YOU’RE OVERQUALIFIED!!!!

It seems I continually hear this complaint, “They aren’t hiring me because I’m overqualified.” One man e-mailed me about this problem:

“I have a lot of incredible extracurricular professional activities, publishing expertise, project management experience, board leadership skills, etc. I have an MBA, and am a CPA. All of this info is on my resume because it sets me apart. However, I am concerned that people are viewing me as overqualified for lower-level jobs and eliminating me. Yet, the jobs I am truly qualified for are fairly high up and there are only a handful of openings. Help!”

So what should you do if you’re credentialed with good experience and advanced education, are looking to become re-employed and are even willing to take a lower-level position? Here are a few tips:

Don’t Be Tempted to “Dumb Down!”

This strategy moves your career backward. You typically end up frustrated, not hired or worse — you find a new job you can’t wait to move out of. Most employers today actually want you working at your highest ability level since productivity is key to everyone’s success. They also want to retain you past the many months it takes to train you for the job, so you can begin to make a contribution to the company.

Do Some Soul Searching and Savvy Preparation.

Acknowledge that employers are reluctant to hire a person who is overqualified because they think the person is unlikely to be happy, won’t stay long, might want the interviewer’s job or may expect fast promotion. Remember that you can be threatening to the interviewer, especially if you are truly suited for the interviewer’s job! He may think you aren’t seriously interested in doing the job for which you’re being hired — nor do employers want someone who’s burned out or sees the job as an easy paycheck.

Examine why you want the position. “I need a job!” is not a response that will endear you to him. You must use your communication skills to convince him why a demotion is a good option. You must create a reasonable explanation. Try this:

“My current position as Regional Sales Manager requires me to cover 14 states, and the job had grown into 15 nights of travel per month. This has become an increasingly difficult sacrifice for my family. I have decided to seek a major accounts-rep position that allows me to focus on my strengths — selling, sustaining top-notch client relationships and up-selling — but also allows me to go home most evenings. This is not an option at my current job. It requires a lot of out-of-town travel to do the job, which I am no longer willing to do. I believe my extensive marketing and sales skills would greatly benefit your organization in a positive way. I see this as a win/win situation for both of us.”

Don’t Show Desperation.

You may feel it, but it will work against your getting hired if you show how frantic you are to get a job. Too often an executive says, “I’ll start at any job just to get my foot in the door.” That won’t work — it’s an outdated strategy. Being willing to take any job often makes the interviewer disqualify you. She needs a competent person to perform the specific job she’s hiring for.

 
Career Advice from TheLadders

So, you must show not only that you can do it but also that you want to do it. You can offer some advantages, gained from your experience, such as: “My ability to solve problems and train others would be a major plus in the position.” Many employers are slow to hire, yet pay well when they select someone for the position, so patience is essential.

Look Harder for Positions for Which You Are Qualified.

Employers want a good fit and an individual who delivers results. Customize every cover letter you write and tweak your resume to match the opportunity. Be sure to address the major needs required and demonstrate results you’ve achieved in line with the level requested. A former CEO at a smaller company might only be a midlevel executive at a larger organization, so be clear as to how you’re leveraging past experience and leadership to help a potential employer excel.

Networking Is Key to Hearing About and Landing a New Job.

Ask colleagues, friends, former employees, college alumni, and other contacts for referrals to new people who can help you uncover unadvertised positions. An introduction to a senior executive can open new doors and even create a job when no advertised one was available. Department of Labor statistics reveal that 63 percent of all jobs last year were found through contacts, so network, network, NETWORK!

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Networking Is Your Status Update Still ‘Looking for Work?’

