What Should a Cover Letter Include?

Everyone knows about the resume, but when was the last time you gave some thought to your cover letter?

What is a Cover Letter?

Resumes are very formal, factual, and straight-to-the-point. This is great if you are personally handing your resume to a potential employer after a brief conversation with them. However, if your resume is the first point of contact, it might not be enough. This is where the cover letter comes in.

The cover letter is another first impression. It allows you to introduce yourself and add some personality to what would otherwise be a very boring read.

There will be plenty of candidates with superb resumes. The cover letter is your chance to explain why your resume should move to the top of the pile.

Like your resume, cover letters should be brief. Absolutely no more than one page in length, but usually a few simple paragraphs will do the trick.

So what should a cover letter include?

Contact Information

This should be a no-brainer, but here it is. The employer needs to know how to contact you for an interview or job offer. Since you really want this job you should give them as many options as possible. Include your full name, address, phone number(s), email address, and even your LinkedIn profile.

If possible you should also include as much contact information as you have for the employer just below your own contact info. Try to mimic the personal information you just provided.

Why are You Contacting the Employer?

There are actually a number of reasons to send out a cover letter and resume, so you need to let the recipient know why you are contacting them.

  • Are you replying to a job posting you saw?
  • Are you inquiring about future job openings?
  • Are you just looking to expand your network?

What Do You Have to Offer?

This section is the real meat and potatoes of the cover letter. In this section you really want to let loose and show the employer why you are the best candidate for the job. Show them what skills you have and explain how they fit the job or company you’re interested in.

This section may span more than one paragraph. If you’re outlining many skills it may be okay to use a new paragraph for each skill. Two or three sentence paragraphs are a lot easier to read through than one large block of text.

Thank You and Follow Up

Your final paragraph should include a brief thank you and let the employer know how or when you plan to follow up on this initial contact. If you set a specific date or time, be sure that you follow through with it.

Signature

Finally, as this is a business transaction, you want to keep the signature very formal. “Sincerely” is always a solid option.

Then, even though you probably typed up your cover letter, be sure to sign your cover letter by hand. It’s classy and professional. It’s a good way to seal the deal.

LinkedIn Help

Nowadays everybody has a Facebook account, many have a Twitter account, but surprisingly few people have a LinkedIn account. Why is this? Well, I really don’t know and I’m not really going to take the time to hypothesize about that at the moment.

The fact of the matter is that I think you should have one and if you are reading this article, chances are that you already have one. Now you want to know how to use your LinkedIn account, what sort of content you should post and more great information along those lines. That is precisely what I am here to do.

Follow the Prompts

Over the years LinkedIn has become very user-friendly. If you’re new or even if you have an old account and you’re just getting around to sprucing it up, follow the prompts.

Whenever a prompt pops up (these are the questions and statements in the blue box at the top of your profile) follow through with it. Don’t ignore it. Don’t save it for later. Take care of it right away and make sure your profile is always complete.

Polish Your Picture

Save all your crazy, drunken, wild-child escapades for Twitter and Facebook. LinkedIn is for the professional side of you and that should start with your profile picture.

This is the first and sometimes only thing hiring managers and other professionals see. It’s your first impression online, so you need to make it a good one.

You don’t have to go out and get professional head shots taken, but put on a shirt and tie, stand against a white wall and have someone take your picture.

Trim the Fat

I always suggest that it’s a good idea to keep a Master Resume around. If you’re not currently in the market for a new job or you’re open to all opportunities, LinkedIn can be a good place to store your Master Resume.

However, if you’re actively searching for a job in a specific market, you will want to trim the fat and only post relevant information. Pretend that instead of handing potential employers a paper resume, you give them a link to your LinkedIn Profile. With that in mind you should have no problem figuring out what information to keep.

Just remember that if you’re not keeping your Master Resume on LinkedIn, you should have it stored elsewhere. Then again, this should always be the case.

Telephone Interview Questions

For a lot of people the idea of being interviewed over the telephone can be intimidating. Well, I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be. In fact, this may work in your favor.

I’ve only been through a handful of phone interviews personally, but I tend to find them quite relaxing compared to the standard job interview.

Before we get too far, you should be aware that there are two types of phone interviews that you may encounter.

Types of Telephone Interviews

First is the live interview. This is the typical interview you would expect. Its substance and format will be no different than that of a standard in-person interview. The hiring manager (or whoever is conducting you interview) will call you up, ask you a few questions, give you an opportunity to ask questions, and then you can both go on your merry way. This is simply saving you the time of driving to the actual location.

