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Does Your Cover Letter Stand Out?

November 27th, 2015

Your cover letter provides an introduction and an element of context for your resume. When you apply for a specific job, your resume will do the heavy lifting—this formal document will serve as a fact sheet that can help potential employers skim through your credentials, assess your basic readiness for the job, and compare your profile to those of other candidates. But your cover letter will support your resume the way a frame supports a painting.

Your letter will provide life, dimension and depth to your education and work history. And if you manage to send a strong message, your letter will set you apart from the crowd. Here are a few ways to create a letter that stands out and shines a bright spotlight on the rest of your application.

Start with a smooth opening paragraph.

Don’t begin your letter with an apology (I’m sorry for wasting your time), a corny joke, or a rambling, confused preamble. Just begin with grace and confidence. State who you are, the position you’re applying for, and how you found out about it. If you share a personal connection with your reader, now is the perfect time to say so.

Learn the rules; then break them.

After your opening paragraph, you’ll need to explain more about your background and why you—specifically—should be hired for this job instead of someone else. Most candidates will simply summarize their work history in two paragraphs and then close with a stiff, polite sign-off. That’s fine, but if you want to stand out, tell your story in your own words, on your own terms.

Remove every sentence that applies to most job seekers.

Quickly skim through your letter and take out every sentence that applies to everyone, not just to you. Remove sentences like: “I’m a hardworking professional” and “I really think you should hire me.” Everyone can say this. Focus on the details that set you apart.

Take one more look at your customization.

If you’re like most job seekers, you’re using a template cover letter and tailoring your words for each employer you pursue. This is a fine method, but it’s a recipe for easy typos and mistakes. Take one last look to make sure your letter is addressed to the right company and reflects this company’s specific needs and job requirements.

Read your letter aloud.

This last step might take three minutes, but it can help you catch rough sentences and vastly increase your chances of impressing employers with your wit, professionalism, and fluid writing style.

For more on how to create a cover letter that sends a unique, and memorable message, consult with the job search experts at Merritt Staffing.

Looking for Accounting Talent?

November 13th, 2015

You have a vacancy on your accounting team and you need to staff the position before your remaining team members become overburdened. Or maybe you’ve never needed an in-house accountant before, but now you do, and you want to find someone who can help your growing company make smart financial decisions. In either case, an established, reputable staffing firm can help. And in the meantime, there are several winning moves that you can make on your own. Keep these tips in mind.

Sourcing matters.

As you look for places to publish your post and cast your net, your decisions can have long-term consequences for the success of your accounting department. Don’t just post your position anywhere. Do some research first, and recognize that large national websites will attract one kind of candidate, while small, local, industry-specific sites will attract another. Think about the kinds of students or job-seeking professionals who frequent your chosen outlet. Are these the ones you want?

Don’t engage in adverse selection.

Hiring managers often make a damaging mistake: They set up barriers to entry, like thorns around a forbidden castle. They create a tedious application process, they treat candidates rudely, they conduct harsh, off-putting interviews, and they let candidates sit in the dark for weeks before providing updates. They often believe they’re “weeding out” losers and the uncommitted, but they’re actually doing the opposite. Talented candidates are in demand; they don’t have to put up with nonsense. After the tenth round of adversarial interviews, only the most desperate applicants will still be waiting in line.

Look for thought leaders.

At networking events and industry gatherings, ask for recommendations. If you hear the same name multiple times, track this person down. Look them up online and find out more about them. Sometimes it’s better to pursue passive candidates than wait for active seekers to come to you. If you discover a talented, local, ambitious potential employee somewhere within your professional community, reach out. You have nothing to lose.

Don’t miss opportunities.

Are local universities in your area sponsoring job fairs or career days? Find out and get involved. Have you visited veteran job placement offices in your area? Are you connected with university career placement services? Does your company have a prominent profile in the community? The candidate search is mutual; recognize that your best candidates are searching for you just as you search for them. Raise your profile and they’ll be more likely to see you.

Get help.

Again, your best and most efficient resource will be professional staffing and recruiting experts that can help you source, target, and pursue the accounting talent you need. Call the team at Merritt and arrange a consultation today.

