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TIP TUESDAY: Axe These 7 Words from Your Cover Letter

Tedious, yet mandatory: writing a cover letter to pitch your qualifications and your personality in only a few paragraphs is usually the most difficult part of applying for a job.

The worst part: as a general rule of thumb, a cover letter can make or break your likelihood to get called in for an interview.

“Cover letters give you a way to make a first impression and to directly address the key requirements of the position, helping to get you past the initial screening and encouraging the HR officer to read a little deeper,” explains business psychologist and executive career coach Kate Sullivan. “The best cover letters present you as a unique person with valuable skills, telling a story about your background and experience that lets the recruiter immediately envision you fitting into the company culture. It should always be customized to the position and its requirements and should hook your reader in like a great novel.”

The one firm rule for a cover letter is to keep it short: No more than two or three short paragraphs. And don’t revisit every single big job you’ve had, because they can see that on your resume. The cover letter exists purely to distill your achievements and put them in a new light.

Take the following advice of career experts and coaches who shed light on the type of words you should probably CTRL+F and ‘Delete’ out of your cover letter ASAP.

Never say ‘never’ – literally

While a wildly different endeavor, consider the last time you went on a bad first date. Was the person negative? Or difficult to get to know? Since your cover letter is the first introduction into who you are and what you offer, using an absolute word like ‘never’ isn’t recommended by career coach Cheryl Palmer.

She explains that some entry-level applicants or those who have recently switched direction may be tempted to over-explain their lack of experience. Instead, she says to make lemonade out of those lemons.

“Remember, if you are a new graduate or someone transitioning into a new field, it is understandable that you don’t have experience in that area yet,” she notes. “Instead talk about internships you may have had or experience that may not be directly in the field but is still relevant.”

Always avoid ‘always’

Another absolute word, that while positive, can be misleading in your cover letter. Why? The person reading it doesn’t know you, so his or her first assumption could be that you are exaggerating.

Instead, replace the ‘always’ statement with a few examples that demonstrate why you would be the ideal hire. These should include accomplishments you’ve had in other jobs, noting measurable proof that you can speak more to them when you’re called in for a face-to-face chat. This will prove your credibility and how ‘always’ on top of your game you really are.

To ‘whom’ it may concern is no one

Sullivan notes that ‘to whom it may concern’ is an outdated way to approach job applications, especially when you have the Internet. Because you can search for the names of whomever might be your future manager or the director of HR at the company you’re trying to land a gig at, addressing them anonymously appears lazy and shows you have little interest in the company.

If you can’t find the right person to address your letter to, simply ignore the opening salutation and launch straight into your letter.

Even though it’s easy to say ‘even though’ – don’t

Much like the compliment sandwiches that your mama taught you to practice when arguing with your roommate in college, setting up a sentence with ‘even though’ in your cover letter can send a Debbie Downer message to your potential employer. “I have seen cover letters where job seekers say something like, ‘Even though I have not worked with XYZ software before….’ This type of statement automatically points the reader’s attention to a deficit,” Palmer explains. Place the emphasis on what you have done, instead of what you haven’t.” For example, talk about software that you have used that serves the same purpose and/or is very similar to the software that the company is asking that job seekers have experience in.”

Really, really don’t say ‘really’

Ever have someone really, really like you, but you don’t quite really, really like them? It can be a turn-off, and the same goes for applying for a gig. Using ‘really’ may make you come across as over-eager or like you’re trying too hard. It also usually doesn’t add anything to a sentence: saying “I’m really good at Photoshop” is less effective than, “I have more than five years of experience using Photoshop daily.” Be specific instead of using generic adjectives to be sure you sound as suited for the position as you are.

Forget how you ‘feel’

True statement: you probably do feel like you’ve stumbled upon the most amazing, perfect job that you could ever, ever apply for. Also a true statement: your employer doesn’t need to know that, quite yet. In fact, having “feel” in your cover letter can make you seem less mature, secure or qualified for the opportunity; craft your cover letter in a way that makes the person reading it feel like you’re the surefire hire.

“State your qualifications as fact, and do the same with your assertion that you’ll make a good addition to the company,” Sullivan says. “Project confidence through your assertions, rather than hedging your bets by saying you feel that way, which makes it into an opinion – and opinions can easily be disregarded.”

The words “believe” and “think” can also make you sound uncertain about your abilities.

Honestly, ‘honestly’ is a big mistake

When you’re hired for a new gig, your first task is usually attending some sort of training where you learn about the ethics the company abides by. Even if you’re not saving lives or fighting fire, being honorable and trustworthy is considered a given in every workplace. So when you say ‘honestly’ – it might make you come across as insincere.

“The last thing you want is to have a recruiter questioning whether you’re telling the truth about anything on your resume or in your background,” says Sullivan. “Even in an innocuous sentence like ‘Honestly, I love accounting and can’t wait to put my skills to use for your company,’ it’s not appropriate and could backfire by sounding like you’re trying too hard to assure the recruiter of your feelings. Delete it!”

