Blog Archive - August 2012

Posted: August 14, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

The purpose of a cover letter is to introduce your resume, not to repeat everything it says.  The cover letter should also give the reader a quick overview of why you are qualified to fill a position.

My strategy is to write a cover letter template after writing the resume.  For most people, a  template can be used with most resume submissions by simply changing the salutation and job title.  Some experts say that you need to talk about the company you want to work for.  Unless there is a direction to do so in a job post, I disagree.  Most companies want to see how you are qualified.  They will address fit and how much you know about the company at an interview.

My model cover letter is four paragraphs long.  The first paragraph lists the position being sought, notes that a resume is enclosed, and offers references.  Three short sentences.  The second pargraph is a summary of qualifications.  It is normally five to six sentences and covers key reasons why you will be a good employee.  In the third paragraph, I highlight three qualities that fit the positions.  These are usually soft skills such as organization, self-motivation, and leadership.  In the fourth paragraph, I ask for an interview in these words: This summary cannot fully communicate my potential contribution.  I would appreciate the opportunity to speak with you personally and answer your questions.”

A cover letter should be easy to read.  It should take less time to read your cover letter than it does to read your resume.  Keep it concise, but give your readers enough information that drives them to the resume.  That’s the purpose of a cover letter.

Here is a sample cover letter:   Sales cover letter

Posted: August 12, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

The best way to kill a lie is to catch it early and call it out.  This is exactly what Laura Clawson does in today’s Daily Kos.  Experts and pundits are claiming the unemployment rate is high because workers lack skills needed to fill open jobs.  Clawson look at the numbers and finds something very different.  Employers are recruiting workers less intensely than they did before the recession.  She also tests the claim that there are not skilled workers needed to fill open positions.  Again, the lie is blaming the workers.

Why might employers want to leave positions unfilled?  It’s more profitable to squeeze every ounce of productivity out of existing staff.  A client recently told me that a leading retailer is going to cut all of its store managers and shift that duty to people who are currently assistant managers without giving them the title or salary of store manager.  Sooner or later, this kind of corporate “strategy” will boomerang.  Don’t listen to the lie.  Don’t blame the workers.

PS:  No Sabbath this week.  I’ve been busy and dealing with a minor health issue.

Posted: August 11, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

One of my clients has been a sales representative with the same company for more than ten years.  He wants to leave his job because his boss is not treating him fairly.  That might sound like whining until you hear, as Paul Harvey would say, the rest of the story.

Over the last ten years, my client has built a strong book of business with several long term accounts.  40% of his book was given to a new sales representative, the company owner’s son-in-law.  While my client is confident that he can find new customers, there is no way his sales total for this year will equal last year, which means he will be taking a pay cut to give a family member a head start in his career.

Is this fair?  Of course not.  However, fair or unfair doesn’t matter.  A business owner in a privately run, non-union company can pretty much make up the rules.  A working person’s only option is to be ready to look for a new job.  It’s not easy to make a change, but it’s harder to lose self-respect – and income.

Posted: August 7, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

Two of my clients called me recently.  They were panicked because the resume we had written didn’t fit the templates used by graduate schools they were attending.  The schools accepted both clients with the resumes they wrote with me.  Then the schools required them to rewrite the resumes according to a template they use for all of their students.  Over ten years, I’ve seen several school use this model.  In almost every case, the resume focuses on how a document should look rather than what it will say.

Why would a school do this?  Templates are easy to evaluate.  If I ask someone to follow a given model, I can judge her work on the features of that model (margin/font size, all bullets, centered header at the top) and never address content of what is being written.  Experts like forms and rules because they want to be in control and forces others to bow to their “wisdom.”

In writing a resume, there is only one question to ask: What is this document doing to make an employer want to interview me?  The answer to that question should focus on content: experience, achievements, skills, education, certification, and technical skills.  Content is more important than format.  It is also harder to develop and work with.  Anybody can fill out a template, and it sounds like the right thing to do if everyone in a group is required to follow the same model.  It must be the right way.  An expert told me to do this.

Emerson put it best: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”

Posted: August 5, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

[On Sundays, this blog explores topics far and wide in “Sabbath.”]

