Cover letters: outdated?

For many decades, the job application process was formulaic to the point of being violently boring. Construct resume. Attach references. Draft cover letter. Submit package via mail or in person.

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The internet has of course changed the job search considerably through the years. For job hunters, online applications can take mere minutes to complete, physical paperwork has gone the way of the dinosaur, and “yes/no” clicks have replaced introductory phone interviews.

For employers, things are also very different. For starters, anyone with web access can learn about job openings and apply. That means that a position – say, an entry-level IT position – that would have received a few dozen responses in years past may now result in thousands of interested job hunters filling out online applications.

If you’re in human resources or internal recruiting, that means a large percentage of your time is shuffling through the (some unqualified, some unprepared, some out-of-area) masses to find those few diamonds in the rough that may one day make superstar employees.

In light of all this new way of doing businesses, cover letters have become less common. Companies just don’t require them as often as they used to. So of course the question is: should I include a cover letter?

Answer: Always include a cover letter if the employer requests one. Otherwise, include a cover letter only if you are certain it adds value to your application.

If you aren’t sure how to decide whether your cover letter is valuable, here are some helpful questions to ask yourself. Work through this list and you’ll develop a good idea of what your cover letter should do (and not do!) and whether you feel comfortable drafting one that fits into these guidelines.

Am I just repeating the information in my resume?

Nobody wants to read your resume twice, and if it looks like you’re repeating yourself you’ve just increased your odds of heading for the discard pile. It’s okay to identify your school or GPA again, but your work history, relevant coursework, and contact information belong on your resume only. Your cover letter should:

  • Tell an interesting story about yourself. Get a reader’s attention by revealing details about your interests and work ethic through an experience.
  • Explain why you’re the ideal candidate for the job. If you’re one in a dozen, or a hundred, or a thousand applicants, what makes you the one? Don’t make somebody figure that out for themselves. Explain it!

Does this look like everyone else’s cover letters?

If the answer is yes, discard and start from scratch. That same formulaic model isn’t going to help you land a job. That doesn’t mean your cover letter should look silly, but you’ve got to find a way to show that you’re an actual human being and not just a PDF.

Does this cover letter say “I really, really want this job?”

If not, you’re missing the point. This is your chance to sell yourself not just as qualified, but as interested and as a good fit for the company. In the end, candidates who just throw applications at every available position aren’t going to do very well, because organizations will quickly weed them out in favor of people who want this specific position.

If you can write a cover letter that hits all these high notes, absolutely submit it. If not, you may just be better off letting your resume stand on its own.

Looking for an internship in RI? Start your search at bridge.jobs.

Critical questions to ask in an interview [Students]

Whether you’re new to interviewing or a seasoned pro looking for a career transition, there’s one consistently tricky interview element with which everyone struggles: the candidate questions. Leaving an interview without asking any questions has two downfalls: 1) you will appear disinterested in the job and 2) you will not get the best representation of whether or not the job is a good fit for you.

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Your questions should give you real insight into the company, its employees, or both. This isn’t an opportunity to show off your question-preparing skills, it’s a chance to dig deep, demonstrate your interest, and help determine whether this is truly a good fit! These are our top suggestions:

“What do your most successful new hires do in their first week/month/year?”

This is a question that helps you to hit the ground running, successfully. It’s an “if I knew then what I know now” question, designed to help you bypass the mistakes others have made. It’s also a good way to demonstrate to a potential employer that you’re willing to walk in the path of other superstar employees, and that you realize there are right and wrong turns.

“How do you provide feedback to new hires during their on-ramp period?”

This is a question that will help you to elicit feedback from your new employer, because it shows that you want that feedback. Additionally, you’ll be able to ascertain the names and ranks of everyone who will be evaluating you, which is important information as you’re learning your new job.

“What are the biggest risks that you anticipate will come with this role?”

This is your chance to gauge the real risks that come with this position. Perhaps more importantly: you’ll quickly be able to determine whether these folks are transparent about their weaknesses. If they are, massive points in their favor! If you can’t get a reasonable answer here, ask follow-up questions. This is information that you need in order to make a good decision.

“Why did you decide to work here?”

This question redirects the attention to your interviewer, which is a terrific technique that will help your panel (or a solo interviewer) to remember you. It gives you amazing insight into a successful employee’s thought process, but it also gets your interviewer out of sync and forces the conversation into more natural territory. This is a can’t-miss question.

“Tell me about what helps to motivate you here, as a seasoned employee? What do you like the most?”

Same line of questioning as the previous question, but with a bit more probing. Stay loose here, so that you can follow up with additional questions when necessary. Keep things conversational and ask about training opportunities, incentive programs, and feedback. Talk about the management characteristics you think are most important, and ask your interviewer what she thinks. You’ll build cameraderie, learn a lot, and solidify your position as a memorable interview.

The candidate question segment is where you have, for just a few moments, the power in this interview. Use it! Direct the conversation as you’d like to, catch your interviewer off-guard, and learn as much as you can.

Ready to start searching for an internship in Rhode Island? View hundreds of listing at bridge.jobs.

When should I start my full-time job search?

Let’s start with the single best tip there is: start your job search early.

With that out of the way, there’s plenty more to talk about! How should you tackle this job search thing? What’s the correct timeline, where do you direct your attention first, and which employers deserve your time and effort?

