Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Five Essential Rules To Follow In Creating Effective Cover Letters

Every day I receive cover letters for résumés.  Few are compelling.  Most are merely okay, but many are a turn-off.  I often wonder how some people graduated from decent colleges and are still unable to write a coherent sentence.

Here are several rules that will improve the power of your communications.

Don’t over-write
Writing about one’s self is difficult.  People have a tendency to over-sell and over-write, especially in cover letters.  If a cover letter is well written, brevity is more powerful than a long, rambling description. So many letters I receive go on and on and on, spewing out everything the writer has ever done.  It isn’t necessary.  A good cover letter requires its writer to be introspective and able to sum up what they do or did and can contribute to a new employer in just a short paragraph or two.  It needs to make a compelling reason why the writer should be interviewed.  However, a two page cover letter is at least one page too long.

Emails have to be brief.  Giving fifteen reasons why a candidate should be interviewed or hired is probably thirteen reasons too long.  My observation has been that most of the reasons are not important or even relevant and, if so, should be saved for an interview.

Write for your audience
A good cover letter takes into account the audience for which it is intended. If not, it can sometimes be inadvertently amusing and actually work against the writer.  I received a letter from a business development person who worked in a smaller market and wanted to come to New York.  In her cover letter she wrote about achieving $600,000 in incremental revenue for her current company.  That may be great for the market she is currently in and it may be a proud achievement for the writer, but it represents only a small increment for any of the big city agencies.  It was intended to impress me but did just the opposite.

Provide real insights into yourself
If there is something you do or a talent you have that would be appropriate for the reader to know, that is what should be in your cover letter. Writing what is or should be the obvious is a no-no.  Account managers (of any level and type) who write that they liaise with their clients is a waste and unnecessary.  Everyone knows what an account person does or should do. 

What everyone has to realize is that résumé screeners, including myself, more than likely will go right to the résumé and only briefly scan the cover letter.  However, cover letters need to be different than the résumé; most simply reiterate what is already in the CV.  An effective cover letter, particularly one that is targeted to its reader, should expand on what is not contained in the résumé or it should provide insight(s) which go beyond what is on the attachment.  If your strength is client relations, say so and give a brief explanation of problems you have solved – but keep it short.

Those insights need to be relevant, important and compelling.
Keep it simple
Explaining complicated accomplishments and providing details on the background of what you do should be saved for an interview.  I have seen cover letters which go into several paragraphs of explanation; when this happens, I skip those paragraphs, as does every other screener.  Give the results and save the explanation for an interview.

Make sure you are communicating
Don’t assume your readers know your brands or companies.  While everyone may know Tide or IBM, not everyone knows that Ariel is Tide in Europe or what IBM MaaS360 is or does. This happens frequently with people who have worked in smaller, foreign markets or B2B companies as well as lesser known brands or companies.  

Don’t expect your readers to know unfamiliar trade terms or items. I call this "company speak". I wrote a whole post about this some time ago.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Making Online Hiring More Efficient For HR And For Hiring Managers

This post applies both to human resources and to the hiring managers who give assignments to HR. You have to make sure your listing is actionable. 

Almost everyone has sent a résumé to a company in response to an on-line job listing and then heard nothing back. It is maddening.  It happens because those listings don’t contain the appropriate information and candidates are responding “blind” and the person or computer screening the resume doesn’t necessarily have the right information to evaluate the resume submissions.

One listing I recently saw, and this is an exact quote, “We are looking for several qualified candidates in account management.  Three to 12 years’ experience.  Appropriate candidates must be passionate, committed and willing to work hard.”  That was it. Nothing more.

Huh?  This is inviting dozens, if not hundreds of inappropriate responses.  The company surely knows who it is looking for and what their real background should be, yet it is nowhere in this listing.  This is the rule rather than the exception.

First, we all know that the most important aspect of any job is a prospective employee’s ability to actually do the job, not their number of years’ experience, not their passion and not their college or degree.  I just saw a listing for a company looking for a marketing director.  The first part of the spec was “8-10 years’ experience”, but it said nothing about the company and nothing about the job itself. This job post is absolutely guaranteed to bring in the wrong people. Generic listings are totally inactionable.  Now, would someone with fourteen years or eighteen years’ experience be disqualified?  Should they be disqualified?  And if someone has only six years’ experience, but has handled whatever the issue is, be excluded?

One of the problems becomes that neither the mechanical scanner (key words) nor the person doing the résumé scanning may not have enough knowledge about either the job or the résumé they are looking at to enable them to evaluate the résumé and interview the candidate.  This happens frequently.

