Grammar In Your Cover Letter And Resume

Grammar In Your Cover Letter And Resume

I really enjoy learning more about language and grammar. I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a grammar nerd. I do, occasionally, joke with friends about grammar mistakes, but mostly when I spot them in mass market advertising. So, having said that I am not an expert, here are my favorite grammar rules and how they apply to your resume and cover letter.

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How To Accept Interview Feedback

Hearing "no" is a normal part of a job search. Of course, by the very nature of a job search, there will be many more people hearing no than hearing yes. When a candidate hears "no" from the recruiter or hiring manager, or they receive one of those vague rejection letters, they can be left with that empty and helpless feeling. If you get the "no", it's completely natural to want to know what you could have done better.

But, you will almost never know. Move on to your next lead.

So, don't expect to get feedback. Well, not any useful feedback that is.

For those very rare times you get feedback about your interview performance, here's what you should do:

  1. Write everything down. If it's over the phone, write as fast as you can. If it's in person, smile, nod your head, and as soon as you get away, write it all down.
  2. Say thank you. Don't ask any questions. Just say thank you.

The biggest mistake candidates make when getting feedback is that they try to justify themselves. Anything other than a simple "thank you" can come across as ungrateful and give the impression that you want to go through your excuses.

Leave a good impression by staying professional and just thanking the interviewer.


Terrible Advice Masked As Good Advice About Bad Advice

I don't like quoting bad advice, and I really don't like linking to bad advice. But this is a common piece of bad advice and I'm afraid that some job seekers may actually believe it. Want to improve your odds of getting a job offer? Help a prospective employer solve their problem. That means what the interview wants is more important that what the interviewee wants.

Yet still, an "expert" actually wrote that what the hiring manager wants is less important than what the candidate wants them to hear.

You also need to shift from what a hiring manager wants to hear in an interview to what you want the hiring manager to hear in an interview.

This is not only patently offensive to the hiring process, but, can hurt your chances of getting an offer. Part of the problem with this advice is that it can lead job seekers to focus all of their preparation efforts on getting their message across. Recruiters and hiring managers want to learn about you, so you should have some key points you'd like to get across, but your priority is still to answer the questions asked of you.

Trying to outsmart the interviewer may just tick them off. Not a good strategy for trying to get a job offer. What the interviewer wants to hear is important. Answer their questions first.

Four Simple Ways To Bomb In An Interview

You have worked hard to get an interview, don't blow it by making these common mistakes.

  1. Use your cell phone. Turn your phone off. Completely off, not just silent. Several years ago, a candidate's phone rang during an interview with me. He answered the phone and had a minute long conversation, which was about as long as the rest of the interview.
  2. Speak negatively about your current or former boss. Hiring managers want someone who can behave professionally. And the interviewer is likely thinking you are hiding something.
  3. Divulge confidential information about your current job. You may think this will get you extra points, but giving up company secrets in an interview can backfire. The interviewer will likely assume you will inappropriately share anything you might learn from her company.
  4. Not answering a direct question. Don't try to outsmart your interviewer. If you are asked a reasonable question, answer it. Don't beat around the bush or try to get something else out before giving your answer. On a side note, if you are asked to "tell me about a time when...", your answer should sound more like a story than an advertisement about how good you are.

Commit one of these mistakes and your interviewer may immediately decide you are not the right candidate.

Avoid them and you can then focus on impressing the interviewer and getting that offer!

The Importance Of Context

I recently had the pleasure of working with a recruiter from out of the area who was looking for a dozen temporary employees. We  reviewed many resumes and, big surprise, many were bad. Not terrible, but difficult to follow. For a lot of them, it seemed all of the right info was there, it was just poorly arranged. This type of resume lists experiences apart from the jobs where those experiences happened.

Most "experts" call this type of resume "functional".

Trust me. Functional is anything but functional. Catchy name. It's supposed to highlight the work you've done. But if it's harder for the reader to follow, how functional is that?