WEDNESDAY WORKFACT: The Basic Facts of Work

At 20 I wanted to save the world. Now I’d be satisfied just to save part of my salary.
– H. G. Hutcheson

When you were growing up, did anyone ever tell you the facts about work? Things like why we all have to work and why it takes most people 40+ years to be able to retire? Or were you left to discover them on your own?

The facts below will help you start looking beyond the next payday and maybe find a few good reasons to take a good, hard look at how much you love what you do for a living.

1 – The reality is that most people have to work.

Unless you inherited a trust fund or recently won the lottery — you need a way to earn money to buy the necessities and luxuries of life.

2 – If no one goes to work, the world stops.

If farmers don’t work, no one eats. If teachers don’t work, no one learns. If nurses and doctors don’t work, no one is cured. For our modern world to work, someone still has to fix the phone lines, stock the grocery shelves and refill the ATMs. So even if everyone won the lottery tomorrow, most of us would still need to show up for work.

3 – You will spend at least 60% of your life working.

That includes the time you spend at work, as well as all the time you spend preparing for it, looking for it, commuting to it and recovering from it on the weekend.

4. Even with a well-paying job, you will probably still have to work for a majority of your life.

Most people live at the highest level their income will allow. (Simply put, they spend everything that they make.) And since most people also want to live at the same level after they retire, it takes roughly 40 years to save enough to comfortably retire.

5 – You cannot earn a high income just by showing up on time and doing an average job.

People who do average jobs get paid average wages. Doing a good job earns you a good salary. But to get paid a high income, you need to offer your employer or clients work they value highly. Exactly what that is (and what you really get paid for) is not always listed in your job description.

See next week’s Workfact Wednesday for five more basic facts about work from the blog, Manifest Your Potential.com.

WORKFACT WEDNESDAY: 9 Facts About Women in the Workplace

by Lisa Raphael

1. Mom is bringing home the bacon and gluten-free, sprouted bread. More than ever before, women are the breadwinners in their household. Over 40% of moms are now the sole or primary source of income in the household. Women are now the primary or co-money maker in nearly two-thirds of American families and working married women bring home 44% of their family’s income.

2. Stay-at-home dads are seriously trending right now. It makes sense (please see above) but to put it in easy to count context: one in five fathers are now the primary caregivers in their household. Over the last 25 years, the number of households that include a stay-at-home dad + a working mom have doubled.

3. Women make up nearly half of today’s labor force. Today, 47% of the workforce is comprised of women. Compare that to 38% in 1970.

4. Women will soon be the majority of college-educated workers. The number of women attending college has been steadily on the rise since the 1960s and now the number of them who attend and graduate trumps men. In 2013, women between the ages of 25 to 34 were more than 20% more likely than men to be college grads.

5. Women are breaking education’s glass ceiling. In 1968, women made up less than 10% of entering classes for historically male-dominated programs in medicine, business and law. Now, women make up almost 50% of students in MD, JD and MBA programs. Women also earn 59% of all higher education degrees.

6. More women working has meant more money in the economy. Almost all of the rise in family income since the 1970s has been due to the earnings of women. Thanks to the growth in the women’s labor force, the median family income is $13,000 more than it was in 1970.

7. Single dad families are also on the rise. Father-only families have more than tripled in the last 40 years. Currently 7% of families with children are father-only.

8. Employers need to keep up with families’ new needs. Men and women looking for new jobs are increasingly choosing career paths or specific employers who offer more flexibility when it comes to taking time off for their children or family.

9. Better workplace conditions = stronger economy. Studies show that increasing paid leave and flexibility comes with a whole slew of benefits for both the employer and the employee. Productivity gets a boost, random days off drop, more talented workers come knocking on employers’ doors. Including the economy: making it easier for everyone to work (by providing a higher minimum wage, a better work-life balance and assistance with child and eldercare) means more money flowing and greater economic gains for businesses, individuals and families. Think about this: today’s economy would be $2 TRILLION smaller without the strides women have made since 1970.

Get more info about the Working Families Summit here and read through the White House’s official doc for more facts.

TIP TUESDAY: Finding Your Way Out of Burnout

by Denise R. Green for business know-how online

Burnout is eroding the lives of too many of today’s professionals. A landmark study by the Mayo Clinic characterized burnout as emotional exhaustion, bitter cynicism, a plummeting sense of accomplishment and “a tendency to view people as objects rather than as human beings.” Whether you suffer from all the symptoms of burnout or just one or two, know that life doesn’t have to be this way.

Brilliance occurs when you feel a sense of freedom and agency over your life — ease instead of struggle, and freedom instead of feeling trapped in a toxic body, relationship, thought pattern or job. Brilliance is the opposite of burned out, and a serious upgrade from blah. Through incremental and attainable steps, you can reignite that flame within you that has dimmed over the years.

Use these four achievable steps to turn burnout behaviors around, and to find your way back to a brilliant life that shines with purpose and fulfillment.