Networking

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of status updates on business and social networking sites that say things like, “Project Manager professional looking for work” or “Looking for work in a tough economy” or “Just received my degree in accounting — looking for work.” While I understand that these job seekers are trying to advertise their candidacy online, I don’t recommend broadcasting this specific message in your status updates. Here’s why:

  1. Blasting this message to your entire network makes you look desperate. You might as well rent a billboard to promote your job search … Yes, I know there are stories about people landing a job this way, but these tactics get old fast. (And by the way, the guy who landed a job by wearing a sandwich board saying he was looking for work is “so 2008.”)
  2. Posting this message makes people in your network uncomfortable. Imagine agreeing to meet someone for coffee and before the coffee is even cool enough to drink you say, “I’m looking for work.” It’s awkward. It places an unrealistic expectation on your contacts to come up with a solution for you. The same thing happens online when you announce that you are looking for work.
  3. Sending this message leaves you little wiggle room for a follow-up message. Think about it. If you are still in a job search next week, what will your status update be? “Still looking for work” isn’t going to cut it.

Status updates on business and social-networking platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn are a way for you to build rapport with a community and deepen the relationship with your contacts. Choose messages that showcase your expertise, share valuable information, give kudos to others or broadcast an exciting endeavor you are working on (even if it is volunteer work). Here are some examples of alternative status updates you might want to adapt for your situation:

For a fundraising executive:

  • “Volunteering at the American Cancer Society walkathon on Sunday; hope to raise more than $2M.”

 

For an HR professional: 

  • “Attending a seminar on compensation plans for 2009 and beyond at (share the link)”

For an advertising professional: 

  • “My colleague, John Smith, just landed a major account with a leading luxury goods company. Way to go, John!”

For a CIO: 

  • ”Reading an interesting article on new technologies in health care at (share the link)”

For a financial analyst: 

  • “Boning up on study materials for the CFA Level II exam … looks like it’s going to be a long night!” 

Create status updates that invite questions and further conversation, not ones that make your network run for cover. Remember, online networking, like face-to-face networking, is a process. Whenever possible, give before you get and you will be surprised how quickly you get something back in return.

Tips for Executives Re-entering the Job Market

 

Tips for Executives Re-entering the Job Market

The challenges of returning to the workforce after an absence.

Job SearchSenior-level executives who left the workforce and wish to return face a challenging environment. Whether you’ve seen your savings or retirement decrease and are coming back to the job market for needed income or you’ve decided you’d like to be more involved in your industry’s work, prepare for a learning curve.

Today’s environment is not always welcoming for even the most successful, passionate, capable and proven individuals. There’s a frustrating disconnect between candidates’ expectations and actual employment opportunities.

To be competitive, returnees have some unique challenges – the least of which is the gap in their employment history.

Challenge 1: Automated Screening
The first challenge is often getting past computerized or human gatekeepers. One of the reasons why re-entry candidates face a daunting job search is that companies and search firms use automated candidate screening and recruitment processes to triage applications and resume submissions. These computerized systems don’t accommodate for and can’t appreciate exceptions. For this reason, re-entry prospects may be eliminated before any human actually evaluates their application. Given the obvious employment gap, re-entry candidates may be excluded automatically at this stage.

Your strategy? Bypass automation.

An effective technique for boosting a candidate’s potential is having an inside contact at the company personally usher a candidate through the corporate maze. The prospective employee needs to convey his or her unique value contribution to this intermediary and encourage this contact to champion the candidate up the ladder to a hiring decision maker, not just HR. A personal recommendation goes a long way to grab attention. Then it is incumbent on the candidate to follow up personally and interact directly to nurture a relationship with the hiring authority to develop trust and prove ability.

Your tactics?

  • Show, don’t tell. Persuade decision makers by unmistakably proving that you meet their criteria. Voluntarily prepare presentations, write white papers and garner support from references. Increase visibility and credibility: publish work, comment on blogs, post on listservs and forums, and attend and present at conferences.
  • Specialize a niche expertise to attract more attention. Trying to be something to everyone often results in being nothing to anyone. Illustrate capabilities with concrete solution examples. Support extraordinary skills and talent with compelling achievements that overcame sizable challenges.
  • Put skin in the game. Show confidence in your anticipated ability to deliver with a heavy portion of performance-dependent compensation.
  • Communicate your value with consistent messaging. Your resumes, bios, online profiles and quotes must all tell employers about your potential contribution, reinforce your trustworthiness and highlight your strengths. Demonstrate that you are the first-choice, go-to expert.
  • Think positively. A job search is a marathon, not a sprint. Candidates should be screening prospective challenges as carefully as employers investigate new team members.

