Does a cover letter still matter?


Why write a cover letter?

A lot of people ask me what is the point of writing a cover letter anymore? Do they even get read? Can’t I just send a resume?  …and be done with it? Well, short answer is yes, you can just send a resume. But why miss out on the chance to show them that, not only do your skills match the job description (…making you short-listable – scroll down to earlier blog: “Are You Short-listable”) but also show them that your career aspirations and intentions are also a match. That is the sweet spot. That is what recruiters are looking for! We can see from your skills that you can do the job, but what we really want to know is will you??? Your cover letter/email will show whether or not your career intentions and aspirations also fit.

Some recruiters read cover letters, and some don’t. It’s not a “one size fits all” kind of question. As a recruiter, I read your cover letters, because I want as much information on you as possible. I’m working hard to ensure that once you take the job on, you stay and give my client a return on their investment. And I don’t mean stay 3 months. It takes time to master any given role. My expectation is that you’re going to stay at that company 3-5 years. And you won’t stay, if you haven’t done your homework on your goals and the company, by ensuring that this is the exact opportunity you want and need to take your career to the next level. Which is, btw, the desired win-win for everyone concerned. The candidate gets to develop deeper subject matter expertise and further their individual goals, and the employer doesn’t have to deal with costly, disruptive revolving-door talent. So yes, I’m checking out all your stuff, your cover letter, your LinkedIn profile, your recommendations, your resume, your interests.

How to write a cover letter?

Thrown down your first draft. Just get it done.

Start with a greetingintroduce yourself, and offer some context for why you are writing them. Expect the first draft to be rough, and too long.

Then, three short paragraphs: The 1st paragraph should address the match between your skills and this job (refer to earlier blog called “Are You Short-Listable?”. The 2nd paragraph, you can use to showcase your “value-adds” … attributes or skills or knowledge that maybe even aren’t required, but the company would benefit from anyway, like languages you can speak, what your management style is like…offer up some qualifiers here on you, as a person. The last paragraph is usually used to tie it all together and deliver your business case… why you, why now, why this role, and why are you applying to this particular company?

Pro Tip 1: Once your draft is complete, you need to do a serious edit: go through your letter, and take out every single word that you can. This will lighten it up, create white space/balance, and most importantly, reduce the amount of work the person has to do, in reading your letter. Think concise! Think brevity! You only have 8 seconds to get and keep their attention… Don’t neglect to run a spell and grammar check. When your edit is done, go back over the salutation and sign-off, and ensure they are not overly formal. Think social … salutations/introductions and sign offs are warmer, more informal these days. Take the opportunity to connect in a meaningful way with your reader. Authenticity rules! So out with the old “to whom it may concern” and in with something warm, friendly, generous, polite, organized, engaging…

Pro Tip 2: If you have branded letterhead, use it. If you don’t, think about creating a cover letter template for yourself, that matches your overall brand/resume (formatting, fonts, graphics, icons…any visuals). Save the cover letter AND your resume in one file, in PDF format, and call the file “lastname,firstnameCoverCompanyname.pdf”. You’ll look organized, polished, and most important, by naming the file with your last and first names, you are searchable by name in your recruiter’s computer!

Usually the best times of the year for job search are September through to end of November in Canada, and January – June. 416.533.6788


How to get hired from a cold call

How to Go From “Stranger” to “Hired!”

Job Search is a process: it’s hard to break through to people you don’t know, and it’s harder still to get past applicant tracking systems. But there are practical ways to improve on your outreach and get hired… 

It’s a seemingly universal thing, that people fear, or at best, suspect,“l’Étranger”. And I find that to be a particularly sad reality…after all, we’re all professionals in our given industries. In my world view, business inquiries should actually be welcomed amongst professionals. But not everyone is a true professional. If a person you are reaching out to doesn’t know you, or know someone you know, they can easily disregard your outreach.

It’s always best to go in with an introduction from a third party peer/colleague you both know, or, get a referral from a friend/colleague who is willing to lend their name (read: “social proof”) to help you forge a connection with someone new in your network when you’re looking to get hired.

That said, you don’t always have a third party, and need to “go in cold”. Some people try once, try twice, some even try to get hold of a person in their network three times, and don’t get any response. And (by rights) they feel burned. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve heard industry people complain “…well, I applied to X company three times, and have never heard back from them…”

The trick, I find, is that job search is truly an ongoing process – it is not a finite exercise. You apply once, don’t hear back, feel rejected, and never try again. If you take this “finite” approach, you are doing yourself an incredible disservice.