History Today

One of my favorite Sunday morning activities is listening to Rick Kogan’s radio show on WGN.  Kogan is a gravelly-voiced story-teller whose guests are in the Chicago arts and entertainment scene.  Today he had two interesting gentlemen who are amateur historians with a particular focus on Bridgeport (the neighborhood that gave us both Daleys and several other mayors).  Beyond the local interest, Rick and his guests pondered this great question:  Why don’t more people care about history?

It’s not that no one cares about history.  Walk into any bookstore – the few that remain.  History is still one of the largest sections.  Many movies and TV shows are based on historical themes and characters.  The problem is that most people don’t value history for its power in helping us understand who we are and what we can be.

A big part of that problem is that we are obsessed with the future and trying to predict it.  The presidential election offers a good model of this problem.  Rather than look at the records of President Obama and Governor Romney, the press and pundits get lost in polls and the “what will happen” question.  One of my former bosses had a great saying, “Nothing predicts behavior like behavior.”  History is our record of behavior, what a person has done, and what the consequences of those actions were.  The problem is that it’s hard to think about history.  It’s easier to speculate on the “could” and “might” of the future.

History also suffers because we read less and less.  Bookstores and newspapers are closing because more Americans are turning to the short form news sources of the Internet and TV.  Don’t get me wrong.  Those media can be excellent vehicles to learn history.  I love the Civil War, and Ken Burns’ TV series helped spark my interest.  Similarly, the Library of Congress’ website brings resources to people across the globe.  However, few people access those sources or use them to shape their opinions.  We also read paragraphs and headlines rather than books.  Our knowledge of history is becoming more and more fit to a game of Trivial Pursuit, which reaches the point of absurdity in Jay Leno’s “Jaywalking” segments.

The final point that I think has diminished the power of history is our culture’s failure to think critically.  Too often, we choose a political or ideological position and cling to it with full faith.  We pluck facts to support that belief and ignore those that go against our way of thinking.  Real history (not to be confused with propaganda) is a warts and all proposition.  FDR may be the greatest American president of all time.  However, he also interned Japanese American citizens and failed to act against Hitler’s genocide.  Those are facts.  Just as it is a fact that Ronald Reagan raised taxes (several times) and gave amnesty to undocumented immigrants.

Why is this a problem?  It could be argued that people will seek the knowledge they need, which would mean history, like geography, is just another topic we no longer study or care about.  One of my friends, some I greatly respect as a thinker, says that it doesn’t matter what people study as long as they learn to be smart, critical thinkers.  While I value critical thinking, I also believe it is vital for people to have some common way of understanding the past.  We also need to look to the past as a teacher, not a model that we need to rebuild, but a guide that will help us make decisions about how we want to live now and in the future.

I don’t have a solution to this problem.  A society that watches “reality” TV is not going to devote the time needed to read David Herbert Donald’s  500 page biography of Lincoln or Jacques Barzun’s study of Western civilization.  Most people don’t have the time or focus to read or ask critical questions.  We work long hours, and it’s a relief to turn on the tube and laugh when Jay asks, “Who wrote the Declaration of Independence?” and a college graduate shrugs his shoulders and answers, “Abraham Lincoln.”  We laugh because we cannot look in the mirror.  It’s too painful.

Posted: August 3, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

I’m becoming a big fan of the website Big Think.  It’s like TED without the videos.  Thinkers of all stripes share interesting ideas and insights.  One that caught my eye today is Jason Gots' “What Are You Worth?  Getting Past Status Anxiety.”

Gots explores the ideas of the French writer Alain de Botton, who thinks we trap ourselves through our work life identities.  Too many people live to have the impressive title or work for the impressive firm.  Rather than play this snob game without a winner, de Botton suggests that we think about who we really are and focus more on our friends than our jobs.

That’s great advice. We work to live better lives.  When our work becomes our life and our identity, we are little more than slaves (self-imposed slavery).  Big thanks to Jason Gots for sharing de Botton's insights in a clear, concise article.

Here is a list of Jason’s writing for Big Think.  They are worth your time.