Challenge 2: Dry Networks
Returnees may find their networks, once the source of lucrative offers and discreet networking inquiries, are not delivering good leads like they used to.

How will you get from where you are now to where you want to be next? The preferred job search method is the same as ever: connections. Networking is the means to a swift, successful landing. However, your once-reliable contacts have lost their value or left the field. Freshly minted re-entry candidates rarely fit the perfect candidate descriptions listed in advertised job postings. Rarely are these under-the-radar candidates sought out by search consultants or recruiters to fill openings for exacting corporate clients.

Your strategy? Connect with decision makers.
Jumpstarting your search campaign requires designing and purposefully creating a new network of relationships. In today’s competitive and risk-adverse job market, networking purposefully is the way to find a new position that matches your requirements for personal, professional and financial rewards. The critical element for success is getting attention now and then being remembered later by hiring managers and decision makers affiliated with appropriate opportunities. Candidates must carve a direct path to senior management and then present a remarkable and memorable value proposition that fosters a meaningful dialogue about mutual interests.

For candidates with a break on their resumes, personalized introductions explain unusual circumstances and pave the way for meaningful dialogues with prospective employers.

After getting comfortable with a candidate’s abilities, the employer may decide that the formerly imperfect prospect can be a great employee for an opening, or the company may create a new job just for this individual. Notably, the ideal candidate and the ideal employee may be different. Only the hiring decision-maker can bend the requirements, reorganize resources and do what it takes to make an offer. That’s why connecting with the appropriate inside authority is key to generating a new career opportunity, whether a job is advertised or part of the hidden job market.

Your tactics?

  • Target employers within a specific industry niche. These companies are more likely to appreciate your background and recognize your qualifications.
  • Initiate contacts and stay connected. Identify key players; obtain recommendations about who you need to know; research speakers, trade publications and online resources to connect with current industry thought leaders. Cultivate relationships that are likely to generate job leads, increase credibility and provide future mentoring opportunities.
  • Connect with “insiders” affiliated with target employers. This is the best way to be one of the first to learn about and be presented for unadvertised opportunities.
  • Be bold, be persistent. Network Purposefully to make new contacts in your search. Networking is about relationships, not single-use transactions.
  • Give back. Make introductions when you see synergy. Contribute advice, help others and provide counsel before being asked. Networking is not just for job searching.
  • Initiate contact directly with hiring decision-makers. Call outside typical business hours. Use snail mail creatively to attract attention. Leave enticing voice-mail messages communicating what is in it for the employer. Leave them thinking that not returning the call would be a mistake.
  • Follow up on connections. Be courteous and respectful while pursuing leads to new opportunities. If you are not persistent, someone who does follow through is likely to get the job offer that is perfect for you.

For re-entry candidates, these tips can accelerate your job hunt progress.

Hump Day Fallacies!!!

Job Search

The concept of “hump day” has had a long history – too long, in fact. 

For many years employees and managers alike have talked about the importance of getting through hump day (aka Wednesday) and making it to the weekend. Unfortunately, hump day is a career killer. 

Hump-day employees look at every week as the process of starting at the bottom of the hill on Monday morning at 8 a.m., climbing to the top by Wednesday at noon, and then coasting down to the bottom of the hill by 5 o’clock on Friday. These people haven’t gotten anywhere during the course of the week. They are back where they started on Monday morning, week after week after week. 

Imagine a college athlete who performs exactly the same way at the beginning of every season. Those kinds of players never get off the bench, assuming they can even keep their spot on the bench. Intuitively, we know we must continually improve if we want to take our careers to the next level. With a hump-day approach to the workweek, we sabotage productivity and psychologically set ourselves up for a mediocre week and a mediocre career. 

Study Warren Buffett, Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey and a host of other great achievers. They didn’t push forward for 52 working hours and then slump backward for another 52. They raised their bar of achievement, and then set the bar higher again and again. 