The One Question Your Resume Must Answer

October 23rd, 2015

Your resume will break down your assets as a candidate and describe them, point by point, in separate subheadings focused on your education, your work history, and your specific skill sets. But while each of these separate aspects of your profile will need to be addressed, your primary argument can be summarized with one question: Why should you be hired for this job instead of someone else? What can you bring to this role that no other candidate can? Here are few things to keep in mind as you build your document around this central point.

Answer before you write.

Before you take a single stab at the actual text of your resume, spend some time thinking about this question, and imagine how you might answer in person if you were speaking to an interviewer. What would you describe as you strongest assets? How would you list your most valuable assets? Keep in mind that the two lists may not be identical. For example, you may offer basic proficiency in a critically important skill area, but you may also be a high-level expert in an area that’s of secondary importance.

Separate your skills from your unique skills.

Think about the skills and accomplishments you plan to highlight in your resume and in the text of your cover letter. Then separate these offerings into two categories. If you’re applying for a mid-level accounting job, you may be very proud of your bachelor’s degree in accounting (and you should be), but there’s a strong chance that every candidate in the pool will also hold this credential. What are the skills and traits that truly set you apart? What have you done that few others will also be able to claim?

Keep these unique qualities at the center of your summary.

No matter how you choose to populate the subheadings of your resume document, you’ll need to focus strong attention on your summary, the short descriptive paragraph at the top of the page that most employers will read first. This short, hard-hitting statement should be built around the skills and qualities that help you stand out, not just the ones that help you fit in or meet the basic requirements for consideration. Instead of wasting valuable space in this section by calling yourself a “hard worker” or an “experienced professional”, cut to the chase: what can you bring to the table that nobody else can?

For more tips and tools that can help you create a winning resume and land the job you’re looking for, reach out to the career management team at Merritt.

Avoid Burnout on your Team

October 9th, 2015

Your employees work hard for your company. They give their absolute best, one hundred percent of the time, which challenges you to dig deep and give your best in return. Usually, this leads to an upward spiral; you draw inspiration from them and set a high bar for yourself, and they follow your example and do the same. Your customers reap the benefits, and your company grows and grows. But while your orders flow in and you observe this cycle of success, keep one important thing in mind: everything comes at a cost, and every employee has limits. Keep the cycle going by protecting your employees from burnout.

Pay attention.

Watch out for signs of stress. Ironically, the hardest working employees may also work hard to hide the signs of burnout and overload. A cheerful smile and a little extra makeup go a long way, but don’t be fooled. Keep an eye on the loaded plates of each individual employee, and before you assign new tasks, think about the projects they’re already dealing with. If you need to redistribute workloads, don’t wait for your employees to tell you so directly; they probably won’t.

Encourage the use of sick time.

Never encourage your employees to come to the office when they’re sick. This includes both physical and mental health issues, and when they feel anything from a cold to a case of generalized exhaustion, don’t just let them leave, send them home. Even subtle gestures and word choices can inadvertently encourage a culture of “heroism”, which can spread germs, low morale, and disengagement throughout the office.

Recognize different personalities and work styles.

Sometimes a case of burnout can be held at bay with fun activities that help your teams relax, socialize and de-stress. But think carefully. A mandatory weekend retreat in the mountains, a non-optional mini-golf tournament, or expecting every employee to show up at five for a sponsored happy hour at a local bar can actually make the problem worse, not better. Respect the needs of employees who recharge their batteries in their own way. Instead of group fun, consider surprising your teams by letting them leave early on a Friday. Tailor your program to your people and your specific culture.

Listen and respond.

In the meantime, keep your door and your ears open. Some employees may hide their stress, but others will let you know what they need. And when they do, you’ll be wise to listen. If they need better resources or extended deadlines, take action immediately and let them know they can count on you to help them do their jobs.

For more on how to work hard for your employees so they can keep working hard for you, reach out to the Westchester County staffing experts at Merritt.


Three Interviewers to Prepare For

September 18th, 2015

As you put the finishing touches on your elevator pitch, map out the route to your venue, and take care of your other last minute pre-interview preparations, add one more detail to the list. Not all interviewers are the same, and there’s more than one approach to the candidate selection process. But distinct patterns tend to arise all the same, and there’s a strong chance that you may encounter any one of these three common interview types as you step in the door and sit down to begin your session. Be ready.

