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!”

TIP TUESDAY: Take on an Investigator’s Mindset When Interviewing Applicants

by Tadd Downs for SHRM online

As a career criminal investigator, my job for the past 25 years has been to put bad guys in jail. Yes, I know this has nothing to do with human resources, and I am sure you are asking, “Why is a criminal investigator writing an article for an HR publication?” It’s simple: An investigator and an HR professional have more in common than you may think.

The more I speak to HR folks, the more I am convinced they could benefit from what I call an “investigator’s mindset.”

In essence, both sets of professionals conduct investigations. The law enforcement investigator does so to solve crimes, while the HR professional investigates applicants and candidates before hiring them. This can be challenging and frustrating. If the HR investigation is done right, a qualified employee is hired. If it’s done wrong, the employer ends up with a problem employee. However, avoiding a bad hire is easier said than done.

During a candidate interview, the HR professional ideally tries to have an open and honest conversation with the applicant so that the former can make an informed business decision. However, scientific studies show that applicants often lie in interviews to obtain a job. In addition, applicants may go to great lengths to try to impress the interviewer.

In my research, I’ve found that interviewers are often poorly prepared to detect a job seeker’s misleading statements. Here is where using the investigator’s mindset can help the HR professional.

Criminal investigators are experts at what I call creating a “psychologically safe” environment. When an HR professional uses an investigator’s mindset for hiring, he or she needs to:

  • Become a student of nonverbal communication.
  • Recognize the seven universal emotions.
  • Properly prepare.
  • Lower the cognitive load.
  • Listen aggressively.

Become a Student of Nonverbal Communication

Investigators know that they can’t rely on “gut instinct” but on facts. One way to do this is by becoming a student of nonverbal communication. By becoming a student of nonverbal communication, the HR professional can look beyond any impression an applicant tries to make. An excellent and easy-to-observe example of this is when an applicant answers a question verbally with “no,” but their nonverbal display—nodding their head—indicates “yes.”

Understand the Seven Universal Emotions

There are seven universal emotions shared by cultures throughout the world, according to a series of experiments by Dr. Paul Ekman, a professor emeritus in psychology at the University of California.

These emotions are anger, contempt, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness and surprise. Recognizing these emotions can allow the interviewer to determine whether what a candidate says coincides with what he or she is feeling. For example, an interviewer can ask, “How well did you get along with your previous supervisor?” If the applicant displays emotions such as contempt, disgust or anger, yet indicates they had a “great relationship,” the applicant’s emotions do not support his or her words. However, if the interviewer sees happiness during the applicant’s answer to the same question, the emotions and the verbal response are congruent.

Properly Prepare for the Interview

Interviewing takes preparation and practice. Setting aside time to prepare allows the interviewer to:

  • Avoid confirmation bias, which is a tendency to look for information that confirms one’s beliefs or hypotheses about a candidate, while neglecting information that might contradict that bias.
  • Avoid truth bias, which is the tendency for interviewers to want to believe others, despite evidence to the contrary.
  • Avoid overconfidence bias, which is the tendency for an interviewer to believe that his or her ability to interview is better than it actually is.

Lower Your Cognitive Load

Cognitive load refers to the amount of mental effort being used in one’s working memory. When your cognitive load is great, it impairs your ability to assess what it is you’re seeing and hearing. In layman’s terms, if too much is going on in your mind, you’re not able to conduct a successful interview. Your cognitive load will place a “road block” in the way of adequately interviewing your applicants.

The primary way an interviewer can reduce cognitive load is by recording the interview. This will replace the need to take notes.

Aggressive Listening

The late Stephen Covey said it best in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People (Free Press, 1989). “Most people listen with the intent to reply, not to understand.” Thumb-twiddling, rubbing of the legs or hands, and self-hand-holding are a few examples. Maintaining eye contact is one way to listen aggressively to an applicant. Eye contact shows interest in what the candidate is saying, and scientific studies have shown that by maintaining eye contact, you are better able to recall what has been communicated.

