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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

5 questions job-seekers should ask interviewers

If you're searching for a new job, here are five questions you should ask any company you're considering working for:

1. "As hard as it is, I think it's important for managers to transition people out if they're not the right fit. When is the last time the company fired someone for performance-related reasons?"
I've never heard a candidate ask this and I bet I never will, but they should. How many times have you had your quality of life destroyed or your effectiveness diminished by someone who the company obviously should have fired but who instead was allowed to languish on? Just as you want to work for a company that will reward great performance, you also want to work for a company that will get rid of people if they deserve to be fired.

2. "What's the biggest obstacle the person in this position will face?"

3. "How will the success of the person in this position be measured?"

4. "Thinking to the person who you've seen do this job best, what made their performance so outstanding?"

5. "How would you describe the culture of the organization?"

The "right" answers to questions 2-5 depend on what you're looking for in your job search, but you'll definitely learn information you might not otherwise glean about what you'd be signing up for if you took the job. Plus, if your interviewer is competent, he or she will be thrilled that you're asking, because you'll be showing a level of thoughtfulness and engagement that many candidates don't display.

Carnival of HR #8

The Carnival of HR #8 is up at 8 Hours & a Lunch. Go check it out!

Monday, May 28, 2007

the point of a cover letter

I regularly see job applicants miss out on one of the most effective ways to make their application stand out: the cover letter.

First, I'm continually surprised by how many people don't submit a cover letter at all, despite the fact that our ads and online job application instructions explicitly request them. I generally assume these applicants are just resume-bombing, applying to such a wide range of jobs that they can't possibly tailor their application to each job. I don't want these applicants; not only are they ignoring instructions in their very first contact with me, but I want applicants who are interested in this job, not a job.

Then there are the people who do submit a cover letter but who use it simply to summarize the resume that follows. With such limited initial contact, you're doing yourself a disservice if you squander a page just regurgitating the contents of the other pages.

A cover letter is where you make a compelling case for yourself as a candidate, totally aside from what's in your resume. The first thing you want to do is tailor it to the specific job you're applying for and, if possible, the specific company. Yes, it takes a lot longer than sending out the same form letter over and over, but I can promise you, a well-written cover letter that's obviously individualized to my specific opening is going to open doors even when your resume alone might not have. These account for such a tiny fraction of applications -- maybe 3% at most -- that you'll stand out and immediately go to the top of my pile. And I'll give you an extra look, even if your resume isn't stellar.

So what does it mean to individualize the cover letter? Here are some ways to do it:

* Tell me why you want this particular job. What grabbed you about the job description or the company itself? Why would you prefer this job over others out there?

* If you're not a perfect match with the qualifications listed in the ad, acknowledge it and tell me why you'd do a good job anyway.

* Stay away from hyperbole. I hate cover letter statements like, "You won't find a candidate better qualified than me." It's usually not true when people say that, but more importantly, it reeks of ego. I don't want to feel like you're trying to sell me on you; from my side, the hiring process is about an honest assessment of whether you're a good match (because I don't want to have to fire you later). Hyperbole just gets in the way.

* If something makes you especially well-suited for the job aside from your resume, the cover letter is the place to mention it. Maybe the position requires an inordinate degree of meticulousness and you constantly get teased for being anal retentive about details. Great! Mention it or I won't know.

* If you know you’re overqualified but you don't mind, say so in your cover letter. Otherwise I'll figure that you don't understand the nature of the position and won’t want to waste my time or yours.

if you're job-searching, check your spam folder

If you're conducting a job search, be vigilant about checking your spam folder or bulk email folder if your mail program has one, because there might be a job-related email sitting in there. At my organization, we've discovered that our emails sometimes get mistakenly routed to applicants' spam folders and so some people don't even see them. This is a particular problem when we're emailing job applicants back to ask them to supply further documentation (such as a writing sample); when I'm particularly interested in a candidate, I'll sometimes have our hiring assistant follow up with a phone call if I don't hear back for a while, and often she discovers when she calls that the email is indeed sitting in a spam folder, unseen. But most companies won't bother to do this; I do it because I hate the thought of missing out on someone good, but most places aren't as anal retentive as I am.


I manage a medium-sized, successful organization. I hire, fire, promote, manage, all that. If you're not sure what the hell your manager is thinking, or how to ask for a raise, or whether you might be in danger of getting fired, or how to act in a second interview ... ask away. I can't promise I think just like your manager does -- in fact, chances are good that I don't, since I think many managers out there aren't that good at it -- but I can tell you how to give it your best shot.