On a job interview, interviewers sometimes ask candidates to explain how they would solve a problem that they, the company, are having. They provide them with certain information and sit back and wait.
Now some interviewers are con artists looking for free advice. But others are honestly testing the candidate to see if they know their stuff. So allow me to provide two acceptable answers:
The first is simple and will work if the interview is legit or you are being conned:
I would not presume to tell you how to run your business. I don’t have enough information. But what you shared with me reminds me of the time…
And then you tell them about a real problem you had and a real solution.
The second is a little more complicated and more suited if you think you are being conned, although, an honest interviewer should not be offended:
Your question reminds me of a story I was once told. There was a family business. The founder was still running things. His children and grandchildren wanted to make changes. He thought he knew everything. They thought he was going to lose everything. So, without his knowledge, they brought in a consultant.
The consultant looked around the business and, after an hour, met with the owner. He complimented him on a few things but then pointed out problems and told him how he, the consultant who he had just met five minutes earlier, would fix them. The owner thanked him, politely threw him out of his office, and then handed his children their heads on a plate!
A good consultant, and that is what you are asking me to be, does their research, knows what questions to ask, how to ask the questions, and when to ask the questions. And since I would like to consider myself a good consultant, I really can’t answer your question. But you now know how I would go about finding the answer. That said, if you are interested, I can tell you about a similar situation I had and how I dealt with it.
And you take it from there.
These days, with the difficulties in finding qualified candidates for real positions, I hope that the number of employers faking job openings in the hope of getting free advice has diminished. One can only hope. But candidates still have to be prepared. Consider yourself prepared!
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A cover letter coexists in the three sections of linear time: past, present and future. (Sorry, I forgot to take my medication this morning. I’ll be right back.)
OK. I’m better now. But the sad truth is that some consultants actually talk that way. They want to give the impression that they are scientists (This was even before Covid!) and not simply oracles who some believe should sit on the top of Delphi while others think they should be buried under it! What job seeker has time for this nonsense? None with whom I have ever worked.
Yes, a cover letter deals with the past, present and future (the aforementioned nonsense about linear time), but the purpose of the cover letter is simple: To get the recipient to look at the resume. That’s it. Period. End of discussion. But it can be more than that.
Sorry, but now we have to do some math:
For sake of argument, let’s say that when someone posts an ad for a job, they get 50 applications. (This can actually be a very conservative number.) That’s 50 cover letters to read. Figure an average of at least a minute per cover letter since some (the really bad ones) are well over a page in length, that’s an hour’s worth of reading. And that’s why, based on my unscientific surveys of recruiters and hiring managers, most simply throw them away and go straight for the resume. Which is a shame, because a cover letter can help differentiate a candidate from their competition and complement the resume, getting them the interview. That is why it is so important to write a cover letter that will actually be read. Mine are read!
There are basically two formats for a cover letter. As you will read, I prefer the traditional. The other is a “T-Bar” where the candidate lists the responsibilities/qualifications for the job on the left side of the chart, and their experiences/qualifications on the right. The logic is obvious: You are looking for X, I have done X. Clean. Neat. Simple.
The problem I have with it is that the employer already knows the responsibilities and qualifications for the job. It’s called “the job description” and they wrote it. So why waste time telling them what they already know? If you list them all, then you are sending the message that you cannot prioritize and don’t know what is their key demand or need.
Think of the cover letter as a “tease” or a “movie trailer.” You are trying to entice them to see the movie, i.e., your resume. If the cover letter tells your entire story, why should they read the resume? That is why I prefer a more traditional approach:
First, the cover letter must be short. You, the candidate, want the recipient to know that you can get to the point. You also want them to know that you understand their workload. So you want to make things easy for them. You want them to know that you care about getting the job (you don’t send a form letter) and, given that it is so rare today, that you can actually write a professional letter in English. (If I see one more “u” for “you” or “ur” for “you are” or “you’re,”…)
Second, there is no need in the cover letter to summarize your resume. If you need to summarize your resume because it is not clear, you need a new resume. If you need to summarize your resume so there will be content in your cover letter, you need to continue reading this article because you do no know what you are doing.
Allow me to sort of digress. If they don’t ask for one, should you provide a cover letter? I think the benefits outweigh any negatives. Yes, the recipient might think that you do unnecessary work. (If I wanted a cover letter, I would have asked for a cover letter!) But the fact that you know how to write an effective cover letter says enough positive things about you that it is worth the risk which, I believe is, at best, minimal. And this is why I believe employers should demand receipt of a cover letter. A short, to the point cover letter is a pretty good indication (not perfect, but pretty good) that the candidate won’t talk too much in meetings and will not digress from the topic.
So how do you write a cover letter?
In the first paragraph simply state “I wish to apply for the XYZ position you advertised on 123.” Now you have told the recipient that you appreciate the fact that they may be working on a number of searches at the same time and you want them to know which job you want (granted it should be in the subject line of the email along with any code) and, perhaps more importantly, that you get to the point. So many people start their cover letters by introducing themselves, telling the recipient about their career goals, and some even mention their hobbies, so, assuming the recipient will read the letter, they only know why the person has written them when they get to the bottom of the first page (if they are that lucky!). You appreciate the stress they are under. Again, you know how to get to the point. You know what is appropriate to be included in the cover letter and what can wait for the interview. That is why you keep it simple, just one informative line. So far, you are doing great! You have their attention. They are reading the letter and since they see, basically, that there is only one more real paragraph left, they continue reading.