Instead of working for the weekend, try filling out a “Leap-Day Worksheet” at noon Wednesday. (Maximum time investment: 35 minutes.)

1.      Make a list of the meetings/activities /events that have occurred so far this week.

2.      For each entry in Step One, answer these five questions in less than five minutes:
a.       What did I do that was effective? 

b.      What did I do that was not effective? 

c.       What could I have done to be more effective? 

d.      What did I learn from this experience? 

e.       How can I use what I learned to perform at a higher level for the remainder of this week? 

From now on, make Wednesday at noon your weekly inflection point to capture key lessons and catapult to a higher level of performance over the remainder of the week. After all, the greatest performers in history didn’t rise briefly and then fall backward. They leapt forward to higher and higher levels of achievement, and hit repeat.

If you are doing this, then STOP

Personal BrandingIt’s so easy to get your name out these days. But to what end? Just like all corporate-branding plans, your personal-branding activities need to be a part of a well-conceived strategy — one that will help you achieve your goals and increase your professional fulfillment.

As I watch people build their personal brands on the Web, I see a lot of personal-branding disasters — efforts that detract from brand value rather than increase it. Here are the personal-branding mistakes I see repeated over and over. Avoid them to build a powerful and compelling presence that increases your brand equity.

1. Be fake.

Personal branding is not about fabricating a persona; strong personal brands are based in authenticity. You can’t start building your brand until you understand who you are, what you want and what makes you exceptional. What are your superpowers? What do others think about you? Don’t create an image; be yourself — your best self. As writer/aviator Anne Morrow Lindbergh once said, “The most exhausting thing you can be is inauthentic.”

2. Be wishy-washy.

Trying to be all things to all people is the opposite of branding. Strong brands take a stand and often repel as many people as they attract. You need to know what you want to communicate and how that message differs from what your peers are communicating. What’s your area of thought leadership? What’s your position? How do you want to express your personality? Answer these questions, and stick to your guns.

3. Act before you think.

Thanks to the availability and ease of social media, you can increase your visibility very quickly. But visibility is not the same as effective personal branding. If you don’t have a clear plan — a message that you want to communicate consistently along with a strategy for expressing yourself — you will create confusion rather than build a fan club. Personal branding requires thinking before acting. What’s your overall communications plan? Which communications vehicles are the best for you? How will you link your communications activities? Answer these questions before putting finger to key!

4. Talk just for the sake of it.

I see some people tweet multiple times an hour — re-tweeting anything they see, reposting their own tweets — just to seem like they have a lot to say. And I’ve seen similar misguided fervor on blogs. People can see through this. It’s better to make a few high-quality posts to your blog or tweets that add value to your brand community than to be associated with content that is vapid, regurgitated or stale. Create content when you have something thoughtful to say that is valuable to your brand community and reinforces what you want people to know about you. Quality trumps quantity.

5. Aim for as many contacts as possible.

Branding is not about fame; it’s about selective fame. The only people who need to know you are those decision-makers and influencers who can help you reach your goals. Trying to be everywhere with your message will exhaust you without adding much value to your brand. Think about your target audience, then research the best places on the Web to express yourself. The scattershot approach isn’t very effective … and it isn’t very fulfilling, either.

6. Switch tools often.

Social media is attractive. So attractive that some people jump onto the latest social-media tool with reckless abandon. I was speaking with an executive the other day who told me that he was a big fan of social media. When LinkedIn came along, he worked hard to connect with everyone he ever met. After time, he lost interest. Then Facebook gained prominence; he began “friending” all his LinkedIn contacts, and he updated his status hourly. He became tired of this as well and switched his attention to Twitter. This approach will not only wear you out, it will do little to build brand value. Choose the social-media tools you are going to use and commit to using them regularly.

7. Forget traditional vehicles.

The ubiquity of social media has convinced some that personal branding is an exclusively Web-based activity. Sure, social media has made it much easier to express yourself to a much larger audience, but it doesn’t replace real-world relationships and communications.