A brief description of the issues and problems (those that can be aired publically) should be included so that responders actually know what the job is.  For instance, if the job calls for 60-70% travel, why not include it?  Saying that in the listing will preclude the wrong people from answering.
Qualified candidates are constantly commenting to me that they submitted a résumé to a company that they would like to work for, but never heard back. And, their complaint goes on, they would be perfect for the listed position, at least on the surface. 

I know that companies don’t like to put salaries in job postings, but salaries are a more effective screening tool.  It won’t preclude juniors from applying, but listing salaries is effective in eliminating people who make more money than the job pays (unless they are willing to take a job cut. See below.).

All hiring managers should double check the on-line listings for the jobs they want to fill.  In addition, I would propose other steps to be taken. 

Rather than merely looking at résumés, all job postings should require an applicant to submit a cover letter telling the company why they are qualified to interview for the job.  This requires more work on the part of the company, but is far more efficient and beneficial and will save the company time in the long run.  First, it enables the company to determine how articulate a candidate is and how well they write.  If the cover letter is inarticulate or way too long, it enables a company to effectively screen.  Second, it gives the company a real tool which will enable them to properly evaluate a résumé and a candidate.  It gives the candidate space to sell themselves and say why they are qualified for the job.

I have written before about companies acknowledging résumés that are submitted.  It is so easy to create a form email and send to applicants.  A simple email can be a great and positive gesture and create good will.  And it eliminates the anger which comes from not hearing anything back.
Since so much hiring is done through on-line recruiting, it behooves a company to make it as efficient for them as possible.  And it will help candidates to truly understand whether a job is right for them or not.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Adventures In Advertising: Standing Up To A Client

Apropos of all the discussion today about branding and social media and the power of companies and people to affiliate or not with other brands and companies, I thought I would tell a true story.  It happened a long time ago.

In 1977 I was briefly the head of account management at what may be the worst agency in the city.  I didn’t know until I got there because a good friend of mine worked there and introduced me, telling me it was a wonderful agency.  They offered me a lot of money, so I took the job.  The agency was called Hicks & Greist.

One of their accounts was Borden’s.  They had a number of brands, including ReaLemon and Wyler’s Lemonade.  One day in the spring of that year, the agency received a letter signed by the president of Borden’s.   In no uncertain terms, it instructed the agency not to buy any spot or network television in or adjacent to the upcoming new series, Soap.  Soap was to debut in the fall.  It was a comedy about a couple of different families and their relationships, ostensibly, it was about adultery, divorce, homosexuality, secret affairs and the like.  The cast included Billy Crystal and Robert Guillaume.  It came several years after All in the Family was on the air and became very successful. By today's standards it was very mild, but in those days it was very cutting edge.

I had previously seen the pilot and thought it was innocuous and fairly funny. Despite prior publicity and controversy, it was harmless and in many ways, far more mundane than All in the Family. But then, again, I am a liberal. I was incensed at the censorship by my client.  I called the director of marketing of the food division and nicely asked about the letter; he was a good guy and a friend (enough of a friend that I was present at his elopement, but that is merely a coincidence.)  His comment to me was astounding.  He told me that no one there had ever seen it, but said his management was a bunch of old and conservative men and there was nothing he could or would do about it. 

I thought it the client's right not to advertise on the show, but I objected to the fact that they had never seen it.  My thought process was that how could a company boycott something they knew nothing about. 

I asked him if he and his management would be open to screening the show.  I called ABC and, they thought it was a great idea and offered to go out to Columbus with me.  They volunteered to pay my airfare, so I did not have to obtain internal approval for the flight.  In a couple of days the marketing director got back to me and said that his management would be open to ABC and me coming out to Columbus for a screening.  Both he and I were surprised by the invitation.

So on the appointed day, I flew out there with a group of ABC executives.   We got there mid-morning.  The client was quite cordial and, I thought, receptive.  We played the pilot for them, which was half an hour (actually much less because there were no commercial breaks).  The entire executive group laughed all the way through it.  The client president looked at me afterwards and thanked me.  He told me he would not withdraw his memo and did not want commercials in the show because he wanted to protect his franchise from any negative publicity.  He did concede that if a scatter spot buy ended up in an adjacency, he would be inclined to look the other way, but he wouldn’t announce it because he did not want to create any controversy.  I was actually pleased with the response.  At least now they would know the facts and could make a decision based on knowledge, which is all I wanted.