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The big corporations

These are the guys that target recent grads in large waves. They have training programs, career fairs, on-campus interviews, and careful vetting processes to track down the skill sets that interest them most. If you’re in the pool of candidates they’ll consider, you need to start applying in the fall. Expect a long application process, followed by a long interview process, followed by a long on-ramp procedure when you start. See the trend? The bigger the company, the slower the movement.

The smaller businesses

If you want to apply for positions with smaller, local businesses, non-profits, or independently owned startups, your search will start later during your senior year. Hiring processes will likely take place in the Spring, because applications, interviews, and training move quickly.

Finding your targets

Hit the career fairs at your school first, and sign up for on-campus interviews if those are an option. This is where companies head first to scoop up new hires. Make sure you get a pair of professional eyes on your resume first, and check in with the Career Services Office to make sure you know about each and every one of these events well ahead of time.

Next, you should target companies and organizations that interest you, whether actively hiring or not. Draft a compelling cover letter that explains why that specific employer interest you. Know that you’re going to receive few responses, but try anyway. Successful job seekers leave no stone unturned!

Stay organized

When you start your job search, track application deadlines, submission dates, and dates of responses on a spreadsheet or organizational app of your choice. Keeping track of dozens (or more) of applications can get confusing, so treat the job search like it is a job. Take it seriously, and your diligence will pay off.

Did you know as many as 60% of internships turn  into full-time job offers? Start your search for internships in Rhode Island at www.bridge.jobs.

 

How long should an internship last? [Employers]

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In order to make internships as advantageous as possible for both you and the new professionals you’re helping to develop, scheduling is key. Most internships are about three months in duration, but that has the potential to vary based on the school’s academic schedule or the employer’s needs. Although some schools work on a trimester or quarter schedule, the vast majority are in a standard split semester, with a winter and spring semester separated by winter and summer breaks. Typical options will be:

  • Fall (September-December) which will terminate at the beginning of Winter break. This is a full semester internship.
  • Winter (November-January), terminating at the start of the Spring Semester. The work schedule will typically start before Thanksgiving break and the intern will maintain a work schedule through both major breaks, making this an ideal option for students who take a course overload (over 15 hours) or work long hours at other jobs.
  • Spring (January-May) terminates at the start of summer break and represents the other typical, full-semester internship option.
  • Summer (May-August) is often the best opportunity for full-time students who can’t accommodate additional obligations during the school year. Considering that summer is likely business as usual for you, this could be the best option if you want to offer a once-annual internship available to the largest candidate pool or if you are interested in full-time interns only.

Although semester-long internships are a typical offering, there are no hard rules regarding the duration of your relationship!

If things are going well and everyone is benefiting from the experience, you can offer your intern an extension through the following semester (using the guidelines above) or even offering part or full-time work. You have, after all, been training this new professional on all of the job skills that you expect from an employee – why not continue to benefit?

Make sure to ask your internship candidates about academic and work obligations that could interfere with their schedule, and try your best to be flexible. Interns often have myriad obligations that can be tricky to balance. In the end, your work with your interns has great potential for both of you!

Ready to start your search for an intern? Post your opportunity for free on bridge.jobs.

Getting a job with little to no experience

For the average recent grad or entry-level professional, the job search can feel like a lot of closed doors and very few opportunities. The biggest hurdle? Getting past the experience threshold – the minimum level of experience required for a job candidate.

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If it seems like every position you come across requires years of experience, we’ve all been there! But you aren’t the first entry-level employee looking for work, so we’ve compiled some tricks and tips to help you land that first job.

Limit your search

If most of the positions you see on online job boards, through your career services office, or via recruiters require way too much experience, it’s time to narrow that search.

When searching online postings, narrow your parameters to 0-1 years of experience. Don’t be tempted to browse the listings that pay amazing salaries or have the coolest job titles. Look only at the positions that target your demographic. No entry-level work on that site? Move along, there are other options out there.

Make sure you sign up for daily updates on all of the major job boards. If your updates primarily feature positions for senior-level candidates, check your settings. If that doesn’t help, unsubscribe.

Polish your resume

Your resume is a piece of paper (yes, one page) that highlights your skills, education, and experience, and does so in a way that makes employers and HR administrators take notice. That means you should put some serious time into making it shine.

  • Make sure you’re changing up your resume for each position, highlighting skills and keywords featured in the job posting. If, for instance, you’re applying for a job as an Accounting Assistant, your resume should highlight accounting and computing coursework as well as relevant interests, professional memberships, and internships. If you apply for a job tomorrow as an Office Manager, that same resume should look different! Now, it should feature your organizational skills, computer literacy, and friendly demeanor.
  • Get some professional eyes on your resume. Your school’s Career Services office will offer some type of resume review, so take advantage. Don’t worry. They’ve seen it all.
  • Highlight relevant coursework, especially if your professional experience is limited. Show off a good GPA, honor societies, awards, internships, and extra curricular activities. Feature your education section first and then your relevant work experience!

Intern, volunteer, network

We’ve said it before and we’ll keep saying it – there is simply no better way to find work. Show up for volunteer opportunities all over town. Shake hands, kiss babies. If you have time to do unpaid internships, do them. Do lots of them, and talk to your internship supervisor about what exactly you need to do to land a job when you’ve finished. Ask relatives, friends, former employers, and classmates for help finding work. Humble yourself and put in the time.

Landing that first job is a struggle, and it can feel impossible for an inexperienced recent grad. But the job search is tough – that is the nature of things! In the end, your first day of work will make it all worthwhile.

Want to take the internship route to landing a full-time opportunity. Find opportunities all across Rhode Island at bridge.jobs.