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Do Employers Really Read My Cover Letter?

April 19th, 2019

Job applicants typically work hard to stay efficient with their time and energy. If you’re searching for work, you’re likely to choose actions and options that shorten the path to your goals and help you cover more ground using less fuel. And as you do so, you’re likely to find yourself asking a common question as you toil over every word of your cover letter: “Will anyone actually read this?”

To find an answer, we’ve turned to countless employers, including our clients, partners and professional contacts across multiple industries. Unsurprisingly, their answers differ. But most reposes fall into three distinct categories. The next time you ask yourself if your cover letter is worth the effort, consider your audience and try to determine which category they fall into.

Yes, we read (almost) every single letter.

Employers are likely to read letters carefully if they manage smaller firms, new startups, family-owned businesses, and tightly controlled companies (where the CEO or department head may be the one reading the resumes and making hiring decisions). With employers like these, don’t take a chance with your cover letter. That means no errors, poor wording or missed opportunities. Your strong cover letter may help you edge out a small pool of very tough competition, and it’s not uncommon to land an interview based on one passing remark or a throwaway statement you added to your letter at the last minute before sending. At some point down the road, these employers may let you know what aspect of your letter won them over.

We ask for them, but we don’t read them all.

Some employers request cover letters because they’re useful tiebreakers when the candidate pool has been narrowed to a small handful of excellent prospects. By the time the winner’s circle has been drawn, the front-runner with a brilliant, detailed letter will certainly win the interview over the one with a poorly written letter or a solitary resume. But most candidates won’t make it that far. If scanners don’t pick up the right resume keywords, your resume and letter may stagnate unread in a database somewhere.

Letters are our first (sometimes only) deciding factor.

Some employers don’t ask for cover letters … but some take cover letters only. These reviewers aren’t even interested in a resume; they just want you to tell them, point blank and in your own words, why you should have the job. If the job post makes it clear that your letter is important, don’t skip a single detail or cut a single corner. Your letter is your stage. Grab the spotlight and make the most of it.

For more on job search decisions that can help you find the fastest path to success, turn to the career experts at Merritt.

Five Ways Internship Programs Help You Recruit Top Talent

April 5th, 2019

An internship program can be a magical thing: one of those rare workplace arrangements that benefit both parties in immeasurable ways while costing almost nothing on either side. When an internship is conducted in an appropriate and professional way, both participants gain, and neither side loses.

Specifically, a young graduate is offered her first paid position in her professional field—even if she doesn’t have a lick of experience on her resume—and the company gains access to inexpensive, enthusiastic labor, and possibly a valuable full-time employee later on.

Here are five ways your intern can evolve into a long-term contributor.

Internship programs build loyalty (for life).

If your intern is paid well and respected, and if she receives the training and industry exposure she came for, she’ll develop a positive impression of the company. After all, she has no other workplace to compare this one to, so if you show her your best side, you’ll set the standard. Even if she leaves after one summer, she’ll remember this place and she’ll walk away with lasting warm feelings about your brand. Even long-term employees leave eventually, but fans and customers can stay forever.

Internships help mold young minds (and work habits).

If you scoop up a 21-year-old employee before he graduates from college, you’ve landed more than just an enthusiastic, fresh-faced worker bee. You’ve landed a pristine open mind, a person who has never experienced the professional world before. This is his first professional boss, his first breakroom, his first staff meeting, his first desk. This is also his first exposure to what your business does, what a work day should feel like, how clients and agents interact, and what efficient team contributions look like. He doesn’t have to unlearn anything in order to accept your terms. This can benefit both of you in big ways.

Internships build your social fabric.

The best retention strategy is a culture that feels like a family, and the way to create that family feeling is by maintaining long term employees, as many as you can. Deepen your organizational memory and traditions by reducing your turnover.

Internships set expectations on both sides.

New employees often start their first week on the job frequently repeating (or at least thinking) phrases like “That’s not how we did it at XYZ Co.,” or “At my old job, we always…” Interns rarely do this. Your expectations of them quickly become their expectations of themselves, and vice versa.

Interns train in-house.

Too often, new full-time employees come on board and go through an expensive training process, then when they’ve received a year of training on your dime, they leave. Interns receive the same training period, but since both promises and pay are modest on both sides, your investment returns are almost always positive.

When you’re ready to launch your internship program, contact the experts at Merritt for guidance.

