Simple Cover Letter Formula

Cover Letters should be short, meaningful and additive to your resume data, not duplicative.  Here is a quick formula so you don’t get stuck on creating cover letters:

  • copy the entire job description into a word document.
  • rank each bullet in their job description using a 1, 2, 3*
  • write a response to each bullet that is ranked with a 1 (and maybe the 2s as well if you don’t have many 1s.)
  • work from your resume so you don’t forget relevant experiences.
  • Start your cover letter with a strong statement about you and your strengths. Follow with a few key things you know and like about the job and or the company.
  • use your written responses as the second, and main, paragraph of your cover letter – you will likely need to edit them to make them into shorter phrases so your cover letter stays short and on point.
  • only edit the whole cover letter after you insert all the phrases.
  • word-smithing as you go takes a lot of time so edit the transition words and filler at the very end of your drafting process so you don’t bog down with the minutiae.
  • Finish with a good selling statement as to why you are great for this job and how you can hit the ground running.

*1=I definitely have done exactly that. 2=I have done something similar. 3=I haven’t but I could probably learn it.

resume writer

The Art of the Follow Up Question

follow up questions

I can’t emphasize this enough.  When an interviewer asks you if you have questions, you need to have questions.  Once they have answered them, PLEASE delve further with a follow-up question.  Further inquiry shows you listened to what they said, processed it, and are genuinely interested to hear more.  Always engage with a follow-up question. This is where the meat of any conversation is, and it is how you build meaningful relationships.  Think of it like a tennis game with a good friend.  The rally is the best part of the game.  There is joy in the ball going back and forth. You don’t want to drop shot your friend and finish the point unnecessarily abruptly.  Use the follow up question – the who, what, when, where, why and how questions are easy to think up on the fly and interject – to perpetuate the dialogue and really get to know the person, the company and the job.

Use this technique in informational interviews as well. You should prepare 10-20 questions to ask, but you won’t have the rejoinder questions prepared.  Those will come from listening deeply to their answers and being genuinely interested to hear more.  And if you aren’t interested, be polite, fake it, and pay attention – this may not be the job or line of work for you if disinterest is your response as you talk to several people in a certain field.  Better to know this now than make a career choice based on an ideal you had about a certain career path. Listen to others, but know yourself.  Two big factors in career success for the long-term.


Great…the Enemy of Consistently Good…


When parenting children and coaching new graduates in their jobs, I try to emphasize good as the goal – good as in good enough — as in your things are on time, reasonably clean, and your mind is clear and your conscience is unblemished. “Great” is like those Japanese salt/sesame/seaweed mixes – it’s a seasoning – you sprinkle it – you never let it overwhelm your commitment to good – you will work your whole life to get that balance.  Consistently good trumps sporadically great every time.

The Truth About How College Students View Career Advising…

Foggy road

Here are the ugly facts:

  • 80 percent of students say that job prospects are a key reason why they choose to go to college/choose a particular college.
  • However, only 35 percent of students nearing graduation feel prepared for a career by senior year.
  • And, only 20% of students nationwide make use of their career services/advising office during their time at college.

This is according to a Gallup/Strada joint poll recently quoted in The Atlantic magazine.

Affluent students shared that they typically network with family and friends.  First generation students often lack these contacts and are left high and dry if they don’t access their college/university’s resources. On a bright note, 50 percent of all students network at some point with their professors, staff in their department, and/or fellow students. However, those staff, faculty and friends have no formal training for advising students. So, these students may gain insight or networking leads, but they are still lacking in the concrete training for basics like a strong resume and networking tools such as emails, phone and face-to-face meeting skills.

I often write about how where you go to college matters less than what you make of it.  Since many if not most families see a college education as THE gateway to a job/career, it does beg the question, shouldn’t your child have some kind of introduction to a career planning strategy before they matriculate and during the four years? Why pay for a college education if job access is a major component of what you seek and your child does not have the insight, motivation, or know-how to access career advice? How will they develop the plan that will allow them to attain the ultimate brass ring from their four years of hard work in a college or university setting? Much of my career consulting is based on giving students and their families a short, affordable tutorial on how to have a great time in college while pursuing the building blocks that will lead to a successful career plan as they reach graduation.  We start with baby steps and during the four years we can revist, augment and expand on the plan as the student’s maturity coalesces and their interests and talents become more fleshed out.






Take Someone To Coffee – Great Gift For A Young Adult


Want to inspire a young adult in your life to get out there and try networking?  Write a short note to them about a networking success you’ve had in your life, enclose a gift card from a major chain like Peet’s or Starbucks or Panera, and encourage them to take someone to coffee! Every time I have done this my students have been encouraged by the story I’ve shared. Not only have they followed through by having a networking session of their own, but they have kept in touch to thank me and tell me about their networking adventure.  It’s a small gift that will inspire the next generation!


Appointments-Simple Rules to Make Sure You Stay On Top of Your Calendar

coffee contact email hands

“Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today.” How many times do we say that maxim to ourselves and then blow off responding to an invitation or getting a confirmed appointment into our calendar?  I’m guilty of it, and I am sure I am not the only person.  The reason for blowing off this step is often benign.  First, invites come in at random times.  Often I am not at my calendar – worse, I keep 2-3 calendars: one for at home use by my whole family, second is my phone calendar which pings at me so often I am inured to reminders even if I did calendar them — and so I often ignore it. Lastly,  I have a daily planner which I love because I can take all my notes in it, however I often don’t have it when I am running errands or joining a friend for dinner-key times when new appointments might come up.  Sound familiar? Maybe you have a fantastic memory and don’t feel you need to write things down.  Younger people are particularly guilty of this because they have fewer kids, pets, direct reports, etc. and they have not yet been smoked by enough missed appointments to be cured of this bad habit.