Second there is the recorded interview. I find this version a little more rare, but I can see it catching on in the future. In this scenario you will get a call from the hiring company and they will either directly connect you to their service or they may give you another phone number to call.

When you are connected to their interview service you may be prompted to verify some personal information to guarantee that they are interviewing the correct candidate. You will be instructed on how to repeat questions and what to do when you are finished answering a question, then the system will ask you the first question. The unfortunate side of recorded phone interviews is that you usually do not get a chance to turn the tables and ask the interviewer questions because there is no actual interviewer.

This recorded telephone interview is growing in popularity because it can save companies a lot of hassle. An automated system takes care of the majority of the interview process and interview times are basically cut in half because they are one-sided. Once all the candidates have been interviewed, one person can sit down and evaluate them back to back. This may not be ideal for the candidates involved, but that’s why you need to prepare.

Advantages of a Telephone Interview

There are actually a lot of reasons to look forward to a phone interview. You will still have to put in a lot of prep time, but you should be doing that regardless.

You can wear whatever you want. Phone interviews only connect your voice, so you really don’t have to worry about what you wear. Not only will this save you the stress of trying to figure out what to wear on the day of your interview, but you can stay confident and comfortable. If you want to take the interview in your pajamas, that’s okay. But if dressing up makes you feel more confident and professional, then you’re free to dress up as much as you want.

You can use all your notes. This might be the biggest advantage you have in the phone interview. In your preparation you should anticipate the questions you might be asked throughout your interview. Make sure to have a few good stories to tell. Summarize them on note cards and lay all the cards out in front of you while you’re taking the interview. When a question is asked, find an appropriate card and you’re all set to go.

Telephone Interview Questions

Phone interview questions tend to be the exact same questions that are used for in-person interviews. In my experience behavioral interview questions seem to be very common.

So if you do your prep work and have a good handle on the STAR Method, you will shine in your telephone interview.

Building Your Resume – The Real First Impression

Everybody knows that first impressions are huge. When you’re looking for a job, sometimes a first impression is all you get, so you better make it a good one.

During the job interview process there are actually two very important first impressions you have to make. The obvious one is at the first interview. Unfortunately though you have to make an even better first impression before that. That’s right, you have to make a great first impression before they even meet you for the first time. This first impression comes in the form of your resume.

Your resume is the key to getting you your interview. Without a standout resume you’ll never get to that interview and all your preparation will be for nothing.

There are three keys to creating a stellar resume. You need to make sure your resume is:

  1. Well-written
  2. Up-to-date
  3. Customized

Well-written

There is a general style of writing that goes along with writing a resume. This style though is really only used for resumes. This means that most people are not very familiar with it and struggle to write their resume. Once you learn this style though, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut and think that this is EXACTLY how ALL resumes need to be written. This is not the case.

The trick to a well-written resume is finding a way to write in this style, but make your resume unique. You need to include all the necessary information, but present it in a way that will stand out from all the other “same old, same old” resumes.

Up-to-date

Believe it or not, this is a big problem for some people. You should try to make a habit of revisiting your resume on a regular basis.

If you’re really ambitious, I would suggest taking a look once a month, but that’s probably overdoing it a bit. Realistically I would recommend revisiting your resume once every six months for a quick tune up. You may not have a new job, but maybe you learned a new skill or you have a new reference you can add.

The truth is you never know when you’re going to need your resume so you always want to have it up to date. It will make your next job hunt so much easy to get started.

Customized

Many people believe that they can just write up one resume, send it in to dozens of companies and eventually they’ll find a job. While this may work in some cases, it is definitely not the most effective method and will not get you the best jobs.

Each resume you send in should be customized for the specific job or even the specific company you’re applying for. The more specific you can get, the better chance you have to land an interview.

Personally, I always like to keep one Master Resume. This resume will list every job I’ve ever had, every reference I’ve ever used, and all my skills. Then when it comes time to apply for a job I can just pick and choose the jobs, reference, skills, etc that best fit the job I’m applying for.

I will also save copies of these specialize resumes. They can come in handy down the road if I am applying for a similar job. A very similar resume can be used when applying at Target and Walmart, but the same resume should probably not be used to apply at Wells Fargo. However, a resume I use to apply to Wells Fargo could possibly be used at US Bank.