Networking literally requires a series of “marketing touchdowns” to get in front of the right person, at the right time, for the right reasons. Every business call I take, is from someone who doesn’t know me, who might be interested in my services. So I respond/follow up, and we have “the career chat”. I give them something to think about, and usually encourage a concrete action, like doing the goals exercise on my website, and encourage them to send the results to me. Then, I follow up on their goals with some concrete advice on how to move forward. Slowly, they learn to put aside their automatic distrust, hear me, and we further the conversation. Eventually, they trust me enough to hire me, and we proceed along with the business relationship. The one thing I know for sure, is that the business transaction is not going to happen over the first call or two. It needs to be nurtured.

The same applies to job search. All relationships, professional or personal, need to be nurtured. You need to orchestrate a small handful of opportunities that allow you to interact — give the relationship the chance to develop a little, offer some professional input or guidance, give it some time to sink in, and gently nudge the exchange towards “next steps” and get hired.

Pro Tip 1: A note on “professionals” …In my experience, professionals return their calls, respond to emails, and always further the conversation, as they intrinsically understand the value of making contacts and information sharing. Professionals facilitate for each other. That’s what they do. If they don’t, I argue, they’re not terribly professional — wouldn’t you agree?

 Pro Tip 2: A note on “professionalism” …Don’t be shy to take your rightful place professionally. You can be an entry-level professional, a mid-management professional, or a senior management professional. But by all means, “own” being a professional, and being part of your professional community. You need not ask for permission to belong–you already do! Your education and experience allow you to be a card-carrying member of your professional community. Remember that. Professionals always appreciate professionalism… AKA, what goes around, comes around. 

For handy job search resources, click here. | 416.533.6788


How to build your network and maintain career relationships

It’s not just “all about who you know”, it’s equally about “how you work it”…

It’s very important to build your network –- and managing and leveraging those contacts  consistently, over time, through online and offline networking, is also mission critical. And unless you’re retiring anytime soon, networking is a lifelong process.

Obviously, LinkedIn is the “go-to platform” to build connections. But I take it a step further, by managing a separate contacts database that, in practice, has worked remarkably well for me. …You know how people say, “you should contact so and so, at X company”? Well, I reverse that process, and I concentrate on the company first. In my contacts database, I track my business contacts in the following order, and this is how I get access to “the hidden job market!”:

  1. I list companies alphabetically (to make them searchable at a moment’s notice in my database).
  2. Next, I note the company mandate. Usually, to gather this info, I review their “About” page, and make a point to read any recent news releases or blogs. I note what services/product are they providing, for what markets, and why? I note what their recent successes are, or business directions… Short notes, that I can refer to quickly in a phone call, that keep me current on the company and its role in its own industry.
  3. Then, I identify the name of the business unit in the company that I want to do business with (it could be the executive, PR, HR, Finance, Marketing, Production – whichever business unit your skills & knowledge apply to). I further research stakeholders within that business unit on LinkedIn. I go looking (primarily) for decision makers in the area I want to do business with, but also (secondarily) for any stakeholders in that business unit that I might know, or someone I know who is connected via a third party, who might be inclined to refer, connect or introduce me.
  4. The next step is to draft mybusiness case” by answering these 4 questions: a) why would this company want to work with me (…what’s unique about me?) b) why now (…how does it fit into my overall professional goals)? c) what specific kind of role do I want to play with them? …and d) why would I want to work with this company in particular?
  5. Last, but not least, I make notes in a separate column regarding dates/times I’ve contacted them, why, how it went, etc. I also plan my next steps AKA “marketing touchdowns” in terms of contacting them. I don’t see reaching out to them as a “finite” or “incremental” exercise – I see it as an ongoing process of relationship building, and trust building, over time. As much time as it takes.

Once my contacts database is built and populated with basic information, then I can start “cycling through” the companies and stakeholders on an intermittent basis, and find new reasons to reach out, to touch base, and keep getting my company name in front of each of them, without being annoying. I reach out to them for specific reasons, and give a clear call to action – all key steps to build, and then maintain, your network.

Pro Tip 1: I was once asked at a networking event, “How often can you contact someone?”. Drum roll: it’s ok to contact someone when you have something NEW to bring to the table: a revised resume or new marketing piece you’ve put together (demo reel, blog, etc.); send an article that may be useful to them; send them news on industry trends; you could invite them to an event; or, be social and simply say hello. There are innumerable ways/reasons to connect with people.

