Wednesday, 19 June 2013

The Fallacy of a Work/Life Balance

Your definition of "work/life" balance is probably different than mine.  In fact my definition of today is different than my definition of 4 years ago.  Depending where we are in our lives and career, this means different things to different people.

5 years ago I didn't have any kids.  I was earning good money, and I had savings.  Back then I wanted flexibility and time off to travel.  I had no issues coming in at 7 am and working until 4 pm.  If there was an event at night, I had no issues staying late.  My manager knew that I worked hard and was seeing results, so he allowed me the flexibility that I craved.

Today, I have a 2.5 year old.  I changed jobs - effectively lowering my income - so that I would have stability.  I traded in flexibility for security as this is what's important to me now.  Starting early or staying late need to be planned in advance because I now have to coordinate with day care and my husband.

I bring all this up because I chuckle when I see in a job posting or company website "we offer great work/life balance".  It makes me wonder "according to who?"  In my office, we're all in different stages of our lives and therefore all want/need different things in terms of balance.  1 person may want flexibility to take a course or to write an exam, another may need flexible hours to accommodate their children's schedules, and another may be completely flexible to anything.

And even though I have changed jobs (and careers) I don't necessarily feel that I have achieved "balance".  Most days we don't eat dinner until 6 pm, and by the time my son is done eating it's closer to 7:30 pm, and that means that we have very little time together before he goes to bed.  And after he's in bed there are still all of the household tasks to attend to.  Plus we need to shower before collapsing on the sofa for a little grown up time (which usually means watching 1 hour of t.v. that's not a kid show).

Weekends are just as busy.  There is always work to be done (groceries, laundry, house/yard work, etc) and time is short.  We all need time to decompress from the week, and time together as a family, and 2 days is just too short.

If I was asked if I have achieved "balance" my answer is "no".  On one hand, we make it work, but on the other hand we aren't as efficient as we could be.

I would be grateful if the term "work/life balance" would disappear.  There is no concrete way to define it after all.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Steps to Create A Cover Letter That Will Get Noticed

I come from the world of high volume recruiting.  I'm not going to lie to you, in that type of role, a recruiter barely glances at your cover letter.  I used to scan the letter quickly looking for typos or anything that caught my eye.

Knowing this, do you really want to spend the time writing one?  Let me get back to you on that.

Currently, in my role as a Career Advisor, we counsel our students to not only write a cover letter, but to customise it specifically for each role.  That doesn't mean merely changing the company name and address either (although it's astounding how many applicants forget this important step).  If we know that many recruiters barely glance at the letter, why do we tell our students to write one?  Because a well written letter will get noticed and read.

Are you starting your letter like this:

"To Whom it May Concern,
I saw with great interest your job posting in the local paper.  I know that I would be a perfect fit for your company.  Please see my attached resume for full qualifications."

Yawn.  When you get several hundred applications, and 99% of them read like this, it's no wonder the cover letter doesn't get read. I'm bored already.  What you need to do to get noticed is to be noticeable!

Let's say that you see a job posting for an accounting company.  You hear that they are a great company to work for and you really want to apply.  What can you do to get noticed?

Step 1:
Find out who to address your letter to.  This is a small step, but taking those few moments to do a bit of research will already make you stand out.  Use LinkedIn, the company website, or even call the receptionist and ask.

"Dear Ms. Smith" is a lot more professional than "To Whom it May Concern"

Step 2:
Print out - yes print out the job posting.  There are 2 reasons for this.  1 - you can highlight the key areas to include in your letter, and 2 - you will have a record of the posting to help you to prepare for your interview later. 

Step 3:
Research the company.  Why do you want to work for this company?  What is it about them that makes you a good fit for their culture?  Know what they do, who the key players are, and who they look for in an employee.

Step 4:
Start composing.  Your letter should start with an attention grabbing first sentence.  Immediately, if you are different from the rest of the applicants, you will stand out.

Other Tips:
  • Look on line for any friends, former classmates or college alumni who may work (or who have worked) for the company.  Reach out to them for any tips and advice on the company and how to apply.  You never know, they may have an employee referral program in place.
  • Be aware of applicant tracking systems (ATS).  These are programs that search for keywords in your application package.  You can find the keywords in the job posting and can include them in your resume and cover letter.
  • Some ATS will only allow you to upload 1 file.  Be sure to save your cover letter in the same document as your resume.
  • If you can, upload a Pdf instead of a Word document.  Often the formatting gets screwed up and using a Pdf will protect that.
  • Keep your audience in mind.  What can you do for them?
  • Be aware of "I" statements.  "I have 5 years of experience in accounts payable" "I have a BCom from the local university"  So what?  What does your education and experience mean to me?  Focus on your achievements and recognition.  
  • Proofread!  Have a friend proofread your letter for typos and for flow.  In a hurry?  Read your letter out loud.
  • Keep it short!  No more than 1 page.  Ideally a short intro, 1 or 2 paragraphs on why you are the best candidate, and then a closing sentence or two.

For examples on how to write a "hook" in your cover letter, check out the articles on Careerealism.