Wrap Up

Resume writing does not have to be hard. Once you have your initial resume written it is mostly just a matter of keeping it up to date. This is why I strongly recommend revisiting your resume a minimum of once every six months.

Now’s the time. Get out there and write a stellar resume. If you already have one, go make sure it’s up to date.

Top 5 Questions To Ask Interviewers

As I mention from time to time, this site is not just about the STAR Method. This site exists to help you make it through you next interview successfully. I want to prepare you as best I can so you have the best chance of acing your next interview and getting that job you really want or need.

Within each interview there are generally three parts. The first part is the introduction. This is where you get to know each other a little bit and go over the specifics of the job you are interviewing for. Second, there is the interview. This is what you have been preparing for and where you can let your knowledge of the STAR Method shine.

Finally, we come to the portion that I like to call the reverse interview. This is where the interviewer sits back and asks if you have any questions for them. While this may seem innocuous enough, it’s a trap. If you’re not prepared to ask questions and turn the table on the interviewer it will show them a lot about you. So today I want to cover my Top 5 Questions to Ask Interviewers.

What is a typical day/week like?

This is just a question that will help you gain more job specific information. Knowing the flow of a typical day can give you a better idea of knowing whether or not this job is really for you.

Is this a new position? If not, why did the previous employee go on to do?

This is a big one. If it’s a new position then it will probably be an interesting ride for you. There is no precedent so the job could take you anywhere. If the previous employee was promoted, this is good to hear. It’s always nice to keep your opportunity for advancement open. On the other hand, if the previous employee quit or was fired, this could be a big red flag. Try to get as much information about this situation as possible, but there is a good chance your interviewer will not want to share much of this.

Is there opportunity for advancement? What position(s) might I be looking to advance to?

While I always like to ask this question, you do have to be careful with it. You don’t want to seem too eager, like you’re not actually interested in the position you’re applying for and only using it to climb the ladder. But you want to make sure that the opportunity is there. Nobody likes the thought of being stuck in a dead end job.

If I have a question about or problem with my supervisor is there someone I can talk to? How would a situation like this be resolved?

Somewhere down the line there is a good chance that you’ll run into issues with your supervisor or just other co-workers. It’s good to know if you have an outlet for these issues and frustrations and even better to know that someone is there to take action if that be the case.

If I need time off for a family issue, how would I make that happen?

Even if you don’t have a family right now it’s good to know where they stand on this issue. If they provide you with some flexibility here you should not run into a lot of problems down the road. Family-oriented management is always a good thing.

There you have it. My Top 5 Questions to Ask Interviewers. Next week I’ll be covering the questions you should NOT ask interviewers. Be sure to come back then!

Commonly Asked Interview Questions

While the majority of information on this site focuses on the STAR Method of answering interview questions, the real purpose of this site is to help you get through your next interview. So while I believe the STAR Method is an extremely important tool in your arsenal of job interview skills, today I want to cover some of the other bases.

I’ve mentioned in earlier posts that you want to try to familiarize yourself with the specific interviewer and interview process that you will be encountering. Sometimes though, it just isn’t possible to get all the information you need ahead of time. So today we’re going to cover some of the other commonly asked interview questions.

Most interviewers are not forced to ask a specific set of questions. This is especially true if you’re interviewing for a position at a smaller business. They may ask you some behavioral interview questions, but they may also ask some other common interview questions. Who knows? They may even forego behavioral interview questions and just stick to the more commonly asked interview questions.

In any case, I want you to be prepared for as many situations as possible. So here it is:

Answers to 64 Tough Interview Questions

I cannot take credit for writing this amazing document, but I strongly urge anyone preparing for a job interview to read it. This guide takes a look at many of the commonly asked and stereotypical interview questions. It will break down the questions, tell you what interviewers are looking for and show you all the traps and pitfalls to avoid along the way.

Take some time and give it a good read. It will be worth your time.

Answers to 64 Tough Interview Questions

How To Write Behavioral Interview Questions

If you work for a large company, like Target or Walmart, I have no doubt that they will have all the interview questions you’ll ever need  pre-written and ready to go for you. This will cut down on your interview prep time substantially. However, for those of you who don’t work for a major corporation or maybe are even starting a business of you own, you have a little more work to do.

While I can’t exactly do the work for you, I will do my best to walk you through the process of developing and writing good behavioral interview questions. It is my hope that by the end of this post you will feel comfortable enough to replicate this process on your own for future interviews. (If not, you can always bookmark this page and come back later.)

Where Do I Start?