1. Tame your thoughts.

Getting hooked on emotionally charged narratives of anger, resentment, guilt or fear can have devastating consequences for your physical and mental well-being. It can affect your emotional and physiological circuitry in powerful ways. Upgrade your thoughts by noticing when you think the original painful thought. Catch yourself thinking it, and replace it with the reappraisal. Repeat the story over and over until it becomes an embedded belief. Use daily routines as cues to remember to repeat your upgraded thought, like brushing teeth or walking in your office door.

2. Exude confidence.

Aligning your outward appearance and actions with who and how you want to be in the world can improve both your self-perception and how others perceive you. With some observable traits, you can make changes almost instantly: getting a great haircut, improving how you dress, making eye contact and standing and sitting with good posture. Changes to your physiology can take more time and effort, such as losing weight, feeling rested and being alert. Start a strength-training practice, either with a personal trainer or at home. You’ll get both health and emotional benefits from toning your muscles and becoming more mindful of how your body feels.

3. Nurture brilliant relationships.

Toxic encounters switch on your sympathetic nervous system, putting your brain in a threat state where you’re less able to access your “intelligent” brain, the prefrontal cortex. To live a brilliant life, you must attract and nourish relationships that make you happy, healthy and more effective in your life. You need people who make you laugh, who pick you up on a bad day and who remind you of your brilliance. If you’re unhappy with your relationships, what qualities do you need to improve in yourself to build and sustain brilliant relationships? Do you need to be more appreciative? A better listener? More forgiving? Do you seek out new friends in places you like to frequent, like coffee shops or workout classes? Take steps to improve your relationships and connect with positive people.

4. Manage your relationship with technology.

Most of us don’t use technology as much as we let it use us. Technology has created a “constantly on” environment where we actually have less free time. It takes incredible willpower to resist our screens, but our addiction to technology and our mobile devices allows us less space to just be. It also zaps our productivity. If you want to have productive, fulfilling days, you must mindfully choose not to fall into the social media or news and entertainment rabbit hole. Turn off sound notifications, leave your phone behind in meetings and choose face-to-face conversations whenever possible.

Denise R. Green is a speaker, writer, and executive coach. Her new book, Work-Life Brilliance: Tools to Break Stress and Create the Life & Health You Crave (Brilliance Publishing, April 2017) is about reigniting one’s internal spark. Learn more at BrillianceInc.com.

TIP TUESDAY: What Do Employers Really Need to Know About Job Applicants?

Employers invest significant time, energy, and resources in bringing a new employee onboard.  Recruiting, screening, and interviewing processes are all done with the goal of hiring an employee who will do a job well and work well within an organization.  So what do employers need to know to hire successfully?  And what are the things employers don’t need to know?

Need to Know:

Experience.  Does the applicant have relevant work experience (or other experience)?

Education.  Will the applicant’s education help him or her do the job?

Personality.  Does the applicant have the motivation, energy, and attitude that’s needed for the job?  For the organization?  Note—employers shouldn’t always look for an applicant who will “fit in.”  Sometimes the right person for the job is someone who will shake things up, bring a new perspective, or reenergize a team or department.

Not So Much:

Credit score. It’s apparent from recent legislation on state and local levels that employers don’t need to know whether an applicant has a good credit score—at least for most jobs.  The District of Columbia is the jurisdiction that most recently enacted a law that prohibits employers from asking job applicants about their credit history.  It joins 11 states that have similar laws. Generally, the laws allow employers to inquire about an applicant’s credit history if the job involves unsupervised access to large sums of money or to customers’ financial information.

Pay history. A new state law in Massachusetts and a new ordinance in Philadelphia prohibit employers from asking about an applicant’s pay history; similar legislation is pending in other states and municipalities, including New York City, where a bill approved by the city council awaits the mayor’s signature. Basing an employee’s pay on pay history instead of the market value of the position can be a disadvantage to workers who entered the workforce at a lower pay rate; and it can perpetuate gender-based pay disparities.

Not Right Away:

Criminal history. Several states and numerous cities and counties have enacted “ban the box” laws that prohibit employers from asking about an applicant’s criminal history on a job application. Many require employers to delay these questions until after an applicant has been offered a job.

Not At All!

Protected characteristics. It’s a rare job that requires a job applicant to be of a certain age, race, color, religion, national origin, or sex (think female actor for a female role). If employers ask for information, it’s because they want the information. And if they want the information, it’s because they’re going to use the information.  At least, that’s what the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) “generally presumes” about an employer’s questions.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits employers from asking questions that are likely to elicit information about a disability before a conditional job offer has been extended.  Employers should avoid questions about an applicant’s history of using sick leave, history of hospitalizations, workers’ comp claims, etc.  Questions should be limited to whether the applicant can perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodation.

To get the information it needs while avoiding information that’s irrelevant (and possibly unlawful), an employer should focus on the qualifications for the job in question and make inquiries that will help it evaluate how the applicant’s skills and experience align with those qualifications.