The Friendly Face

This interviewer will put you at ease immediately. As soon as you see his smiling face coming across the lobby to greet you, your blood pressure will drop and your nervous tension will fade away. Your interview will feel like a conversation with an old friend, and you’ll find yourself sharing your true feelings and talking easily and openly about your skills, passions, and plans for the future. There’s nothing wrong with this scenario, and this is the sign of a great interviewer and a promising company. But be careful. Don’t be fooled; this person is not your friend, and even though he seems fascinated by everything you say, he’s reading between the lines and conducting an evaluation that’s shrewd and entirely self-interested. Keep a close eye on your words and gestures.

The Bored Interviewer

This interviewer seems distracted and disinterested in the process at hand. She’s asking questions, but she isn’t really listening to the answers, and she seems to take every opportunity to turn away from you, scan her email, check her phone, or gaze out the window. If you walked away, you’re not sure she would notice. And the longer you stay, the more bored and irritated she seems to become. But again, be careful. Choose your words with caution. Because she IS listening, even if hers isn’t the only opinion influencing the outcome of this decision.

The Confrontational Person

This interviewer makes a seemingly deliberate attempt to appear obnoxious, hostile, cold, or intimidating. He takes every opportunity to scowl at you as you speak and he tends to cross examine each of your responses as if you’re saying or doing something wrong. He appears to believe that this job is a golden reward offered from on high, instead of mutual exchange of labor for a fair salary. His demeanor may be off-putting, and he may be making a poor impression on behalf of the company, but be patient. As far as possible, stay polite and humble. Give this person and this company a chance…After you’ve landed this job and settled in, you may be glad you kept things in perspective.

For more on what to expect from the interview process, contact the staffing and job search team at Merritt Staffing.

What Does your Online Reputation Say to Candidates?

September 11th, 2015

When talented potential candidates research your organization online, what do they find? And how do these findings influence their decision to choose your company over the competition? As you launch your next candidate search, keep in mind that the selection process moves in two directions, and your best candidates will be scrutinizing you just as carefully as you scrutinize them. Keep these considerations in mind as you move forward.

Put yourself in your candidate’s shoes.

Place yourself in the position of your candidate and run your company’s name through a search engine like Google. Review the items that appear at the top of the list and try to interpret these items the way your ideal candidate might. Do these articles, blogs, social media sites and reviews make your company look interesting, hip, successful, and ethical? Do they make the company seem financially stable? Based on your first impression of the information you find, would you want to work here? Why or why not?

Know where top candidates are looking as they search for information.

Keep in mind that most savvy candidates don’t stop after a quick Google search. Sites like Glassdoor and can provide more information about your company culture, what it’s like to work here, how former employees would describe the experience, and of course, how your salary offers line up with others in the marketplace. Keep in mind that your candidate will be seeking out unbiased sources of information that are not sponsored by the company, and your glossy brochure or slick website can’t compete with an unbiased source that provides conflicting information.

Flood the airwaves.

If you don’t like what you find, take action. Establish a social media presence for your organization if you don’t have one already, and make an effort to encourage positive information that can change your message and your reputation for the better. While you’re at it, get ready to defend or explain some of the details that are circulating in the world if your candidate decides to ask about them during the interview process. For example, if your candidate asks you for more information about a recent bankruptcy hearing, an ethical scandal, or a pending merger, don’t be caught off guard. Have your answer ready.

Be proactive.

Before your online reputation becomes a concern, make sure plenty of positive information is published an available. Encourage your current employees to praise the company on social media if they’re happy here. Offer incentives for positive Tweets and posts. You may even consider providing hiring bonuses and rewards for those who actively promote the company to potential employees among their social media connections.

For more on how to attract talented candidates and keep your reputation strong, contact the experienced staffing team at Merritt Staffing.