Well, since the ultimate goal of this exercise is to create behavioral-based or competency-based interview questions, we need to make a list of behaviors and competencies that you expect your new hire to possess.

To get you started, here’s a list of the twelve most common competencies that companies are looking for.

  1. Judgment/Decision-Making
  2. Teamwork
  3. Quality Orientation/Work Standards
  4. Work Ethic/Motivation
  5. Reliability
  6. Problem Solving
  7. Adaptability
  8. Planning/Organizing
  9. Communication
  10. Honesty/Integrity
  11. Initiative
  12. Stress Tolerance

Writing Interview Questions

Writing interview questions does not have to be a difficult task. Follow these few simple guidelines and you’ll be a pro in no time.

Never ask yes or no questions. These questions will not get you the information you’re looking for. These questions will begin with phrases like “Have you ever…” Avoid these questions.

Ask questions that entice the candidate to tell you a story. As I’ve described in earlier posts, you want start a conversation with your candidate. You want the candidate to do most of the talking. You want your candidate to share their previous experiences with you.

Consider starting questions with these phrases:

  • Tell me about a time when…
  • Describe a time when…
  • Recall a time when…
  • Explain how you…

Many of your questions will not actually be in question form. They will be prompts to encourage the candidate to talk with you.

Developing Sets of Interview Questions

For each behavior you should have not just one question, but a set of questions. I would recommend each set should contain at least four questions. These four questions will include:

  • 1 Positive Question about the behavior
  • 1 Backup Positive Question about the behavior
  • 1 Negative Question about the behavior
  • 1 Backup Negative Question about the behavior

While in most cases you will only need to ask one of the four questions in an interview, these sets will become part of your interview repertoire that you can use time and again in the future.

In the interview you will choose whether to ask the positive or negative question. Then, just in case the candidate can’t think of an adequate example, you will have a backup question so you don’t have to skip over the behavior entirely. It should be rare that you have to use your backup questions, but it is always a good idea to have a plan.

Interview Writing Example

Now let’s take all the information I threw at you and put it into useable form.

Select a behavior: Teamwork

Write a positive question: Describe a time when you were asked to complete a task as part of a team.

Expand on the question (optional): Who did you have to work with? Did you complete the task you were assigned? And how would your supervisor describe your work?

Write a backup positive question: Recall a time when you were assigned a task that you couldn’t complete on your own. Did you complete the task? What steps did you take to complete the task?

Write a negative question: Tell me about a time when you were assigned to work with a co-worker that you don’t get along with. How did you handle the situation? What were the results?

Write a negative backup question: If you were assigned to a team, but you were having a bad day and just wanted to work by yourself, what would you do?

Complete this exercise for each of the behaviors that you have determined your candidate should have. Then be sure to hang on to all the questions you create. It will save you a lot of time in the future.

STAR vs. SOARA

By now you should know that STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result. So what is SOARA?

Well, the simple answer is, it’s the exact same thing.

You could replace the STAR Method with the SOARA Method and chances are no one would notice. But let’s look a little deeper.

What does SOARA stand for?

SOARA stands for Situation, Objective, Action, Result, Aftermath.

As you can see, 3 of out the 5 match up perfectly with STAR. This should be your first indicator that they are not all that different.

So why are there two acronyms?

I don’t have an official answer for this one, but I would imagine that somewhere down the line someone decided that SOARA was just not memorable enough.

STAR is a nice, neat acronym. For starters star is already a real word. Star also sounds more professional, it is something that you want to aspire to.

The only real difference between STAR and SOARA is the addition of the fifth letter for Aftermath. Unfortunately this turns the acronym SOAR, a real, motivational word, into SOARA which means next to nothing. If you read my post about How to Use the STAR Method, you would know that I teach the Aftermath as a part of the Result in STAR.

If for some reason you feel the need to keep this fifth element separate, I would suggest using the word Evaluate. Then STAR would become STARE. While it’s not quite as motivational, it is still a real word which makes it that much easier to remember.

3 Keys to Conducting a Successful Job Interview – Part 3

In this third and final segment of the Conducting a Successful Job Interview series we will be taking a closer look at Documentation. If you haven’t yet read Part 1 on Preparation or Part 2 on Execution I highly recommend you do so before diving in to Part 3.

Documentation is a process that really starts at the beginning of the interview process. You need to start documenting or keeping records of your work in the Preparation phase.