Ninety percent of resumes (and 100% of the ones I reviewed recently) would be more effective if the writer ditched the functional format in favor of the traditional reverse chronological format.


WHERE and WHEN you did the work (the context) is as important as the fact THAT you did the work. With a functional resume, you can easily hide the fact you have only one month of experience in a skill that is important to the hiring manager. That means, even if you have nothing to hide, it's still a red flag.

Remember, you want the hiring manager to visualize you doing the work. It's easier to do that if they can see the company name in their mind.

Why You Should Say No To LinkedIn Recommendations

I am big fan of LinkedIn, just don't call it networking. When looking to fill a position or make a referral to one, I first look to my contacts (those on LinkedIn and those that are not), and then to their contacts. Before talking to a candidate, or a potential vendor, I always do a search on LinkedIn.

Even though I like LinkedIn, as a general rule, I am not a fan of LinkedIn recommendations. Here are two reasons why.

First, most LinkedIn recommendations are too general. Just as your resume needs to be custom, an effective recommendation is tailored to the specific job for which you are applying.

My biggest criticism, however, is that they are, nearly by design, reciprocal. The "I'll scratch your back, you scratch mine" diminishes their value even further. I come across reciprocal recommendations all the time. A quick search on LinkedIn today found this real pair of recommendations. I changed the names and specifics slightly to keep their identities confidential.

Suzanne Queue was well respected in the company for her dedication. She is a strong believer in no excuses and results... Suzanne is an asset to any company. - William Roberts, February 3

I've had the pleasure of working with William Roberts for many years at Acme Company. William is always professional and has a strong work ethic... William is an asset to any company. - Suzanne Queue, February 5

When I am hiring someone, I want the person to be an asset to my company, specifically for the position I am filling. I don't care that a former co-worker thinks someone would be an asset to any company. What if Suzie is an accountant, and I'm looking for a school bus driver?

There are exceptions.

LinkedIn recommendations do work well for independent service providers. The more narrow the work, the more valuable the recommendation can be. If you want to write a recommendation for the web-designer that built your website, feel free to do so. But be very specific and include actual results.

What should you do if someone writes an unsolicited recommendation?

Do not approve the recommendation. Send a gracious e-mail, thanking them for the recommendation. Ask if you can count on them being a phone reference in the future.

What should you do if a recruiter says you need more LinkedIn recommendations?

Kindly tell your recruiter that you would love to provide a list of references and letters of recommendation.

What should you do if someone asks you to recommend them on LinkedIn?

If it is someone you would be willing to recommend, offer to write a job-specific letter of recommendation,  or provide a good old-fashioned reference over the phone. Explain that it is likely better if you know more about the job for which they are applying and can answer specific questions.




The Single Biggest Resume Mistake

The single biggest mistake you can make with your resume also happens to be the most common. No, it's not leaving off the months of your employment dates, using poor grammar, or even having misspelled words.

The biggest resume mistake is not customizing it for each position you are interested in. On the bright side, stop making this mistake and you'll have no problem standing out amongst stacks and stacks of other resumes.

The number one rule to remember when it comes to the words you use in your resume is this: it doesn't matter what words you want to use; it's not about you, it's about what the hiring manager wants.

Sound easier said than done? Here are three simple ways to customize your resume.

  1. Use their language. Print out the job posting, pages from their website (the "about" page is a great place to start), press releases. Read through what you've printed and highlight keywords. How do they refer to their customers and employees? If they say "clients" and "team members", you should, too, rather than saying "customers" and "co-workers".
  2. Use their units of measurement.Using the same print outs from the step above, look for clues that tell you what metrics are important to the company. Does the job posting reflect a focus on ARPU (average revenue per user)? If so, you should re-work your resume to show your improvements in ARPU; even if your current employer doesn't measure it.
  3. Highlight your achievements that most closely match the needs of the company to where you are applying. Having many more achievements than you can fit on your resume (because it's only one page) will help you in the area in the future. On a related note, you can use Evernote to track your accomplishments.