I started my personal-branding business, Reach, almost a decade ago — long before Facebook, blogs and Twitter existed. Before social media, personal branding was focused on real-world activities, like public speaking and publishing books. A lot has changed in the world of personal branding since I founded Reach, but the core principles remain the same.

Those who are most effective in building their brands combine the real with the virtual. They continue to write and provide content for traditional media; they speak publicly, attend professional association events, volunteer for professional organizations, sit on boards and so on. The trick is to connect the real and the virtual — expanding what you are doing locally by making it visible on the Web.

8. Do it yourself.

If you think people who are making decisions about you are impressed by the photo your mother took of you at last year’s family picnic or the poor-quality video you posted to YouTube, you’re fooling yourself. You need to invest in services and tools that will help you present your best self. The New York Times said it best in its article about video resumes: “A well-produced video can send the message that the applicant is both professional and on top of new technology, while something that looks like a home video can send the opposite message.”If it’s really important to you, invest in the right resources — career coaches, resume-writing services, Web designers, video producers and more. Sure, there are costs involved in these services; but what’s the cost to you of damaging your reputation with poor-quality copy, images and video?

9. Talk about yourself

Personal branding is about giving to your brand community — value, insights, feedback, recognition. I see so many people confusing social media with billboard advertising — blatantly promoting their services 24/7. As social media expert Chris Brogan says (I’m paraphrasing) : Use the 12:1 ratio — make 12 posts about your brand community for every one that is about you. Just as people use TiVo to skip TV ads, people will start to tune you out if you come across as an immodest self-promoter.

10. Don’t measure your efforts.

Are you spending a lot of time implementing your personal-branding plan without asking yourself, “How is this helping me reach my goals?” I spent 20 years in corporate marketing and branding, and one of the most important parts of any campaign we launched was metrics. You need some way to evaluate your progress and see if your efforts are paying off. Decide on what metrics you will use up front (onlineIDCalculator .com, Klout.net or another tool), and establish a baseline. Then remember to measure progress along the way. Have you increased the volume and relevance of your Google results? Are you growing your brand community with the right people?

If you avoid these brand-busters and focus on being your best (high-quality) self — on- and offline — you’ll bolster your brand with everything you do.

William Arruda [www.williamarruda. com]is a personal-branding consultant and public speaker. He is the founder of Reach Personal Branding [www.reachpersonalb randing.com] and coauthor of the bestselling book, “Career Distinction: Stand Out by Building Your Brand” (J. Wiley).
 

Why Not Brand Yourself!

Personal Branding

Job seekers think they need to be salesman, never storytellers. Nevertheless, storytelling is part of every job search. How well you tell your story in cover letters, resumes, networking meetings, interviews — even negotiations — will directly affect your success in the job market.

Storytelling doesn’t mean telling tall tales! It’s amazing how many people ask for help with their resumes by saying, “I’ve got to find a way to make this look better than it really is.” Exaggerating accomplishments and misrepresenting facts is never an acceptable approach. Nor is it necessary. Instead, when people take the time to remember the actual details, a more compelling and truthful story almost always emerges.

The problem is that people don’t naturally think about telling their story.

Your challenge is to find a way to describe your involvement so potential employers clearly see the before and after. In other words, how did you make a situation better because you were there?

You can’t get there simply by rattling off a list of accomplishments; by themselves, accomplishments rarely tell the story. Knowing how much time you saved or how much money you made for the company is of limited use if it isn’t presented in context. To appreciate the importance of your work, the scope of what you did must be clear. Here are a few questions to get you started:

  • What problem were you solving?
  • How long had it been a problem?
  • How many people were affected by the issue?
  • What was the cost of not solving the problem? (e.g., lost revenue, frustrated customers, low morale)
  • What, specifically, did you do to address the issue?
  • How did you get involved?
    • Were you asked to address the issue? If so, by whom?
    • Or was your involvement the result of your own initiative?
  • Did solving the problem require an investment of time, money or resources by the company?
    • Were you the person who convinced management to invest in the solution?
    • If so, how did you sell them on the idea?
  • How long did it take to solve the problem?
  • Were there any unexpected results?