This documentation could come in digital form such as a computer file or voice recording or it could just be a hard copy (paper). Let’s take a closer look at what you should be keeping records of.

Documenting a Job Interview

Your record keeping begins when you are preparing for the interview. You will want to keep a record of the competencies you assigned to the particular position you’re interviewing for as well as the questions that you developed from those competencies. These lists can be used again in future interviews and can also be brought up during evaluation or review periods. I would suggest that you keep track of these both on your computer and in a file associated with this particular candidate.

Moving on to the interview portion, I would suggest that you invest in a quality voice recorder. It unreasonable to think that you can accurately remember everything that is said during an interview and it impractical and unprofessional to be writing everything down during an interview.

Recording the actual interview will allow you to be in the moment and focus on the candidate. You can give them the attention they deserve because you know you will be able to go back and take notes from the recording after they’re gone.

Finally, after the interview it’s time to make sure that you have all the documentation that you need and that it is all organized in one central location. Even if you don’t hire the candidate, I would suggest that you keep their documentation on hand for at least 6-12 months after the interview.

This is my recommendation of what should be included in this hard copy file:

  • Original application
  • Resume
  • List of competencies for the position
  • List of questions asked during the interview
  • Notes on candidate’s responses during the interview
  • Optional: Complete transcript of the interview

In addition I would recommend keeping a digital copy of:

  • List of competencies for the position
  • List of questions asked during the interview
  • Optional: Recording of the interview

Wrap Up

That’s all there is to conducting a job interview. Like I said in Part 1, this is a skill. Not everyone is born with it, but it is something that can be learned. Practice, practice, practice, and you too can conduct a successful job interview.

3 Keys to Conducting a Successful Job Interview – Part 2

In Part 1 of this series we examined the preparation that you should put in to each and every interview that you are responsible for. If you haven’t already, I highly suggest that you take a few minutes to read through that post.

Today we’re going to look at the interview itself. Believe it or not, there is an art to interviewing. Not everyone has it naturally, but it is a skill that can be learned.

How to Execute a Job Interview

Every interview should start with some small talk. Keep it light and don’t ask anything that might get you into trouble later. Stick to topics of general interest like sports or the weather. This can take place while you are walking to the interview location or within the first minute of the interview if you’re already on location. Small talk will help to ease the nerves of your candidate so they can relax and give you honest, open answers.

Always keep in mind that this is an interview NOT an interrogation. The interview should feel like a casual conversation. There’s no need to intimidate the candidate. You want to keep them relaxed so that you can find out who they really are.

After a brief bit of small talk you want to explain the job the candidate is interviewing for. This could include the competencies that are expected of this position, a walkthrough of a typical day, or perhaps just a brief explanation of job duty requirements. If the candidate may have some questions at this point, but most likely not. They will absorb this information for now and there will always be more time for questions later.

Now we will move on to the portion of the interview that is actually an interview. This portion should be easy for you. Here you will ask the questions that you prepared prior to the interview. This will include the competency-based interview questions you designed as well as any other questions that you determined necessary to ask. Keep in mind that you should always ask the same questions of every candidate that is applying for the same position. A failure to do so could be seen as discriminatory.

As you proceed through this portion of the interview you want the candidate to do most of the talking. It is important that you give visual or short verbal cues that you are listening to and understanding what the candidate is saying, but you should not be interrupting them.

When the candidate seems like they’re done answering a question, do nothing. Seriously. Count slowly to five in your head before moving on. This brief pause will seem like an eternity to the candidate, but it will pay you big dividends in the long run. This five seconds of silence give the candidate’s mind a chance to catch up and process the information again. You will be amazed how many people will continue to talk simply because you gave them the opportunity. Often during this second wind you will learn the most valuable information.

When you are done asking your questions it’s time to turn the tables and let the candidate become the interviewer. This is when they get to grill you about the company and the position they are interviewing for. This is why, during your preparation prior to the interview, you want to make sure you are up-to-date on all the policies and procedures of the company. The more you can answer up front, the better you and your company will appear.

Once the candidate is done interviewing you, it’s time to wrap things up. Make sure you let the candidate know what they need to do next or when you will be contacting them. Ensure that you have their contact information and that it is correct.

Wrap Up

The overall interview should take no longer than 30 minutes. You should be done asking your questions by the halfway point. This will leave ample time for any questions the candidate may have and will still give you a few minutes at the end to wrap it all up.

That’s it for the execution. Be sure to check back soon as we cover the third part of this series: Documentation.