Questions to Ask at the End of an Interview

March 22nd, 2019

When your would-be employer is finished asking you a list of questions about your background, your career goals and your preparation for the company’s open position, it’s time to turn the tables. Never leave an interview session without obtaining some important information of your own; information you’ll need in order to make a smart, informed decision about this job and how it might support your career and add to your life.

Your employer can’t read your mind, and they won’t know exactly what to tell you about the company and the job unless you ask. So, make sure you include these questions in your conversation (plus any others you decide to add).

Where can I go from here?

What will this job do for your career? Ask your employer to describe the next rung of the ladder and explain where you’ll go when you outgrow this job and it’s time for a promotion. Are there management roles above you that you can step into? Or will you need to seek work elsewhere as soon as you’re ready for the next chapter?

Will this job provide the specific training and exposure that you need?

What kinds of training and experience will you need to become one, two, and ten degrees better at what you do? Can this company provide that training and experience? Maybe this employer offers or supports opportunities outside the company. Ask about tuition reimbursement for coursework at local colleges, and ask about extracurricular training and support, sabbatical programs, conference attendance and other forms of personal development.

Will you be able to do the kind of work you want to do?

Some companies offer a kind of bait-and-switch, a system in which you step onboard but don’t actually DO the work you want to do until you’ve stayed for several years and reached various assigned milestones. If this may be one of those companies, establish a clear timeline. If you can’t do your chosen work right away, when will it happen?

Can they give you the benefits you need?

Now isn’t the best time to ask about salary (save that until you’re closer to receiving an offer). But it’s a great time to clearly ask about the benefits you’ll need the most. Does the company offer on-site childcare? Commuter compensation? A strong healthcare plan? If you need something specific and the company can’t offer it, find out sooner rather than later.

What makes this place special?

You can work anywhere. So why should you choose to work here? Frame your question diplomatically but get the answer you need. If competing companies in the same industry are equally likely to hire you, what makes this company stand out? Is it the culture? The low turnover? The prestige? Factor the answer into your decision.

For more on how to get the most out of your interview, contact the job search team at Merritt.


How to Spot Someone’s Strengths and Place Them in the Right Role

March 8th, 2019

Here’s a common scenario: You’ve received an application for an open position. But as you study the resume and speak to the candidate in an interview setting, a few realities become clear. The candidate is not perfectly suited for the open position at hand, but you aren’t quite ready to turn her away altogether. In fact, she seems very well suited for another role on the same team, or maybe a similar role in a different part of the company. What should you do next? You don’t want to lose her, but you’re obligated to choose someone else for the position on which her sights are set. Here’s how to move forward in a way that allows both of you to get what you need.

Be clear and honest about your intentions.

Usually when you have good news and bad news, you deliver the bad news first. But in this case, turn it around. Explain clearly to the candidate what you’re trying to do (direct her attention to another position) and explain why (you sense she has the skills and background to succeed in the alternative role). Then the bad news: The job she applied for isn’t a perfect fit. Of course, she’ll have questions about the reasoning behind both decisions, so answer as much as policy and diplomacy allow, but focus more on her fitness for the second job, and less on her shortcomings for the first one.

Find evidence for your hunches.

If you think your marketing candidate might actually be great at customer service, follow up to find out if you’re right. Has she had any relevant yet non-work-related experience? Might she enjoy interacting with customers and helping them solve problems? How well does she respond to conflict and pressure? Essentially, you’re interviewing her for a job she’s never had and never asked for, so you’ll need to ask clear questions about her aptitude, general work ethic, career goals and personality.

If the job represents a demotion, sell it.

If your candidate applied for a senior-level job, but he simply isn’t ready for the senior level and you’d like to place him at the entry level instead, you’ll have to pitch your vision. Tell him what’s in it for him and why this might be a smart move for his career. Don’t emphasize the fact he’s overconfident and underqualified—let that go. Just focus on how your company can help him build his skills and be clear about the perks and benefits you have to offer.

For more on how to shift your candidates (or current employees) away from one career track and toward another, talk to the management experts at Merritt.