Pro Tip 2: Authenticity rules! Look at it this way: if you’ve gone to all the trouble of identifying companies and stakeholders, researching them, preparing your outreach, developing a business case and delivering your message as concisely and politely as possible, why would they NOT take you seriously? It’s the un-prepared job seekers that are annoying. Now, you might not always be responded to, but your level of preparedness will speak volumes. After that, it’s either a yes or a no. That’s business – it’s NOT personal.

You need business contacts to build your network to explore business development, develop leads, and discuss potential business opportunities … Not too little, not too much… just.touch.base. …keep the relationship and dialogue ongoing. Remember that you didn’t come out of the womb knowing how to network effectively (and neither did anyone else)… Networking is an “art”, and you need to develop/work the muscle. | 416.533.6788

Loyalist College, Career Fundamentals, 2012

Loyalist College, Career Fundamentals, 2012


How Important is Personal Branding?

Personal Branding: What brand values are associated with your professional name? 

As you work your way through adjusting/re-creating the content and formatting of all your marketing pieces, you might also spend some time thinking about your personal branding and the “values” you are communicating within that content.

From day one, with, I’ve held tight to 3 core values:

  1. Top standard professionalism and delivery of services
  2. Transparency: de-mystifying career/job search best practices
  3. Inclusion: Everyone’s a “somebody”.

I didn’t actually cast these in stone from day one. But they are the themes that have emerged over time, that mean the most to me in the delivery of my services. And I believe these core values, while not explicitly delineated in words, are nevertheless implicitly included in my day-to-day work life. And I’m quite sure anyone who has worked with me would agree my services are customized to the individual needs of my clients, tailored to their specific job-search challenges, and most importantly, you get “behind the scenes” information and best practices in how to effectively manage your career.

So, what would you like your personal branding to look like? What values or themes are the most meaningful to you, in the delivery of your services? Give it some thought. It’ll add some “gravitas” to your overall messaging.

Keep doing your homework! Share on social media using the buttons below, and tag a friend or colleague in need. Everyone needs support in this market.

Next blog, we’ll take a look at job search research & lead development strategy. Yes-sir-ree. And you’ll be ready, cause you are now clear on your goals, and you’re positioned and packaged accordingly.

Do you have any questions about brand values? Don’t be shy! Call or email: | 416.533.6788


Build Your Brand with Marketing Materials

NEVER ever ever lose an opportunity to promote your full name, and contact information when you build your personal brand.

In job search, it’s “mission critical” to brand your name and to list full contact information on all of your business correspondence and all of your personal marketing pieces.

Last week I wrote about gathering all your marketing pieces (or “tools” as I like to call them), lining them up together, and doing a full review of them for content, consistency, digital currency, and formatting/design. Now we’ll take a closer look at the most important ones.

Start with your resume, always. This is “ground zero” for reinvention. Resumes are still necessary, and will remain so for the foreseeable future (3-5 years). Take the content from your previous resume, but start a fresh template/document. Note: don’t use an old template with “legacy formatting” buried in it that will jam up more current applicant tracking systems. 

Fill in your contact information. Make sure your name stands out above all. Add a title if you can, to give reader a sense of what skills and knowledge you have. Leave your physical address behind. Add full contact information — don’t just give your mobile number and email address. Skype? Facebook? Twitter? LinkedIn profile? If you’ve got them, list them. Please don’t add a landline – unless you are there during business hours to answer it.

Now, write a small profile that tells your story in three short sentences: a) who you are (now); b) what you’ve done (in the past); and c) what you want (in the future). Just write the facts up, then you can pretty it up later with descriptors/qualifiers. Your profile should evolve along with you –just get the first iteration drafted.

Then list your hard skills, and a few soft skills. Add another section list the hardware/software you can use, and then list any tech platforms that you’re able to work on.

After that, it’s a regular resume. Put your professional experience in reverse chronological order. Stick to 3-4 bullet points for each job, and make sure they don’t just reflect your responsibilities, but also any accomplishments within those roles. Add dates, and visuals (read: logos), or hotlinks to companies where possible.

Then the education section. List your education, as well as any professional development courses you’ve taken, no matter how big or small. Employers and recruiters want to know that you’re a life-long learner!

