First Contacts: Small Change, Big Impact

January 15th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

Holla received an email this morning from a prospective candidate. A connection made through LinkedIn, the jobseeker took the time to construct a personalized email to the recipient, complete with salutation and a brief summary of their skills. While the effort was notable and even commendable in the click-and-apply job search environment we live in, the overall impression left the reader feeling as though their time had been wasted.

Let’s examine:

Subject: Hello

Hello Holla,

My name is Joe Jobseeker and I am currently looking into new job opportunities. I currently do fixed income product marketing for a large broker/dealer and have acquired my Series 7 and 66 financial licenses.

Thank you for your time,


The subject line of an email or LinkedIn message is the first, instant and impactful impression you project to the recipient. While a sentence is inappropriate, a mere “hello” is just plain lazy. Be succinct but eye catching. Job seeking is a matter of separating yourself from a crowd – imagine your inbox with 50 unread messages. 30 have a subject of “Hello” and the other 20 are specific to their content. Which would you read?

A personalized salutation and strong intro sentence are required and this note contains both and we’ll applaud him on taking away the appearance of a mass email.

Unfortunately, Joe’s summary of his skills and experience suffer from grammatical errors that make the reader question his overall ability to write effectively. While harsh, understand that these are the first two sentences that Joe chose to present to the reader and when judged against a high volume of qualified applicants, he’ll quickly be weeded out.

Most disappointing is that Joe’s email contains no thesis. He hasn’t told the hiring manager specifically what he’s looking for or what he’d be qualified to do. One additional sentence in a one paragraph note can be the difference between a response to an inquiry and another failed attempt.

Let’s rewrite this crucial “first touch” communication in a more effective manner:

Subject: Fixed Income Marketer with 7/63 Seeking Opportunities

Hello Holla,

My name is Joe Jobseeker and I’m contacting you in hopes you can assist with my search for a new opportunity. I’m currently responsible for producing all fixed income sales materials for the institutional client division of a large broker/dealer and hold my Series 7 and 63 licences. I’m seeking a move to a marketing role at a smaller firm where I would be exposed to a larger array of fixed income products.

You can view my resume here (link) and I would appreciate the chance to speak with you regarding any appropriate roles you might be engaged on.


A few more words, some small changes, a big impact. We applaud Joe for his efforts to hunt down and make an appropriate contact with someone who could potentially help him but without the right message, he may find the repeated delivery attempts fruitless.

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How to Not Be Seen as a Career McDonald’s Worker

May 10th, 2012 § 1 comment § permalink

I am a semi-recent grad and I just moved to the city. I have been
actively looking for a job for a month now. I took the first job I
could get (fast food) while I look for a job. Do you think listing the
fast food experience hurts my chances? Fast food is where I am, not
where I’m going to be. I’m just very insecure that fast food is a
turnoff in my industry.

This is a great question that, unfortunately, accurately reflects the tough situations a lot of today’s job seekers face. Taking a retail or a foodservice job shouldn’t be an indicator of the quality of person you are but rather your desire to be a productive member of society while a difficult market squeezes so many people out.

Holla firmly believes that showing any real work experience on a resume is a better reflection on the candidate than appearing unemployed. Also, if you’ve drawn a paycheck from a legitimate payroll service while in a “transition job,” chances are it will also show up on a pre-hire background check your future employer may conduct. Since you’ll inevitably be disclosing this job at some point, it’s best to control the story and exhibit the mature confidence in your resume and cover letter that you hope the HR rep or hiring manager wants to see in you.

Let’s use the McDonalds example. You’re a cashier and wrapping delicious McDoubles on a daily basis for their customers. It’s assumed that your duties include operating the register, boxing fries and Big Macs, and greeting customers. Millions of teenagers perform the same function every day. How were you different than the ones that turn over weekly? Hopefully since you come from or aspire to the corporate world, you know the importance of showing up on time and being prepared.

Try out some bullet points like:

- Maintained perfect work attendance, arriving timely and completing all assigned shifts
- Served as “on-call” staff member providing as-needed coverage for Store Manager

If you spent a little time at a McDonald’s and are the fast-learning, disciplined team member, you might have had the opportunity to train people. McDonald’s operates on a strictly defined process, shouldn’t it be commendable (at least in the context of fast food) that you can master it and help others learn it too?

- Promoted to Staff Trainer within three months of date of hire
- Attended Regional training and development classes produced by McDonald’s corporate

Even though the work itself is menial and doesn’t involve a lot of thought, there are ways to show you at least put yourself in the top percentile of McDonald’s workers through reliability and consistent performance. Don’t resign yourself to the fact that you have to work a restaurant job to pay your bills, simply aim to demonstrate that you strived to be the best burger-flipper that McDonald’s could find and why they’re going to be disappointed when they lose you to the regular job market.

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The Importance of Properly Contacting Individuals You Are Referred To

October 12th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

When I have been provided the contact information for a highly-ranked individual from one of our mutual friends, should I introduce myself as such?

Handle a personal or professional referral with the utmost care during your job search. Other’s reputations should never be treated carelessly and you represent not just yourself but the referee when reaching out to others regarding your job search. Double and triple check your correspondence and resume for spelling and grammatical errors, use a properly customized cover letter introducing yourself through the referee – put your very best foot forward.

It’s always appropriate to use the name of your referee when making first contact but make sure you have permission to do so first. Many times when I am referred by a candidate I represent to someone else, they want to keep our relationship confidential, preserving discretion surrounding their own search. If you’re unable to use the name, any qualifying information you can provide (i.e. someone out of ABC Bank referred me to you) will help to vouch for you. If you can’t disclose anything at all about the referee, an introduction along the lines of “I’ve heard through my network you may be hiring currently” can suffice. Always attempt to provide the name of the individual – much of the weight of a reference comes from how highly the contact regards your referee.