Good stories surprise you

Once you have answered these questions, be sure to include the most surprising and memorable details when you tell the stories behind your accomplishments. This is the key to being remembered at the right time for the right reason.

Sadly, few people manage to include these crucial details.

Rather than tell memorable stories that might get people interested in their backgrounds, they rattle off job titles, responsibilities and other unrevealing aspects of their past.

For example, I vividly remember “Eric” (not his real name), a client who had a long-winded, fluffy summary statement that could literally apply to anyone. In it, Eric described himself as an “innovative problem solver.” Unfortunately, this was not supported anywhere in his resume or cover letter. Nor did he spontaneously offer any examples during the course of our mock interview.

Only when I probed extensively did Eric reveal a fantastic example to support his claim:

In his most recent position, Eric worked at a data center that handled transactions for financial institutions. At the time, the company was actively acquiring other data centers. Eric’s job was to help merge the operations of the various data centers the company acquired.

Throughout the process, Eric’s company relied on several highly paid consultants from a well-known firm to evaluate the acquisitions and make recommendations regarding the best ways to merge the technologies. In one case, the consultants concluded that the technology of a recently acquired company was incompatible with the firm’s operations and recommended running the data center separately. Eric didn’t accept that as an answer. Instead, he spent the next month researching and examining alternatives on his own, outside regular working hours.

Being quite resourceful, Eric networked his way to a person overseas who had successfully solved a similar challenge. By taking the time to learn how the other person solved the problem, Eric devised a way to implement a workable solution. Within a few weeks, Eric successfully converted the new data center to the company’s technology.

This is a great example of innovative problem-solving. It wasn’t one Eric had ever thought to share on his resume, in interviews or in any of his networking efforts. Nevertheless, it remains among his most memorable and compelling experiences. That’s the goal of storytelling. You want people to think of you and make the connection between what you have done and what they might need you to do. Potential employers and networking contacts should look at you and think:

“I remember her! She’s the person who _________.”
(Fill in the blank with whatever experience powerfully demonstrates your ability to excel in a particular area.)

Getting Your Cover Letter Noticed

ResumeIf you’ve looked for a job in the past few years, you’re likely aware that employers are finding new ways to use resumes as screening tools. Web sites (TheLadders included) devote thousands of pages to discussing the best practices of resume writing. Meanwhile, a cottage industry has grown up around certified professional resume writers (CPRWs) who study the art and technique of producing a resume with the best chance of navigating the software and human readers who review and judge your document.

While experts talk less about cover letters, they must navigate the same course as your resume. If the sources are quiet on cover letters, do they matter anymore?

Yes, said CPRWs, ATS vendors and human-resource managers who handle the documents at both ends of the process.

Granted, your resume is center stage. Your cover letter may not be read at all, and it won’t salvage a poor resume, but it must be crafted just as carefully to satisfy software algorithms and HR screeners.

The introduction of the ATS as a first link in the chain has changed everything about the writing process, say CPRWs and HR managers. Like your resume, your cover letter has little room for error and demands exacting attention to structure and usage of keywords.

To determine the best rules for writing a cover letter, TheLadders asked the experts how cover letters are handled throughout the process.

Do you need a cover letter?

To start with, do you even need a cover letter?

Technology-wise, some ATSes treat cover letters as searchable text, the same as your resume; many don’t. Human process-wise, however, it’s the rare recruiter who even bothers to pass cover letters on to hiring managers.

But that doesn’t mean that you should stop writing them. Cover letters are a concise way to communicate your value to a company, and some recruiters and hiring managers do use them to winnow candidates. They demonstrate your attention to detail and anticipation of the company’s needs. Finally, small employers don’t necessarily employ ATSes, meaning your cover letter will more likely be read by human eyes.

How an ATS handles a cover letter

Nathan Shackles is a sales manager for ApplicantStack, an ATS made by Racarie Software and one of the software programs that render cover letters as searchable text. Shackles said that, like many ATSes, the application accepts cover letters as text pasted into its online form, not as an attachment. Therefore, the application stores cover letters with the resume as searchable text.