How to Handle a Slip-Up at a New Job

February 22nd, 2019

It’s your first year on the job and things are looking great! Or at least OK. You’re learning the ropes, winning over supporters and connecting with co-workers. Then something goes wrong. An embarrassing mistake, but you’re eventually forgiven; after all, you’re new, and this is how you learn. A rough day ends, and you wake up the next morning feeling a little better. Until …

It happens again. This time, you have no one and nothing to blame but your own shortcomings. You’re not new anymore, you should have known better and your blunder can’t be attributed to any circumstance or innocent lack of information. You had everything you needed, and you still screwed up. Badly. What now?

First, own what you’ve done.

Don’t launch an immediate search for excuses or explanations. Even if there’s a chance this isn’t your fault, leave that possibility on the shelf for now. And as you own your blunder, be very clear. Use the exact words “I own this mistake” when you speak to an angry boss or steamed clients. Even if you aren’t 100 percent sure you deserve to be thrown in the stocks, use the phrase and hold tightly to your dignity and integrity. First things first.

Second, make it right.

If you aren’t sure how to atone or heal those you’ve hurt (and even if you’re pretty sure this isn’t possible) seek advice. Be humble and ask the right person—your damaged clients, embarrassed boss or upset co-workers—what it might take to correct what you’ve done and put the universe back in order. Don’t expect a positive response right away, or any response. If doors are slammed in your face, be patient. This is part of the reset process.

Identify, verbalize and isolate worst-case scenarios.

Maybe this mistake will get you fired. If so, identify and accept that possibility. Maybe the company will lose money, or innocent stakeholders could be hurt by what you’ve done. Don’t let nameless anxieties and terrible possibilities drag you into panic and paralysis. Name them. Then face them and deal with them one by one.

Learn at least one critical lesson.

Think, reflect and identify at least one key lesson or something you’ll do differently next time to avoid this outcome. Verbalize that lesson. Write it down. And be absolutely sure—even if you’re fired—that your boss knows you’ve done this. By learning, and sharing what you’ve learned, you give yourself a fighting chance at redemption and forgiveness. You prove you’re working hard to earn back the trust you’ve lost.

Everyone makes mistakes. A mistake-free person is a person who takes no risks, makes no hard decisions and lacks meaningful life experience. Don’t be that person. But when you DO mess up, make the most of the moment and recover your stride with grace. For more on how to be the hero of your own life story, contact the career growth experts at Merritt.

When Hiring, Listen to Your Team

February 8th, 2019

When you’ve moved into the advanced stages of the hiring process and you’ve narrowed a wide pool of resumes down to a few final interviewees, you’ll be relying on several factors to make your ultimate decision, for example, your gut instincts, your background checks, and your reference checks. But as you review data from all these sources, be sure to keep one more important resource in mind: your existing teams. Here are some of the reasons why your team’s input can mean the difference between a brilliant new asset and a hiring mistake.

Your teams have an existing culture and social fabric.

Maybe you have a nice blend of introverts and extroverts on your team, and everyone benefits if you maintain that balance. Maybe your team is made up of cheerful collaborators, cool but efficient loners, friendly competitors, or long-time teammates with an oddball sense of humor. Will the new employee find a place here? Will their social contributions be appreciated? The best way to find out is by simply introducing them and then asking your team for feedback.

What does the team really need?

Maybe the departing employee that you’re working to replace had a specific skill set or talent that held the team together. Maybe this necessary skill is essential to team success. Maybe if you hire someone who excels in plenty of other areas, that won’t help much, since this one missing skill set is the one that’s most needed. What is that skill set? Ask your team and find out.

Some traits may spell trouble.

Maybe your new hire is an efficient number cruncher, but a little arrogant in a way that ruffles feathers and causes resentment. Maybe your new employee is humble and likable but disorganized in a way that can derail project goals. Maybe your new hire brings some toxic energy to the room that your team finds especially difficult to deal with. Or maybe the new person is identical to everyone else to a degree that they bring no new energy or fresh air to the group. Your teams can provide insight into this possibility.

Several heads are better than one.

One person making a decision alone (you) may be subject to certain biases or blind to certain red flags. But if you bring others in and encourage them to weigh in on the candidate, they can spot things that you may have missed, or dismiss concerns that you may be taking too seriously. Group input can keep you from hiring the wrong person, or just as bad, letting a great candidate get away.

For more on how to leverage the insight and opinions of your team, contact the staffing pros at Merritt.

Is Your Boss Babying You?