Again, remember that when you are referred to a third party, you represent the person kind enough to provide you with the help of a reference. Don’t jeopardize your relationship by failing to impress when the referee will surely be judged by your presentation and actions.

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Tough Interview Questions: Motivation and Compensation for Your “Plan B” Career

October 10th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Today’s question comes from a job seeker encountering difficulties when expanding their search outside of their existing skill set.

In my previous role I earned just over $100k a year. Having been unemployed for 9 months I’m now looking for entry level roles in a company I can grow with. However whenever I am asked about my most recent salary I get awkward silence or the blatant “we won’t pay anywhere near that.”

During a difficult economy, many job seekers abandon their career path to seek either a “plan B” opportunity or reconfigure their expectations regarding seniority and compensation. The biggest hurdle to finding a less-traditional position is simply getting past the resume screen. The author of today’s question should be complimented on his or her success in that regard. I have no doubt that well written, targeted cover letters and a pro-active approach helped them generate interest from the target firm.

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The Complexities of Providing References While Employed

February 16th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

This company is the only real experience (spanning almost 5 years) I have for the type of job I’m interviewing for. The company I’m interviewing with asked me for a manager’s reference when they consider hiring me and I can’t provide it as my company is small and it would really jeopardize the position I’m in. How should I address this with potential employers?

Professional references are gathered and checked for every type of job one could apply for, from a McDonald’s cashier to the director of a trading desk at a major investment bank. Nearly always conducted as a last step of the process, your references will hopefully confirm the positive image you conveyed to your interviewer during the courtship. As individuals move through various firms during career changes, keeping in contact with former colleagues isn’t just good business networking – it’s maintaining your network of character references as well that will help you as you interview for positions of increasing responsibility.

Potential employers will typically ask, when you apply, for at least two supervisory references from your last two employers. A supervisory reference doesn’t necessarily have to be your direct manager. Many positions require you to interface with managers who do not have oversight of your employment or conduct your salary reviews – working with a Finance Director on a Tax project or a UX designer on a back end data migration. In some instances, these “internal clients” can provide an equally compelling opinion of your work even though they didn’t initially hire you or conduct your performance reviews.

While two is the minimum number acceptable number of references, you should strive to provide more, if possible, and to vary the level and specialty of the people who will speak on your behalf. By including managers from within and outside of your particular group you can demonstrate a positive impact made at various levels of the organization. In tough economic times, companies strive to do more with less and aim to draw as much value as possible from each employee. Your references can relate, for example, that you are an accounting professional who can also scope requirements for a financial system upgrade. References from those in “less typical” reporting relationships can reveal strong additional value a candidate brings to the table in areas outside of what, in this example, a typical accountant will be able to handle.

Carefully handling references from your current employer while still working there

Searching for a new career opportunity while currently employed presents a few specific and difficult challenges. Managing one’s calendar for interviews during the work day, being quickly responsive to a recruiter or hiring manager while in the office and, most importantly, providing professional references from the firm that currently employs you are all obstacles that must be planned for in advance.

While widely spreading word to the office that you’re looking for opportunities elsewhere is certainly not recommended, it’s likely that you have one or more trusted peers that you can freely discuss your careers with. Often the individuals in your hiring class or in similar positions with different departments become close confidants as you move through the organization. Hopefully they will approach you first with a comment about their own aspirations that might lead you to think they’re looking elsewhere so you can naturally segue into conversations about your own career search. Assuming you have some of these colleagues you can trust, they can serve as excellent character references in the absence of a supervisory one. Employers understand that it’s often not possible to speak with a manager when a candidate is employed and will substitute a peer or an indirect manager. In these cases it becomes even more important to provide true supervisory contacts to provide positive references from companies you’ve worked for prior to your current role. The combination of past supervisors and present peers, along with a background check, can typically satisfy any hiring manager’s needs and assuage potential concerns.

How do you want to present yourself through your references?

When you provide a potential employer with professional references, give thought not just to the specific individuals you will use but also to the story that multiple references, when taken in context together, can tell about you. During the interview, did you spend a large portion of time relating a specific project that is relevant to the potential new role? If so, providing a direct manager as well as someone intimately involved with that particular assignment – a Project Manager or line manager from another involved group you worked closely with – can provide more detail specific to the area that you chose to highlight as a reason the company would want to hire you.

Ideally, when moving on to another company, you’ll leave with a positive impression and a continued working relationship with your former colleagues. Knowing that how you exit a firm will leave the most lasting impression on the people you work with is important – you’re going to need assistance from a number of them in the future and maintaining that productive relationship is important. Ensuring that your reputation isn’t tarnished in part or all of your former employer will allow you to call on individuals at all levels in the future to provide reference details that will help you land another job.

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Proper Display of Promotions and Employment Dates on a Resume

February 13th, 2011 § 2 comments § permalink

Seemingly small errors and omissions on a candidate’s resume can have disastrous affects during the interview process. Today’s question addresses the specifics of listing title and employment dates for each employer on a resume:

I have been at my current job for a few years. In that time, I have worked my way up to program manager after starting as an entry-level assistant. How do I format my resume, when the time comes, to indicate that not all of my experience at this company has been in a managerial role? It would be misleading to put ABC Company, 2007-2010: Program Manager.

Dates of employment are an area where candidates tend to take a little more leeway than in other components of their resume. Whether not including months in addition to years when referencing full time roles or including only certain titles as part of one company, any ambiguity can lead to an uncomfortable false assumption during the interview process.

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