“I’d say this is fairly common, that cover letters are searchable,” Shackles said. “Because often, people will describe technologies in their cover letters and not put them in their resumes, for whatever reason. That’s the reason we search the cover letter as well.”

From that vantage point, Shackles recommends that job seekers look at the cover letter as a way to put in additional skills and credentials to add additional searchable keywords that a company may have programmed in the ATS to identify candidates for a specific job posting.

Your e-mail is the cover letter

Many ATSes, including ApplicantStack, also process resumes received via e-mail. In those cases, the ATS renders the content of your e-mail as the cover letter and assumes any attachment is your resume. Thus, when asked to e-mail a resume as an attachment, assume your e-mail content will be saved as a cover letter and write it accordingly.

On the flip side are ATSes that only process resumes, not cover letters. Tom Boyle is director of product strategy at one such ATS vendor, SilkRoad Technology.

Most ATS programs update or create a job seeker’s profile by uploading a resume; next, they cherry-pick information to parse and fill in the fields to create a profile within the ATS. While Boyle has seen ATS software parse “all sorts of resumes and formats,” he noted that SilkRoad only renders cover letters as attachments and doesn’t divide it up into fields.

That means the ATS doesn’t render your cover letter as searchable text. Thus, finessing the cover to make it machine-friendly by seeding it with keywords won’t influence your application’s ranking with this type of ATS.

Once a cover letter has become an attachment, it’s unlikely that it will be searched and processed like a resume, Boyle said, given that the number of ATS programs that have the ability to search an attachment on a candidate’s profile is “very small.”

How do humans process your cover letter?

What happens to your cover letter once it reaches human hands?

David Couper, a career coach, said that the recruiters at most Fortune 500 companies don’t even send him the cover letter, let alone scan it into an ATS.

His experience is backed up by research conducted by Phil Rosenberg, president of reCareered, an executive career-coaching service. Over the past two years, Rosenberg has surveyed hundreds of HR managers and recruiters and interviewed management at the Top 10 job boards. He found that:

  • Less than 10 percent of HR departments scan cover letters.
  • Eighty percent of HR staff, hiring managers and recruiters read the resume first.
  • Job boards don’t keyword-search cover letters, only resumes.

However, don’t count those cover letters out. According to the survey:

  • Most hiring managers have denied interviews to candidates qualified by their resumes, but disqualified by additional information in their cover letters.
  • Tailor the resume as well as the cover letter

Couper advises his clients that you just never know whether someone is going to read the cover letter and whether it will make or break your application. “I recommend that the job hunter matches the job posting and includes keywords,” he said. “I also suggest that you lead in with a hook, preferably a personal contact, to someone the recruiting manager knows or some specific information that relates to the company or industry. … The cover (letter) is one of those items that you never know about but in the end you hope that it gets to someone — not a machine — and they read it.”

But this attention to customized cover letters may be missing the mark as far as achieving a high ATS ranking. Rosenberg noted that most candidates “put the majority of their customization (if any) in their application in a cover letter, using a largely static resume.”

Job seekers do that in the hope that the words on their resume “magically match the keywords a company’s HR department or recruiters are searching for in their prescreening process,” he said. But the odds of matching keywords between a job listing and an uncustomized resume “stink,” Rosenberg said, generating response rates that range between 0 percent and 5 percent in healthy hiring years and sank to less than 2 percent in the current job market. Hence, he advises clients to spend more time customizing their resumes than tinkering with their cover letters.

What’s the safest thing to do? Tailor both your resume and your cover letter to match specific job listings. Mandy Minor, a resume writer with J Allan Studios, handles the possibility of ATS scanning by giving her clients several choices of what to use in a cover letter:

“I build a template with phrases such as, ‘I am an accomplished [CHOOSE ONE: marketing manager or marketing director or project manager]’ so that they can pick the title that will line up best for each job opening,” she said. “I also use industry keywords in a brief, bulleted list of accomplishments in the cover letter, which gets the attention of not just the ATS but also the human reader.”