January 25th, 2019

“Micromanaging” may mean different things to different people; for some who prefer to work with no oversight at all, a boss who overexplains a task or brings a completed project back for a re-do can be intolerable. For others, micromanaging simply means close coaching and hand-holding, and when it disappears, these nervous workers feel adrift. The weight of personal responsibility and agency sits heavily on them.

Since the definition varies for each person, it’s up to you—the employee—to decide if you’re being babied. And if you are, here are a few moves that can help you convince your boss to take a step back.

Earn trust, and when you’ve earned, insist on it.

Gently saying, “I can handle this—I’ve done it before” can sometimes be enough to remind your boss that you know what you’re doing. For some bosses, what you have or have not done in the past can be easy to forget. Your manager doesn’t carry a list with her that covers all known facts about your accomplishments and capabilities, so it’s OK to politely point them out. If you haven’t done the task before (or can’t provide simple proof), then work to earn your manager’s trust. When you’ve earned it, capitalize on that fact. Point out your accomplishment and ask directly for the faith and trust that should now be yours.

Show empathy.

Often when bosses hover too close, it’s not because they’re jerks. And it’s not because they expect little of you or don’t respect you. It’s simply because they themselves are under pressure and they have a lot riding on the outcome of your work. They have trouble risking the disaster they believe will result if they walk away from the task and leave you to it. Recognize that their objectionable behavior isn’t personal; it comes from a sense of fear and anxiety. Address the anxiety rather than becoming angry or resentful with the boss.

Just ask directly for what you need.

“I need your trust” can be an ambiguous request. Instead, try something like “I’ll check in with you once a week, OK?” or “I’d like to let my team decide how to do this” or “I’d like to contribute to strategy discussions.” Direct requests might get better results.

Explain the problem.

Wishing and hoping your boss will back off won’t accomplish anything. But if you honestly explain the problem to her, she may see things from your point of view. Try a statement like, “When you step in at every stage of the process, we don’t learn how to do this on our own.”

Instead of resenting your boss’s bad behavior, do something about it. Stay calm and polite but be honest about what you need from your working relationship. Hiding the truth helps no one. For more, contact the career development experts at Merritt.

Is Your Team Burned Out?

January 11th, 2019

When you look out over your workplace at 10:00 am on a Tuesday, or 2:00 pm on a Thursday, what do you see and hear? Lively expressions, quiet busy chatter, and calm, direct, friendly interactions? Or the opposite: hissing complaints, dejected expressions, and grim silence? Do your teams respond to unexpected challenges with excitement or exhaustion? Are they cheerful or irritable? If you’re in the throes of a bleak, cold January and your teams are struggling just to make it into work and survive the day, you’re probably facing a mild epidemic of burnout. The signs may be right in front of you: short tempers, distraction, and disengagement. But fortunately, solutions are available. Start with these.

If you can’t give them a day off, give them a break.

Sometimes the best help is just a sign of empathy or recognition. Saying “I know you’re busy” before assigning a project doesn’t change the demands of the project… but it can help your employee shift her priorities around, so this project stays at the top of the list. Otherwise, it may slip down or off the page altogether. Just trying to read the room and show your human side can make you a better boss, which can support a team of better employees.

Set an example.

If you’re stressed and overwhelmed, your mood and attitude will be contagious. But if you’re gliding through the day and even genuinely enjoying your work and the company of your coworkers, that can be contagious too. If your employees don’t know exactly how to manage their busy schedules, show them. If they overthink one project and neglect another, show them what efficient balance looks like. Be the person you want them to be, especially when the going gets rough and the demands pile up.

Reassign projects appropriately.

Keep a close eye on who’s doing what, and make sure the work is evenly, appropriately, and fairly handed out. Of course, you’ll have to factor skill sets into account, but once you’ve done that, make sure everybody is pulling his or her weight. If that’s not happening, take work off one busy person’s plate and hand it to someone else with a little more available breathing room. Don’t wait for the busy person to ask.

Add some fun to the atmosphere.

Groups of people can accomplish extraordinary things when they feel a bond of togetherness and trust. But that only happens when they have opportunities to relax and enjoy each other’s company. Encourage humor and connection by bringing in food your teams can eat together, or by promoting friendly competitions, Friday happy hours, and fun interactions during or after the workday. Again, don’t wait to be asked. As soon as you recognize a need, act.

For more on spotting and preventing harmful burnout, turn to the staffing experts at Merritt.

