that you can do your job correctly – whatever job that might be?

They need to be specific to the job you are applying for – highlight your quantified accomplishments that prove you have the ability to do the job you are trying to get. Make the recruiter want to know more about you. Sequence the information so the most important information is on the top half of the first page.

You must submit both documents every time. A resume is a like a photograph of you – who you are and what you are made of; but the cover letter is the background of that photograph, the context that explains why you are sending this resume and adds more color about your interest and excitement. A resume without a cover letter is lost and uninteresting.

Include lots of enablers and avoid the limiters (read more). Don’t put your photograph on either document.

Include your full name and contact information (mailing address, email address, phone number) on both documents. Make sure you are using a professional email address like instead of

Your cover letter should reference the job you’re applying for. Throw in some facts about the company so that you can show you’ve done your research and you really are interested in this job for this organization.

Whenever possible send the documents to a specific person. Use LinkedIn or other sources to find out who the hiring manager is and send it to her/him. If HR says you must apply via their processes do that too, but always try to get to the hiring manager. If you’re sending it to HR try to find out the name of the recruiter, or the department head. If you are stumped, send the letter to “Dear Hiring Manager” or Dear Human Resources Professional”, not “To Whom it May Concern.”

I had not planned for this post to be a “best of” kind of post, but I’ve given you several links to posts with more information and more detail.

The bottom line is that if you want to start this new year off with a bang, you need to have the best looking, most complete resume and cover letter you can. Take the time, do them right, and they’ll open doors for you.


If you want more advice on how to write a resume, how to, network or just how to find a job, check out I’m Fired?!? A Business Fable about the Challenges of Losing One Job and Finding Another. Click here for more details.

One Picture is Worth 1,000 Words

In this digital world in which we live, this adage has never been more true. This phrase was first written in 1918 about a pictorial magazine about World War I. At that time, no one could have conceived the number of images we are bombarded with every day. Managing your image is important for the job seeker. The right image, or the wrong one, can tell a recruiter all that s/he wants to know.

There are places you where you absolutely must have a picture of you, and some places where you probably shouldn’t. Here are three suggestions:

Resume – NO – Do not put your photograph on your resume unless you are applying to be a model, a performer, or some other position where you will be hired based on your looks. I like to talk about enablers and limiters on your resume, and photos are almost always limiters. Rarely will all but the most stunning photo improve your chance of getting an interview, and often a poor quality photo can land your resume on the reject pile.

LinkedIn – YES – you should have a good quality professional looking photo on your LinkedIn profile. A lack of a photo suggests (at least to me) that you don’t follow through on things. It appears that you set up a LinkedIn profile because someone (like me) told me you needed one, but you didn’t finish the process. Keep in mind, LinkedIn is a professional networking site. It is not Facebook. Your LinkedIn photo should be a head and shoulders picture in professional attire with a pleasant smile. You want to covey professionalism. Put those other photos on Facebook.

Facebook – YES and NO – If you are going to have a Facebook account, you need to make a decision; is it public or private? If you leave your site unrestricted, you need to realize that many companies will look for you on Facebook to learn more about you. Pictures of you in “unprofessional” situations, drinking, smoking, or what-have-you, might be fine for your friends, but is this how you want your future boss to see you? Assume anything you post on an unrestricted Facebook page is the same as posting that same image on your resume. I suggest you lock down your account to just friends, or you make sure to keep your page Sunday-School appropriate.

Yes, one picture can be worth 1,000 words. As a job seeker, make sure those 1,000 words say “here’s why you should hire me.”

For more details about I’m Fired?!? A Business Fable about the Challenges of Losing One Job and Finding Another, click here.

What Makes You a Unicorn?

Recently a friend was told by a recruiter that the reason his job search was taking so long was that every recruiter was looking for a unicorn. The economy is rebounding from several years ago, the number of workers is going up, and the unemployment is rate is going down. But that does not mean that things are going back to where they were before.

In the rescission, companies learned to do more with less, and that is a lesson they learned well. They may be adding staff, but they are doing it more selectively than before. They are looking for people that have exactly the right skills, knowledge and abilities that they need; and because the pool of unemployed workers is still large and diverse, if they wait long enough they can find their unicorn.

Now, you’re looking in the mirror. Only two feet, no glossy white hair all over your body, no long flowing tail, and especially no long pointy horn protruding from your forehead. You scream in anguish “I’m not a unicorn!” But I say, yes you are.

Every job seeker has a unique blend of knowledge, skills and abilities. And the great thing about people? They can be taught! If there is something you don’t know that you ought to know, learn it! If you can access this blog, you have access to a wealth of learning opportunities.