Fired? How to Discuss This During your Next Interview

August 28th, 2015

If your last job didn’t end very well and you were hustled out the door before you were ready, you probably experienced a range of emotions and concerns. If you’re like most job seekers, you probably wondered how you were going to handle your finances and how you would break the news to your family. You may also be facing another sticky challenge: how will you land your next job with this incident on your record? Answers to the first two questions will depend on your circumstances, but for the third concern, these tips can help.

Don’t mention the event in your application materials.

Leave all discussion of your firing out of your resume and cover letter. Don’t bring up the subject in any online or printed application unless you’ve been directly asked to do so, and if you are, answer using the fewest possible words. Try not to engage in this conversation at all until you can do so in person.

Don’t volunteer this information during your interview.

Again, there’s absolutely no need to offer this information or steer the conversation in this direction unless you’re directly asked. For example: “Why did you leave your last position?” or “Did you leave your last position voluntarily?” There’s nothing remotely dishonest about discussing other topics instead of this one. But if your interviewer does ask, be prepared.

Know the difference between a layoff and a firing.

If you were laid off, say so. Explain that your position was eliminated or your branch of the company was divested, and expect your interviewers to understand that this decision had nothing to do with your performance or behavior. Don’t use the word “fired” if you were dismissed though no action of your own.

Control the conversation.

If you really were fired as a result of performance or behavior, don’t testify against yourself. Keep the conversation short, positive, and under your control. As soon as possible, redirect the focus back to your talents and credentials. Notice how hard your interviewer pushes for the details, and read between the lines. For example, if you were fired due to low sales numbers, your interviewer may be concerned about your ability to perform sales-related tasks. Offer reassurance as needed. If she’s concerned about a potential behavior issue, briefly tell yours side of the story and explain what you learned from the incident. Make it clear that this poor behavior will never happen again.

Use the word “fit”.

If you were fired due to a complex personality mismatch, a he-said-she-said interpersonal conflict, or any other drama that can’t be understood out of context, don’t try to explain or tell the whole story. Just state that you and the job were not a “fit”. Then move on.

For more on how to handle this tricky conversation and bring it to a graceful end as soon as possible, reach out to the experienced staffing team at Merritt.


The Cost of Overtime

August 14th, 2015

Overtime regulations have been the subject of some legislative scrutiny lately and may soon adjust to better reflect the needs and standards of the modern workplace. But right now, the same general rules have been in place for several years: overtime pay equals 1.5 times the hourly rate a given worker receives during the first 7.5 hours of the day or five days of the week. Not all positions are eligible for overtime pay, and salaried employees have overtime hours factored into their annual compensation and benefits.

But as a manager, are you closely monitoring the cost of your overtime hours and the value you derive from these hours? When you’re faced with an unexpected influx of orders, do you tend to push your current employees into overtime in order to produce your product or deliver your service on schedule? And are the results worth the toll this takes on your payroll budget?

Short Versus Long Term Goals

Before you make a plan to accommodate a rising demand for labor, estimate how long this demand will last. If this spike will subside within a few days or weeks, your overtime expenses may be well worth the benefits. You’ll build revenue and decrease risk by relying on employees who are already trained, tested, and familiar with the ropes. But if this increase in demand will continue for months or more, or if this spike correspond with a predictable point in your annual business cycle, consider the cost benefits involved in hiring temporary or contingency team members to share the load.

The Benefits of Contingency Staffing

As your need for help increases, pushing your current teams to the breaking point won’t just come at a cost to your payroll budget; it may also have a negative impact on work quality, morale, and turnover. Reduce both cost and risk by turning to an established staffing agency and taking on a temporary team of contingency employees who can pick up the slack. These employees can be carefully selected to meet your needs; if you require specific skill sets, training or educational credentials, the right staffing agency can provide them. Your temporary team can step in the door and start working right away.

In the meantime, temporary staffing can reduce the headaches and hassles involved in taking on new full-time staff. Taxes, insurance, and payments are all handled by the agency, not by you, so when it’s time to return your workforce to its original shape, these temporary employees will simply be reassigned to other clients.

Hiring temporary teams can keep your staffing program agile and cost effective. To learn more, reach out to the experts at Merritt.