Next, add a public service (aka volunteer work) and/or a professional affiliations (professional memberships) section.

Run spell and grammar checks. I repeat: run spell and grammar checks.

OK, almost done… Last scrub/edit is for visuals, including formatting/layout, icons, logos, graphics, colors, fonts, tag lines, a/o hyperlinks wherever possible – whatever graphic/marketing elements you may have.

Save the file in PDF format “Smith, Jane CV.pdf”, and you’re done. Don’t name the file “resume 2017”. You’ve now got the first iteration of your reinvented “look” or “brand”.

Build your Brand Pro Tip 1: Once you’ve established your new look, it’s easy to migrate it to your other marketing pieces… That same “look” from the top of your resume, can be re-purposed in a template for your cover letters, your references and your bio — using the exact same layout, with your name, title, and all your contact information, and use of visuals. Migrate that same look even further, to your email signature, and your business card, your web page or blog. Let your marketing materials be recognizable and consistent!

Build your Brand Pro Tip 2: ALL of your marketing pieces need to reflect the same (relative) content, and “look” — that’s what establishes your brand. As mentioned last week, old-style “content resumes” have definitely transformed into “graphic resumes” (think info-graphic). Cannot stress this enough…The more “visuals” you have, the better: ie., word clouds, logos, graphics, hotlinks, icons, newsletters, flyers, blogs, videos, memes, podcasts, tag line, photos… All your marketing pieces should all be similar in look, and consistently laid out, with full contact info and web presence(s) front and centre.

Again, your name is your brand. Use your first and last name at every opportunity when answering calls, signing off emails, or introducing yourself verbally or in writing.

Your “signature look” will evolve over time, just as you do. Then it’s a simple case of “scrubbing” your marketing pieces once a year (I reserve my birthday to do this, along with my goals). This will ensure that your brand evolves over time, that it stays current with market best practices year over year, and that it delivers on your objectives. | 416.533.6788


How do I look???

…Now that you’ve got a career plan, it’s time to develop your brand…

We probably wouldn’t be human if we didn’t worry about how we are perceived by others. In this blog, I’m addressing personal brands: how we appear to others; how (well) we are received; and most importantly, take our marketing pieces to the next level…

Most job seekers operate off of the same “content resume” they’ve drafted through the years, adding to, or deleting items, as they go along. Most people set up a LinkedIn profile, and then neglect to update it over time. Most job seekers are not even aware of the many tools they have at their disposal to market themselves, and further, have not learned how to market themselves on all the digital platforms at their disposal. Most don’t do annual “scrubs” on their marketing pieces. And a lot of (old) marketing pieces have legacy formatting that jam up applicant tracking systems.

How do you build, and effectively manage your brand? …Start at the beginning…

Pro Tip 1: If you’re going to give your “overall look” a serious review, it’s highly recommended you start from scratch! Print up all the marketing materials you have, from your business card, to your resume, email signature, cover letters, web page or blog, business card, et al… Get them all into one pile, and take a good long look at how cohesive they are in terms of fonts, use of (white) space, visuals, contact info, digital currency/hipness, graphic design… Take all your established marketing pieces, and compare them to resume samples you can easily find online through a Google search. Think about Goggling “2017 resume samples” or, “2017 business cards”, etc.

Yesterday’s “content resumes” have definitely transformed into today’s “visual” a/o “graphic resumes”. (Don’t want to put you off, but you might also give some thought to the next iteration on the horizon: video resumes/video bios too…) Speaking of marketing materials, here are just a few samples of the “marketing tools” you will need to market yourself either for a full-time job, or as an independent contractor…

For those seeking staff jobs: resume (PDF format), references; a long format Bio; cover email/cover letter (best suggestion is to put your cover letter and resume in one PDF file and send by email); business card; LinkedIn profile (do not under-estimate the value of LinkedIn endorsements and recommendations!); email signature; and hotlinks to web pages that showcase samples of work you have created a/o delivered.

For entrepreneurs/freelancers: you will need “written copy” that outlines your product a/o service (read: all-purpose copy that you can use in all your marketing materials); testimonials (one-liners from top brands/names – go for the gold, always); a Bio (in short and long formats), a “business development email template” which introduces/outlines your product a/o service; your business card; internet presence on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, a/o Twitter, etc.; email signature; and finally, a web page, site, or blog.