The Power of Silence

Lastly, use the power of silence—your silence. After all, if you are talking, you are not listening.

Tadd Downs has over 25 years experience conducting interviews and investigations with the Virginia State Police, then 21 years as a special agent with the U.S. Secret Service. He is the author of Using the Investigator’s Mindset: How HR Professionals Can Interview Like an Investigator to Avoid Bad Hires, (self-published, 2017) in which he takes an in-depth look at the applicant interviewing process.

TIP TUESDAY: What is an HR Professional’s Greatest Skill?

Klein Aleard, who writes for the Namely blog, interviewed several HR professionals to get the answer to the above question, and others. To read the rest of the interview, click here to visit the blog.

What would you consider to be the greatest skill an HR professional can possess?

“Empathy. Human resources is in a unique position. They are employees and responsible for an ‘employee’ department. HR has the ability to create an employment experience based on the experience they would love as an employee. Unfortunately, it’s not always that simple and other things are involved, but it would be great if HR had the latitude to use empathy and create the ultimate employee experience.” – Sharlyn Lauby, @HRBartender

“The greatest skill an HR pro can have is being able to evaluate talent, then taking that evaluation to the level of development where they can work with hiring managers to better their teams. For me, that starts first with being able to self-evaluate. What is it that you’re really good at, and what is it that you really need to improve?  If you can’t answer that in yourself, I find you probably can’t answer that in other people.”  – Tim Sackett, @TimSackett

“The greatest characteristics for someone in HR are: (1) Be authentic and genuine—employees want someone they can trust and go to, (2) Consistency—model the behavior you expect in others and you’ll see that HR becomes a lot more fluid and less structured and (3) Be connected—HR people tend to work in isolation and they should do their best to be connected to the greater HR community through social media platforms and organizations like SHRM.” – Steve Browne, @Sbrownehr

TIP TUESDAY: How to Demonstrate Respect in the Workplace

{excerpted from the article by the same name at the balance online}

Ask anyone in your workplace what treatment they most want from their bosses and coworkers at work. They will likely top their list with the desire for their employer and coworkers to treat them as if they have dignity and with respect.

Respect is when you feel admiration and deep regard for an individual. You believe that the person is worthy of your regard and admiration because of the good qualities and capabilities that they bring to your workplace.

After feeling the respect and regard, you demonstrate them by acting in ways that show you are aware of your colleagues as people who deserve respect. As such, you recognize that they have rights, opinions, wishes, experience, and competence.

Tips for Demonstrating Respect

You can demonstrate respect with simple, yet powerful actions. These ideas will help you avoid needless, insensitive, unmeant disrespect, too.

  • Treat people with courtesy, politeness, and kindness.
  • Encourage coworkers to express opinions and ideas.
  • Listen to what others have to say before expressing your viewpoint. Never speak over, butt in, or cut off another person.
  • Use people’s ideas to change or improve work. Let employees know you used their idea, or, better yet, encourage the person with the idea to implement the idea.
  • Never insult people, name call, disparage or put down people or their ideas.
  • Do not nit-pick, constantly criticize over little things, belittle, judge, demean or patronize. A series of seemingly trivial actions, added up over time, constitutes bullying.
  • Be aware of your body language, the tone of voice, and your demeanor and expression in all of your interactions at work. People, who are radar machines, are hearing what you’re really saying in addition to listening to your words.
  • Treat people the same no matter their race, religion, gender, size, age, or country of origin. Implement policies and procedures consistently so people feel that they are treated fairly and equally. Treating people differently can constitute harassment or a hostile work environment.
  • Include all coworkers in meetings, discussions, training, and events. While not every person can participate in every activity, do not marginalize, exclude or leave any one person out. Provide an equal opportunity for employees to participate in committees, task forces, or continuous improvement teams. Solicit volunteers and try to involve every volunteer.
  • Praise much more frequently than you criticize. Encourage praise and recognition from employee to employee as well as from the supervisor.
  • The golden rule does apply at work, or, as professional speaker Leslie Charles, says, “Implement the platinum rule: treat others as they wish to be treated.”

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.