Forming a Connection with Your Interviewer

July 24th, 2015

Your interview is scheduled for later this week, and you know you have what it takes to step into this job and excel. You have all the skills you need and years of experience with this specific type of work, so your credentials aren’t really subject to doubt. But what about everything else? You already know that landing a job and thriving in your new role will depend on your relationships even more than your job-specific skills. So what if you and this interviewer just don’t seem to click? What if she doesn’t get you? What if you don’t get her? What if the two of you just can’t find an inch of common ground?

Don’t worry. If you keep an open mind and take these considerations to heart, you’ll increase your chances of making a positive and lasting impression.

Be receptive and flexible.

Despite what some advisors may tell you, you really don’t land jobs (or make friends) by striding in the door with your chest puffed, as if you’re going into battle. Your interviewer is not your enemy or you adversary, and this is not the time to channel your inner warrior. Despite what you might like to believe, you don’t know everything about this industry, and every encounter should be seen as an opportunity to learn something — or meet someone — new. During the entire session, try to listen more than you speak, and remember the things you hear.

Observe and dial in.

If your interviewer is like most, they will tell you exactly how to win them over and land the job…but they probably won’t deliver this message with words. If they frown over a certain questionable detail of your resume, that means you’ll need to determine what their concerns are and address them. If they ask you how you feel about extensive travel or public speaking, that means these things will be central to this job. If you excel in these areas, say so. If not, say so. Be honest. Give — and receive — all of the available information that can lead both of you to an informed decision. Help them to help you.

Ask questions.

Ask as many questions as you answer regarding this job and this company. Ask your interviewer about their own experience here. People like to explain their stories and share their opinions, and they usually appreciate signs of engagement, curiosity, and interest.

Show evidence of research and preparation.

Tighten your elevator pitch and conduct thorough research on the company before you walk in the door. Have a printed copy of your resume in hand and demonstrate that you respect your interviewer and the significance of this opportunity. Make it clear that you appreciate the opportunity to form a partnership, regardless of the outcome of this meeting.

For more on how to connect with your interviewer and earn their support, contact the staffing and employment team at Merritt.

Evaluate Work Ethic During an Interview

July 10th, 2015

By the time your candidate walks into your office and sits down for her interview session, you already know plenty of facts and details about her readiness for the job. You have her resume printed out and sitting on the desk in front of you (ideally), and you’ve already looked over each section and prepared a few meaningful questions based on what you see. You’ve also made a brief assessment of her personality and corporate style based on her appearance, posture and body language. But so far, you don’t know very much about her basic work ethic. Here are a few questions that can help you gather data on this subject.

Just ask.

It’s okay to be direct. Simply asking a candidate to describe her own work ethic may feel like requesting a canned response; and yes, a few applicants will simply blurt out the positive, empty answer they think you want to hear. (“My work ethic is amazing!”, “I’d rather work than breathe!”, “I’ll work all day and night!” etc, etc)  But most of them won’t. It may come as a surprise, but trusting candidates to provide an honest answer will often encourage them to do just that.

Ask open-ended questions.

These are sometimes called “behavioral” or behavior-based questions, and they usually involve asking the candidate to tell you a story about her past. Try a question like: “Can you tell me about a time when you were asked to work harder than you usually do? What were the circumstances and how did the situation play out?” This question can provide value on two levels: first, it can give you sense of the candidate’s baseline definition of “hard work”. And second, it can provide insight into how the candidate responds to pressure and heavy workloads.

Read between the lines.

A candidate may tell you that he works harder than anyone else in the world, but if his resume looks like an unaltered template riddled with typos, and his cover letter looks like a lazy mass mailing, you’ll be wise to dig a little deeper. The same applies to the details of his background. If you ask why he made a certain career decision in the past, or why he moved from one city or industry to another, scan his answer carefully. His words, tone, and personal philosophy may reflect his attitude about shortcuts and easy options.

Ask about future plans.

Ask where your candidate would like to take his career in five years. If he shrugs and tells you that he has no plans beyond this job and this company, take that into account. But if she launches into an ambitious description of the future, and her plans align with yours, that may be a great sign.

For more on how to evaluate and select the right candidates for your open positions, reach out to the staffing team at Merritt Staffing.

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