Pro Tip 2: More and more, people are incorporating visuals in their marketing materials (read: word clouds, logos, graphic resumes, hotlinks, icons, newsletters, flyers, blogs, videos, memes, podcasts, photos, (did I mention videos? 🙂 …)

When you’ve finished reviewing and editing all the “content” for your marketing pieces, then you need to turn your sights towards building your brand, by using signature color(s), font/typeface for all your marketing pieces. They should all look similar, and be consistently laid out, with full contact info and web presence(s) front and centre. A title/role would be nice too ie., Content Creator or Project Manager or … whatever it is you specialize in.

Pro Tip 3: Start with your resume. Once you have finalized the content and the look of it, transfer/adapt the same “look” to your business card, cover letter template, email signature, etc. The trick is to establish your brand, be consistent in your look, and use these tools to increase your visibility, and build positive engagement with your community of peers.

Last but not least, two things: 1) Please remember that your name is your brand. Use your first and last name at every opportunity when answering calls, signing off emails, or introducing yourself; and 2) your signature “look” evolves just like you do, over time. Get the first iteration (read: YAY re-invention!) of your brand completed on all your marketing pieces, and then be sure to “review them annually” around your birthday – this will ensure your brand evolves over time, and stays current with market best practices year over year.

Establishing your look, and managing your brand, will indeed be well-received by professionals reviewing them. The amount of work you put into them will show/tell others that you’re a diligent, thoughtful professional, who understands the need to build, showcase and maximize a brand.

Keep doing your homework! Scrub those marketing pieces! Share on social media through the buttons below, and tag a friend or colleague in need. Everyone needs support in this market. Pay it forward for a friend! 

In the next blog, we’ll be taking a look at the individual marketing pieces referenced above, and share best practices for bringing them up to 2018 standards! | 416.533.6788


How to Actualize your Career Goals

The best way to actualize your career goals is to start a career wish list.

You owe it to yourself to own what you actually want (…not what you think the world wants of you). You’ll be amazed if you just sit down and get centered with yourself, and make some notes on what you might like to pursue for the next year, or handful of years, for your life. You have to give it just the time it takes to write it up (an hour?) and you’ll be off to a strong start …because the minute you start writing them down, you are starting to deliver a much more targeted message.

Now, let’s “crunch” to help you actualize your career goals… Print up your list, get a coloured marker and make some notes. For each item you’ve written down, do three things:

  • Determine on a scale of 1-10, how much/how badly you want each particular item. You can have as many 10s, 9s, 8s, 7s, etc., as you want. It’s up to you to assign a “weight” (read: priority) to each item.
  • Once you’ve done this, go through your list again, and assign/give each goal a short-term, mid-term, or long-term status.
  • Then, review your list one last time, and think about what your timelines might be for the short, mid, and long-term. BTW, only you can determine what short, mid and long-term mean. It’s your wish-list ..not your mother’s, not your partner or your brother’s list … Do yourself and your list proud. You’ll end up with a “chart” that will look something like this:

Short Term (6 months) 

Update resume (10)

Get job in X doing Y (9)

Start new job search (6)

Get job in X doing Y (9)

Increase contacts (7)


Mid-Term (2017-2019)

Write a blog (10)

Take X course (9)

Network (7)

Complete all marketing materials for career (10)


Long-Term (2020+)

Financial stability (10)

Travel (7)

Start a business in X (7)

Volunteer in X (6)


Pro Tip 1: My goals list is pinned to my wall at eye level, just over my computer. At the beginning of each and every week, I take items from my short, mid and long-term goals and I schedule them into my calendar.

Mondays through Wednesdays are great job search/business development days, because everyone’s on the job, paying attention, actively doing business. By Thursday, people are in the thick of it, and starting to burn out. Typically on Fridays, people are “checked out”. So I always do the heavy lifting on my career/business Monday through Wednesdays. And because I know that on Thursdays people are starting to loose steam, I don’t try to do business/lead development on those days. I reserve Thursdays for creative development, like blogging, or working on product or my marketing pieces. Fridays are more of a “social” day in nature, so I reserve Fridays for networking, when people are happy to take a call or a coffee or lunch meeting…or, I take care of administrative tasks.

Pro Tip 2: Every year, religiously, on my birthday, I take the day to write up and “crunch” my new goals. And by scheduling my goals into my calendar every single week, I usually get them all done in a year!

Carve some time every week for getting some your goals into the schedule, and you’ll start to get some real traction on what’s important to you. And that’s how to actualize your career goals! 416.533.6788



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