In the second paragraph you tell them about the one accomplishment that you have had that speaks to the position for which you are applying and will convince them that they want to consider you before you reach out to their competition. You are showing them that you know what they want to hear and can refrain from wasting their time telling them the subjective things that you want them to know. No one wants to hear how great you think you are, they want to know what you can do for them. So: “Having successfully done such-and-such, saving my current employer X dollars, I am not only confident that I can fulfill the requirements of the position, but exceed them.” The unspoken questions are: You want me to save you hundreds of thousands/millions of dollars or your competitor? You want me to raise your client retention rate or your competitor’s? You want me to lower your employee turnover rate or your competitor’s? That’s the message of the second paragraph: I did it for someone else and I can do it for you! The unspoken message is: I am not a big risk to interview nor to hire.
The rest is simple:
Attached is a copy of my resume for your review. (Self explanatory.)
Thank you in advance for your consideration. (Always be polite.)
I look forward to hearing from you. (Self explanatory and not pushy. HR does not want you to call them. Imagine if all candidates called; they would not be able to do any work. You emailed them; they got your email. Now move on!)
Sincerely, (That’s how professionals end their letters.)
Your Name (And that’s why you don’t have to start your cover letter with, “My name is Joe Jones.” They know your name because it’s either on your email address, at the top of the letter, or your signature. When I get one of those I almost expect the next sentences to be: “I am five years old. When I grow up I want to be a fireman.”)
This letter can be read in about 10 seconds which is all the time you have. And that’s the primary evil secret of the cover letter: No one is going to spend more than 10 seconds reading a cover letter!
Last week a gentleman took advantage of my complimentary 15-minute career counseling session. I guess he liked what I had to say because he felt the need to share with me the following post he saw online last night:
We finalized a resume package for a client on Christmas Eve.
He was anxious to apply for a job he saw here on LinkedIn.
The position was a Vice President of Customer Engagement for a global hospitality company.
He uploaded his resume, wrote a little note about his interest in the role, and signed off to enjoy his holiday.
Less than 24 hours, he got a response.
On Christmas morning.
They wanted to set up an interview for Monday the 27th.
1 zoom call.
The interview lasted 2 hours.
By the end of the day, they arranged to fly him and 2 other candidates to interview in person.
He arrived on Wednesday, interviewed on Thursday and accepted an offer on Friday, New Years Eve.
The offer of $220k (which was denoted in the job posting) was right on the money.
No bait and switch.
At this point, his head is spinning.
He emails me to tell me it’s the fastest interview to offer he’s ever been involved in.
He asks the HR Director why this is happening so fast…..he’s not complaining, he’s just curious.
She tells him that their company lost many, many, many great candidates in 2021 because their processes were taking too long. On average, 6 weeks.
They were challenged by their boss to make hires within 7 days. 1 week.
She said her team was exhausted, liberated, exhilarated, challenged and inspired by the work they were doing.
But are hoping to expand their time to hire to 2 weeks 😀😀.
This is leadership in action. Setting the bar, meeting the goal and eliminating the noise that paralyzes hiring.
Could you hire within a week?
There are many problems with this type of post. The first is that job seekers read it and ask, “Why him and not me?” Well, assuming for a moment that the story is true, understand that people usually don’t write about their failures. One client got a job offer. How many did not? Don’t let these things depress you. Read them carefully. The flaws are easy to spot. And even if everything is legit, your time will come!
First, this is supposedly a story about a great resume that got someone a job offer. FALSE. The purpose of the resume is to get the candidate the interview, not the offer. So even if it is true that the resume this woman wrote was magnificent, it did not get the candidate the job offer. The candidate got the candidate the job offer because of his negotiating skills. No where does this “resume writer” indicate that she counseled the client on interviewing so she can claim no credit for the offer.
Second, if she did something great to what, I presume, was a mediocre resume, why did she not share that information? Posts on LinkedIn by professionals should be educational. She should have explained what the problems were with the original resume and how she corrected them. She did no such thing. Reading her post one learns nothing about how to improve a resume. This further leads me to believe that this is a work of fiction. If she had something to teach her readers, she would have.
Third, no one is going to be offered a $220,000 job without the employer running a background check and checking references. It usually takes two weeks for a full background check. And given that we are talking New Year’s Eve week, I doubt any background checking company would have been available for a 24- or 48-hour rush job. And what are the odds that three (?) references would have been available to speak to HR about the candidate during that week? The woman does not say that they made a conditional offer of employment, but rather made an offer which was accepted. This also does not ring true to me.
Finally, who calls anyone on Christmas morning to set up a job interview? That’s the very definition of being rude.
To answer the woman’s question, Anyone can hire within a week. But if it is for as six-figure salary, and around Christmas and New Year’s no less, only if they are very sloppy and careless. But then none of that matters since the two things missing, in my opinion, from this woman’s post are, “Once upon a time,” and “They all lived happily ever after.”
Job seekers, when you see something that is too good to be true, it probably is. There are now con artists charging job seekers for materials they claim they, the applicants, need to complete for their applications to be considered, as well as asking them to do projects (write at 30-, 60-, 90-day plan…) without paying them. Never pay an employer anything for considering your application and never do actual work for them without be compensated. There other scams as well, like the guy who contacted me and told me he could get my articles on LinkedIn to go viral. None of his have…
Be careful and don’t take these people seriously. A little research, and a little common sense, will go a long way. They are feeding off of your emotions. They want you to think that if you pay they God knows how much, you too will get a six-figure job. You will be rich! Well, there will be someone getting rich, but it won’t be you.
PLEASE NOTE: I posted the name of the person who posted the post (too many “posts!”) because it was a public post. If it had been private, I would not have done so. I hope she realizes her mistake and removes or edits it. She can invite her client to set the record straight by commenting on her post (which I will not see) or on this article. Nothing would make me happier than to be proven wrong. As some of my readers know, it is now my policy not to respond to comments, but I would like to see a confirmation from her client and, for that matter, the HR department that handled his hiring.