Motivating a Lazy Employee

December 28th, 2018

It takes all kinds of personalities to build a successful team. Every person who reports to you comes with a collection of human quirks, talents, strengths, weaknesses and curious tendencies, and as a manager, you’ve learned to embrace this reality and work with people as they are, not as you wish they were. This being the case, there’s one member of your team who presents your current challenge: Lazybones Jones, who comes in a bit late, leaves a bit early, and cuts corners at every opportunity. How can you motivate them to embrace the task at hand just a little more energetically? Here are a few tips.

Think carefully about the person before you plan your approach.

Almost no human management challenge brings a one-size-fits-all solution. Before you choose a course of action, you’ll need to think carefully about your employee and consider what drivers apply to them. Do they work for money? Are they hoping for a promotion in title or status? Do they have a long-term goal (even one that extends beyond this office)? Are they sensitive to the approval or scorn of others? What do they find fun or boring? Don’t go in blind; think, then act.

Remember that they aren’t you.

You might find the disapproval of a boss unbearable, and maybe you would do anything to avoid it. But it’s possible LJ won’t care about your disapproval at all. It’s also possible they’ll find it so devastating they seek work elsewhere. Prepare for the unexpected.

Be specific.

As you pull LJ aside and explain the behavioral change you’d like to see, be specific. Don’t just say “You’re not pulling your weight.” Instead, explain exactly what “pulling your weight” means, and apply a metric that’s measurable. Say “I’d like to see you closing five more calls per hour by the end of the week”, or “I’d like you to file ten more forms per day by March 1.”

Choose carrot, stick, or both.

What if LJ meets your demands? What if they don’t? As you frame your expectations in specific, measurable terms, do the same with the consequences of compliance or non-compliance. Make sure compliance comes with a reward and non-compliance comes with a consequence. Examples include written warnings, monetary raises, additional tasks or changes in status. Make sure LJ understands the agreement and accepts the terms.

Maintain perspective

Remember that “laziness” is in the eye of the beholder (one company’s definition of lazy may look like industry in another). A bit of “laziness” may not be a deal breaker. If the employee brings other valuable talents or gifts to the table, think twice before risking this relationship over a few late mornings. And vice versa: cracking down might solve an expensive problem.

For more management tips that can keep your team on track, contact the experts at Merritt.

Staying Motivated During the Holidays

December 14th, 2018

As an ambitious employee with big plans for your future, or an ambitious job seeker with big plans for your next position, you have lots to do and lots on your plate. You know you need to get up each day and hit the pavement, and you know that you’re wise to stay on your feet and in motion as much as possible until you get where you’re going.

Your typical self-motivation strategies work well, and they keep you on track during the early spring, the summer, and the fall…but then the holidays arrive. And everything tends to fall apart. This year sidestep the distractions of the season and stay focused! Here’s how.

Keep your eyes on your goal.

The best gift you can give yourself will be a new job by February. Pursuing this goal is the kindest thing you can do for yourself, and in the long run, you’ll appreciate this gift more than a long weekday trip to the spa. Take breaks when you need to and remember that more stress won’t solve your problems faster, but while you feed and hydrate yourself and get adequate sleep, maintain focus on the thing that will really help and pamper you the most (that new job).

Draw on the love and support of your friends and family.

Don’t push your friends and family away; Your support system will help you succeed, they won’t hold you back. Canceling a few hours of quality time with loved ones so you can edit your resume won’t necessarily mean more job search success. But if the “quality time” is a tiresome party invitation shared by an acquaintance you hardly know, politely decline. Your resume is more important.

Examine your actions and how you’re using your time.

Frantic scrambling isn’t valuable. It won’t help you get anywhere, it won’t accomplish anything, and it can hurt you and hold you back by interfering with your sleep, your health, and your peace of mind. So, when you commit yourself to a long Saturday spent “working”, take a closer look. Are you really working? Or are you just foregoing family time and seasonal fun for no reason? If you plan to approach your task with calm and productivity, proceed. If you’re just making a pointless sacrifice, don’t. Learn to balance work with play, or you won’t be mentally present for either one.

Make lists, organize, and plan.

Going back to the same shopping complex five times because you forgot something can burn through half a day when the entire task should take no more than an hour. Creating a list and thinking ahead can prevent this before it happens. Stay a step ahead of yourself and don’t get tangled in the weeds.

For more on how to reach your career goals without missing out on holiday fun, contact the job search experts at Merritt.

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