Does this mean it will take more time to prepare each resume? Yes, it will take longer than just sending the same exact resume to everyone but you will have much better results.

You Got Fired, Admit It

So, you got fired and now you're "on the market". You're worried that you won't find a job. Someone probably told you that you will "never work again". That is simply untrue. Being fired isn't the kiss of death. You can work again.

I have hired fired people. My sample size is small, but nearly all of those have turned out to be great hires!

So, how do you pull it off?

First, you need to admit it. The most important thing is to not lie. When I ask you, "Tell me why you are no longer with Acme Company" don't hide the fact you were fired. Be honest. Plus, hiring managers and recruiters can usually tell if you're lying. And starting off an employment relationship with a lie is not very smart. If you were fired because you did not perform well, say so. Perhaps you were in the wrong role and now you're looking for a job more in line with your skills.

Secondly, you need to know how your previous employer will handle a reference check . Call and ask for a reference, or verify prior employment. It's entirely possible that you won't like the answer, but at least you'll know.

Having been fired is a red flag, but not as big of a red flag as letting the interviewer wonder if you're being honest with her.

Don't Use Your Smart Phone To Take Notes

I love new technology. I love mobile. I love apps. I'm sure you do, too. But most job-search activities are not the time to geek out with your smart phone. It's best that you don't use your phone (at all) while in the presence of interviewers or potential employers. There are two important reasons:

  • Perception - the person you are talking with will have the same physical and emotional reaction as if you were texting. When people see you take out your smart phone and start typing they think you're texting or playing Temple Run. No one thinks, "Wow, this person is being productive!".
  • Distractability - you may, even though your fully-aware mind thinks it's ridculuous, open up Facebook, Twitter, or Angry Birds. Don't tempt yourself.

And you don't want the reputation of being one of "those guys" that always has his face buried in his smart phone.

Carry a note pad and a pen with you. A small pocket notepad will do. If you need to take notes at the end of an interview, or while meeting for coffee with a potential hiring manager, you won't have to pull out your smart phone.

Answering 6 Difficult Interview Questions

The thought of going on an interview is enough to make some job seekers break out in a rash. One reason some get nervous is the fear of being asked something that they have not prepared for. And what about those really difficult questions? Many of us can recite the question we dread the most. Well, here are six questions I have asked and *observed people stressing out.

1. "Why do you want to work here?" - I want to know your interest level in this position, with this company. Is this just one of many places where you've applied? I would rather hire someone with a genuine interest in the company than someone just looking for that next paycheck. The truth might be that you want this job because it pays more or simply because you're unemployed. Although that is completely fine and understandable, that's not a good way to make a good impression.

Research the company and do your homework before your interview, point out positive things about the company and why these items interest you. In the end, employers want to know that you can fulfill a need of theirs, so balance your response with what you can do to address their need.

2. "Why should we hire you over another candidate with comparable experience?" - Here's your chance to sell me on your skills and abilities. Don't make the mistake pointing out why they shouldn't hire someone else. Focus on why they should hire you, on what you can bring to the position. Don't bash the other candidates, even if they are unknown to you.

3. "What is your biggest weakness?" - How do you tell a potential employer about your weaknesses and not damage your chances to be hired. The truth is, we all have weaknesses, even the person interviewing you. Talk about one weakness honestly and briefly. Add ways you are trying to overcome this weakness. Two more important things to keep in mind: you must answer this question, not answering it will hurt your chances considerably; don't give me one of those "my only weakness is I work too hard" or "Is it a weakness to care too much?", that's worse than not answering the question.

4. "Why do you want to leave your current employer?" - There is clearly a reason, don't hide it. Be honest. But, again, don't talk negatively about your currently company or manager.