So, here is my simple recommendation – Get ONE calendar! There, I said it.  ONE – and keep that updated meticulously (my phone calendar is that ONE calendar).  You can have others, but just don’t rely on those. NEXT: make a time of day when you calendar all your appointments and when you check the next day’s commitments. You may THINK you aren’t capable of becoming a meticulous calendar checker, BUT:  you probably brush teeth, eat meals and sleep at quite specific times of day most days of the year.  So, yes you are capable of doing this. If you have an established habit – like making a coffee in the morning or teeth brushing – link calendar checking to the established habit. This “pairing” will fast forward you quickly to building the calendaring habit.

Lastly — this may sound like a grandmotherly etiquette lesson but you MUST practice confirming appointments and in the following specific format… and in a timely fashion.  The best way to send a confirmation is to repeat back all details in your response, including how best to reach you if they have a problem.  Example: “Looking forward to seeing you August 15, 2018 at 2 PM upstairs at the Starbucks in Copley Square, Boston. My cell is 617-905-8568 if you need to text or call me for any reason.”  In this exact format, most email programs from Gmail to Yahoo will create a hyperlink of your data and you can automatically get this appointment into your online or phone calendar without any more typing. The person you are meeting can do the same, and if there were any confusion about date, time or place, you can avoid the problem NOW as they will likely i.d. the problem immediately.  Again, it seems very “Emily Post” to do it this way – but etiquette is often designed to be very practical. That is why Emily lives on into the technological age even if embossed calling cards are a Dickensian frivolity of the past.

Calendars can seem tedious, time consuming, and something you do after you get your “real” work done.  You may feel that really talented people memorize their calendar and don’t need to go to the trivial step of writing things down. This could not be further from the truth. Your calendar and how you maintain it is the front line showcase of your organizing ability and your integrity.  It is one of the very MOST important tasks you will do every day. NEVER treat it as a secondary or tertiary item on your to-do list. How you fulfill your commitments is THE key statement of how reliable you are in the world. And…this should make you feel GREAT.  You do NOT need to be the smartest student or worker. You do NOT need to be the coolest, the handsome-ist, the richest.  You just have to treat others well and make time a few minutes every day to know where you need to be and when.  A small hurdle that will vault you to being an outstanding employee, family member and friend.

Photo by JÉSHOOTS on

Do You Control Your Time or Does It Control You?


Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Mee-high Cick-sent-mee-high) is one of the most famous psychologists studying the basis for happiness.  His break through work, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, draws from the works of Carl Jung, Epictitus, Viktor Frankl and other great thinkers who have pondered what aspects of our psyche control our thoughts.  A major determinant of “flow” is taking on challenges that are “just right”–neither too complex and potentially demoralizing, nor too easy and likely to be boring.  Of course, as we master just right tasks we can increase the complexity and grow in our mastery.  Managing our time is a major factor in taking on these exercises in flow. In the current state of the world, most of us spend an awful lot of time feeling like we are trapped in a batting cage with tasks coming at us as if they are being delivered by a major-league pitcher.  We must fight our initial resistance to managing these inputs in a reactive way and instead set up some system that allows us to break down the tasks into their most basic components, prioritizing and tackling our commitments to free up blocks of time where we can get into flow.

A system I have advocated for decades is taking the time to break tasks down into meaningful but manageable “chunks.” This is a time-honored technique for tackling tasks…particularly those that are too complex and overwhelming.  If you find that you are easily overwhelmed, it is very likely that you are not breaking a project down into small enough chunks.  Try it! Faced with a job search? Go micro – commit to getting just the paper for your resume, then design the header. Leave it for a day and go on to other things. Come back to it and chunk a bit more, maybe you can do your education bullets or accomplishments from your first job. Additionally it helps to think in terms of categories of tasks you need to tackle regularly: computer-based work, phone calls, tidying, spreadsheet updates.  To get more things done without a feeling of overwhelm, pick an item from each category and get it done rather than trying to work on multiple items from one category. The variety will alleviate your feelings of oppression at the magnitude of the work. And again, if you have a sense of fear or foreboding, your tasks are probably a compilation of too many steps and you need to “chunk” these tasks into smaller more achievable components.

Fielding incoming to dos, analyzing what needs to be done, and then calendaring your commitments is the bedrock of productivity. David Allen, author of Getting Things Done, offers one of the better systems out there for freeing yourself from reactivity and owning your time as you pursue your projects. There are many summaries of his work, but the biggest takeaways I find are:

1) stress comes from knowing what to do but breaking that commitment to yourself and others; stress rarely comes from a lack of actual time.

2) Filing each and every to do in an accessible  system that you review at the appropriate moment is a critical component of managing your work and life.

3) Items that are not in a place where you can access them effectively and have no next action decided AND attached to them will weigh on your mind.

3)Deciding on and then noting down the next step you must take for each to do will alleviate ruminating and significantly reduce your angst.

4) Take each to do through a decision-tree process: upon receipt if it takes less than 2 minutes to complete, do it immediately. Otherwise, decide: does it get delegated or deferred? If it gets deferred, either calendar it if it has a specific do date OR place it on a list of to dos with a specific next step written next to it.

4)Make a regular time to review your lists daily and commit to stop breaking your commitments: make a time to do those things that are due.

When you free time up for flow by establishing tasks in chunks that are manageable to complete and then field and file future to dos in a calendar system that works for you, you will free yourself from much of the worry associated with managing your time. At that point YOU will control your time — it will cease to control you.