Monday, August 13, 2012

You Just Lost Your Job. Now What?

(St. Louis Post-Dispatch column, August 12, 2012)

Pink slip.  Cardboard box.  Security escort out of the building.  Now what?  Here are practical suggestions for you:

1.  Get everything owed you.  Employers sometimes “forget” severance or vacation pay or health benefit information.  Study any information you receive, including the company policy book.

2.  . . .and then some.  Do you want to file a charge against the company?  Talk to a lawyer, but these are protracted dog fights.  Most people move on.

3.  Mourn.  A layoff is a body-blow, even if you hated your job.  Work is your identity, it supports your family. Whether your mourning is to drink or glower in a dark corner, set a time limit – a day, a week. Then force yourself to start looking.

4.  Organize family and finances.  Have a family conference.  How long can you survive without work?  A week?  Six months?  Where can you economize?  Who else has to get a job?  Such conversation will spare later bitterness if your search takes longer than originally thought.

5.  Create a work space.  Grab a room – or the corner of one - that will be exclusively yours.  Equip it with computer and phone.  If documents are hither and yon, so will your efforts be.

6.  Decide your NEXT.  Is your same job available in another company or must you consider a career switch?  Who needs your skills?  A competitor?  Decide what you want and what value you bring an employer.

7.  Tell everyone.  Swallow your pride and your bile, and tell everyone about your search and the job you want. Get leads from friends and colleagues and follow up on them.  Caution:  Your former employer may have been heavy handed with you, but avoid splashing around verbal acid.  Your listeners understand, but still want you to keep a stiff upper lip.

8.  Get help.  Were you offered an outplacement firm?  USE IT.  If not, try free resources (in the St. Louis area):

Go! Network

Businesspersons Between Jobs

SLATE (St. Louis City)
(314) 589-8000

Workforce Development (St. Louis County)
(314) 679-3300

State of Missouri Career Centers
1-888-728-JOBS (5627)

Missouri AFL-CIO Dislocated Workers Program (
(573) 634-2115 x119

9.  Have a posse.  You are now one of the Coffee Shop Set.  Smart seekers join an accountability group that meets regularly to help each other reach their next job.  It’s one of your best tools.

10.  Get out.  Spend time putting together your resume and cover letter, your contacts, your script for networking calls and the clear statement of what you’re seeking.  You’ll also research jobs, but after a few days, get away from your computer.  Go to job seeker workshops, meet your posse, have networking lunches.  But get out of your dungeon.

11.  Cobble it.  Job prospects are better now, but searches still take awhile.  You might need to cobble together part-time jobs.  The first days can be brutal at less-than jobs; but we can get used to anything.  Just do it, and hurry back to your career field when you can.

Stay diligent and actively engaged, and you’ll succeed.

Monday, January 30, 2012

What should my cover letter say?

Note:   I think cover letters are important. Some recruiting folks tell me they never look at them. Others say they’ll soon be a thing of the past. Know your industry and what it expects; behave accordingly.

If you do one. . .

Think of your cover letter as your main selling document. Your resume summarizes your educational and work life. Your cover letter focuses on the job in question and matches your skills and background against what the company said it needed.

Do not prepare a generic cover letter to send with the resume. It looks sloppy, careless, and lazy; it gets you the same casual attention you gave the letter. The body of your cover letter can have several paragraphs that are more or less the same, but you must make each one specific for the job you're seeking. (This is another commercial for not sending out hundreds of "over-the-transom" resumes.)

Here's the basic format:

1. Dear [use a real name]
2. Here's why I'm writing
3. These are my experiences that match the ones you're seeking
4. These are my skills that prove I can do the job
5. Here's how I'll follow up
6. I look forward to meeting you

1. Dear [person's name]. Always have a name. It keeps you from sending a "Dear-fill-in-the-blank" letter that will get no attention.

2. Paragraph 1. Say why you're writing the letter, such as "I'm writing. . .

"in response to your ad for a               ,"
"at the suggestion of Bob Owens in your traffic department,"
"to request an informational interview"

3. Paragraph 2. State what their need (or probable need) is, and how you match it:

"Your ad indicated you're seeking three to five years' experience in a manufacturing environment. In my first position after college, I was a process engineer with. . . ."
"Here are the qualifications you specified, and how my background meets them:

• Recruiting. After graduating from college, I became a national recruiter for my sorority.

• Labor Relations. Our plant has two unions, and I have assisted the Director by preparing data for contract negotiations. . . .etc."

You get the picture. Whatever the job requirement, you state it and you match your experience to it. If you don't have it, don't say it. Employers can tell when you're stretching the truth, i.e., you collated training manuals rather than creating them.

4. Paragraph 3. The skills paragraph. This is where you discuss your skills and capabilities. Say what the skill is and back it up with a proof of it from your experience:

"People skills. At the plant I have responsibility for employee relations with our hourly employees. I also work with our top plant management as well as visitors from our headquarters."

Talk about the skills you think they'll need: Technical, communications, management, fund-raising, etc. In other words, round out the picture of you as the perfect combination of background and skills.

5. Paragraph 4. Talk about the next step. If you don't and simply drop the letter in the mailbox, prepare to be disappointed. You may get no response at all! Yes, it's rude, but that's what happens. Keep responsibility for your progress toward an interview. Don't say, "I look forward to hearing from you." You might not!

Try this instead: "I will call you next week about scheduling an interview." And then do it.

6. Paragraph 5. Kiss. Kiss. The last paragraph, something nice, like "I look forward to meeting you."

A few final pointers:
•     Proofread and spell-check before you mail it.  The company sees this as you putting your best foot forward and judges you accordingly.

•     Put your cover letter on stationery, the same paper as your resume.

•     Give yourself a letterhead: Name, address, phone number (home and mobile), e-mail. Word processing software makes that easy, or ask a copy center to do it for you.

•     Create a "tickler" file for follow-up. An accordion file folder with a space for each day of the month, 1-31. If you write your letter on the 12th, then follow up about five days later. Put a copy of the letter in the folder marked 17, so you can follow up on the 17th.

I believe that covers the cover letter.