They invited us to have lunch and, after a nice meal, I flew back to the agency. It had been a very cordial meeting.  By the time I returned to New York and arrived at the agency, they had been told about the meeting by the marketing director who was very complimentary towards me.  Nevertheless, the agency was furious with me, despite the positive results.  They made it clear that the agency was not the arbiter of their clients’ social actions and that I had no business making the trip or challenging their actions or beliefs (think of this in today's terms).  This, despite the fact that the marketing director had told the president of the agency that he and they were proud of the stance I had taken and thought better of the agency for it. I was bawled out and told that I had to clear all subsequent out of town trips with agency management.  The agency’s position left a bad taste in my mouth. 

Soap ran for four or five successful years and, immediately after it first aired, most of the controversy died down and was forgotten.  I resigned from the agency shortly after this event. I had only been there about six months.  They were not my kind of people.

I have always felt that ad agencies should be the conscience of their clients and their brands.  That discussion has come to the fore in recent weeks and months; the issues with the NRA is a good example.  It has taken a very long time.   

Ad agencies should always stand up for their beliefs.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Three Good Reasons Why You Should Not Exaggerate Your Salary When Job Hunting

I can’t believe that in all these years, I have not written about this before.

Many of you are aware that New York City recently passed a law making it illegal to discriminate based on salary.  In essence, this means that a company cannot ask about your salary history.  The attempt here is to insure that women are paid what men are paid.  The problem is that this question will be asked anyway, despite it being illegal (I am not a lawyer, but as I understand it, you cannot legally provide a salary history, even if voluntary.  You cannot waive the right and disclose your salary, except to a head hunter who will negotiate on your behalf, but that waiver must be obtained in writing).  My guess is that this law will end up being adjudicated in the courts.  But in the meanwhile, companies will continue to ask about salary and candidates will continue to voluntarily supply this information.  

At any given level or title there is a huge disparity of salaries.  I have interviewed $60k account directors and those with the same title making $180k.  So the question will always be asked. Here is a good example of why the information is needed.

I recently re-interviewed a candidate I met five years ago.  When we originally met, she told me she was making $200k with a $50k commission on new business that she brought in.  She is still at the same company, but when I asked her this time, she told me her base was $150k and her bonus was $25k.  Big difference!  And, the reason for this post.

You may actually preclude yourself from great jobs
During the five years that have passed since I met with the previously mentioned candidate, I have had at least six or eight jobs which would have been right for her, but I never called her because I thought she was making too much money for those openings.
Everyone thinks they are underpaid and worth more than they are making, but by exaggerating your salary with a company or a recruiter, you may preclude yourself from something you really want.  A few thousand dollars can make a big difference.

Remember, the higher your salary, the fewer the jobs.

You are lying and will be caught
Particularly at junior levels, people believe that to make more money that they have to lie in order to move and get more.  It just isn’t so. If someone is offered less than they think they are worth, they can and should turn the job down.  Tell the recruiter or the company what you are making and what your ideal salary would be (the NYC law, as I understand it, does allow a job applicant to say what their desired salary range is).  Then go from there.

One of the problems with lying about salary is that no one can remember who they told what.  If someone is making $50k and tells one company or recruiter that they are making $55, they are apt to tell the next person they are making $60k. Lying is easy.  Except, when one is asked a second time during an interview (which is a great way of double checking) the answer is apt to be different. 
I have even asked the same person about their salary twice in the same interview (“sorry, I neglected to write it down, what are you making again?”), I have received two different answers; I also know the lower amount is probably the truth.

Also, remember that most firms require you to fill out an application which calls for a salary history.  It is very easy to get confused and get caught. (Although I recommend to candidates that they not fill out this part of a job application – your salary history is nobody’s business.)

Many candidates exaggerate salaries by including perks - bonuses, car and other allowances, matching 401k.  Base salary is the only thing that counts since perks are discretionary and are not always paid or may not be consistent year to year.

You may get a job which is way over your head
Remember, the higher your salary the greater the expectations of your performance.
I remember a candidate who kept pushing herself by exaggerating her salary with each job move.  She finally got a job as an account director at $100k, but had only been really making $60k as a supervisor; I believe she told people she was making $85.  What happened to her is sad.  She could not perform at the level of expectations that her new salary required and, after six months and numerous evaluations, she was terminated.  Her references were terrible and she was out of work for a very long time (While most companies have rules which prevent or should prevent people from giving references, don’t kid yourself, people give them anyway.)

It is a common misconception that since everyone (not true) lies about their salary, it is harmless.  When someone lies to me, I make a notation in their file and have to decide if it effects how I deal with them.  Why get branded as a liar, even if you think lying about salary is harmless?

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