But, maybe your issue isn’t what you don’t know, it is that you’re not telling anyone. Maybe recruiters don’t know that you are the unicorn they are looking for. This is the primary reason you want to update your cover letter and resume every time you apply for a job. Make sure to highlight the skills and experience you have that fit the requirements they are asking for. Show that you do have four feet. Don’t just have one elevator speech, have 10; each one showing a different perspective on the glossy white coat and flowing tail. In the interview, answer the questions in such a manner to throw light on that long white horn.

For most of us, there are some jobs we want, but we really are not the unicorn they want. But for lots of other jobs, we are just what they want – they just don’t know it. We just need to work a little harder, polish up your horn, throw back your head, and make whatever noise a unicorn makes. Be the unicorn and make sure they see the unicorn in you.

For more details about I’m Fired?!? A Business Fable about the Challenges of Losing One Job and Finding Another, click here.

Clear Communications

I once had a consulting client show me a photo that made me want to both laugh and cry. The client worked for a clothing company. He had purchased a shipment of shirts from an overseas manufacturer. The photo was of a box of neatly folded shirts, each with a price tag attached to the tag in the neck. Okay so far, but when you looked closely at the price tag you could see that the tag was inside of a very small zip-top bag.

When my client opened the shipment, he was puzzled. Why were the shirts not wrapped, and why was there a bag on the price tag? He looked at the purchase order and it said “Shirt – folded – price tag attached – in bag.” (Yes, this is a true story.) The client had received 1,000 of exactly what he’d asked for – especially from someone with a limited command of the English language.

I think that I have a reasonably good command of the English language and I regularly see applicant communications that I don’t understand. Sometimes people accidentally forget to type a crucial word and the sentence doesn’t make sense. Sometimes spell-check corrects their mistake by picking a word that they didn’t intend. Sometimes they are just poor communicators. Fortunately, I don’t have to stop and figure out what they were trying to say, I simply move on to the next resume.

When you are communicating in writing, you must get it right – the first time. When the recipient of your message can’t hear your voice or see your body language, they can’t tell if you are joking, if you are confused, or if you just can’t communicate well. If you want to ensure that your message is received correctly, it must be perfect.

Use the tools you have available. Always set your word processor and email system to spell check before you send. Make sure have not confused weather with whether, to with two or too, or their and there. Reread your document aloud and make sure it sounds the way you want it. If necessary, have someone else check it before you send it.

This is all about attention to detail, and inattention will get your resume left behind. When you send in an application for new job, make sure you’re not sending in a price tag in a teeny-tiny plastic bag.

For more details about I’m Fired?!? A Business Fable about the Challenges of Losing One Job and Finding Another, click here.

The Second Most Important Bullet In Your Gun

Even in this technology laden world, job search is still all about the documents.  You’ve got to have a good resume, a target list (see my earlier post), a reference list and a salary history.  All of these should be formatted similarly so that they’ll help to support your personal brand. Clearly your resume is the most important but what is the second most important document?  I contend that it is the often neglected cover letter.

To continue the gun analogy (perfect for a Friday evening) a resume is like a shotgun blast.  It covers your entire employment history and range of skills.  While you should modify it for every job you apply for, it is still intended to tell everything a recruiter needs to know.

The cover letter, on the other hand, is a rifle shot.  A well written cover letter gives you the chance to focus the energy of your resume on the specific requirements of the job you are applying for.  It is your one, and often only, chance to show the recruiter why you are the perfect candidate for this job.

Cover letters need to be concise and direct. They need to point specifically to what the company needs and how you are uniquely qualified to meet those needs.  I suggest you avoid fluff and a lot of jargon.  Don’t talk about what you are looking for – the recruiter could care less.  Talk about what you can do for the company and support those assertions with proof from your experience. (What if you don’t have that experience? That’s for a future post but one key lesson is don’t lie.  Dishonesty is not the answer.)

As to format and style there are two main considerations.  First, this is a business document and should appear as such. It should be well laid out, typed of course, with no spelling, grammar or punctuation errors and, very importantly, if you are addressing an individual you must spell their name and the name of the company correctly.  On the flip side, like your resume, your cover letter is a personal document.  It needs to reflect your style and help you to reinforce your brand.

Be original but don’t get too clever.  I once had an applicant send me their resume and cover letter folded into a paper airplane with the tag line “if you want your sales to soar, then hire me.”  I didn’t – but I did remember the resume.  I also had one resume arrive with a Staples Easy Button. The pitch was “That was easy – just hire me.”  Personally these approaches are too “cute” for me, but clearly they were memorable.  You need to find out the best way to professionally distinguish yourself from the crowd.

So the moral of the story – don’t neglect the cover letter. Always include one or you may find yourself holding a Starter’s Pistol and firing blanks.