5. "Tell me a little about yourself" - This very common question is asked in many different ways. Keep your answer brief. Do not just recite your resume. This is your interview "elevator speech", tell me how you got to this point in your career; tell me what I need to know about you.

6. "Tell me about a time when..." - Behavioral interview questions help the interviewer get at how you might respond to specific scenarios. The best way to answer these questions is to tell me about a specific time. Tell a story. Where were you? What was the situation? Don't answer these types of questions with how you feel about it. Tell me specifically what happened.

For instance, you might be asked, "Tell me about a time when you were assigned to work on a team with co-workers from other departments?" An incorrect response might be, "I always work well with teams. I find that I do my best work in teams." A much better response might start something like, "While I was an analyst at ABC Corp. I was asked to join a project team tasked with creating a new customer communication page on our web site. This project gave me the opportunity to work with many people I had not yet even met..."

The key to making these questions less stressful is preparing for them. Write out potential interview questions and some key points you'd like to get across in your responses. Once you've done that, rehearse your responses.

Three Biggest Resume Red Flags

To increase the likelihood that your resume will earn you an interview, you may want to spend as much time looking for red flags as you do documenting your achievements.

What is a red flag? A red flag is a warning, they can be seemingly insignificant things, nasty little buggers that pop up in your resume, application, or interview that, if not accounted for and dealt with, can ruin your chances.

Here are the three biggest red flags:

  1. Dates of employment without months - makes me think you are hiding something. Without adding the months it is easy to hide how long you've actually worked somewhere.
  2. Replacing the company name on your resume with a generic description of the company - again, looks like you're hiding something.
  3. No address on your resume - with all of the focus on privacy on the internet, job-seekers are getting more nervous about sharing personal information. Don't list your address on your resume and I will think, you guessed it, you're trying to hide something.

Red flags can be difficult for the subject of the resume to see. Share your resume with a trusted friend and ask the question, "What are things on my resume that might make you flinch?". If you're having a hard time finding any red flags on your resume, e-mail it to me ( I'd be happy to take a look.

Interviewing Is Not A Two-Way Street

Of all of the catch-phrases I hear uttered from job seekers and hiring managers, "interviewing is a two-way street" is the craziest. Interviewing for a job is not a two-way street.

Yes, while the interviewer is trying to determine if you will be a good fit for the company, you should be evaluating the company. Do you believe you can work for this manager? Can you picture yourself working there?

Saying that the process is a two-way street, however, implies that both parties (the one that wants the job and the one that has the job to give) have equal power. While you can decide to step out of the running, only the manager can say yes. That gives the edge to the manager.

Advantage, manager.

As a candidate, you still want to assess the company and the manager. But, don't go in to the interview thinking you have the same power as the person interviewing you.

Word Up!

I enjoy creativity by job-seekers. I love to be surprised by candidates - like receiving thank-you cards in the mail. Years ago, at the Stockton Leadership Summit (an event I truly miss), Ann Rhoades spoke about how she sent the CEO of Southwest Airlines, Herb Kelleher, her resume wrapped around a bottle of Wild Turkey - a Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey famously enjoyed by Mr. Kelleher.

That's creative. And it takes guts. Unless you have a time machine, you're Ann Rhoades, and you're sending it to Mr. Kelleher, I wouldn't recommend repeating this.

As much as I want you to be creative, don't be creative on how you write your resume.

Use Microsoft Word.


I don't care about the philosophical reasons why you won't use Microsoft products. I don't even care that you don't have Microsoft Office. The vast majority of companies use Microsoft Windows and Office.

If you must use another application, such as Google Docs, Apple's Pages, or even WordPerfect (believe it or not, WordPerfect still exists), be sure you save your resume as a file that can be easily opened Microsoft Word.

Oh, and in case you don't know the rest of the story; Ann Rhoades got the job at Southwest Airlines, had a fantastic career there and then went on to co-found JetBlue.