5 ways to address a cover letter besides 'To whom it may concern'

By Debra Auerbach,
One of the most common pieces of job-seeker advice we give on The Work Buzz blog is to personalize application materials as much as possible. This includes the addressing of your cover letter. There may be cases where it's impossible to find a contact associated with the position, but that doesn't mean "To whom it may concern" is the only option. With such easy access to information through social media and websites such as LinkedIn, don't give up on cover-letter customization just because the job description doesn't list a contact.

"You should never use [To whom it may concern] when sending a cover letter," says Jodi R. R. Smith, president of etiquette consulting firm Mannersmith. "Instead, with a few keystrokes on your computer, you can research who the proper person for the salutation of the letter is. Having a name on the cover letter shows that you really want the job, that you took the extra time to personalize the letter and that you are able to work independently to get a job done."

Here, experts weigh in on five alternative ways to address a cover letter.

1. Dear [hiring manager's name]: "The best way to begin a cover letter is by addressing it directly to the HR/recruiter or hiring manager and emailing it right to them personally," says Megan Pittsley, director of talent at restaurant technology startup E la Carte. "In today's quick-apply society, taking the time and effort to respond personally to job openings and doing a bit of research will help to make you stand out. Most people have LinkedIn profiles, so the information is readily available for those who put a bit of effort into it." Other ways to track down a hiring manager's information? Search the company's website or call the company and ask for the name of the person hiring for the coveted position.
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2. Dear [department head's name]: If you've tried the tactics listed in No. 1 and still can't identify the hiring manager, Bettina Seidman, president of career counseling and executive coaching company SEIDBET Associates, suggests looking instead for the department head's name and addressing the cover letter accordingly. That's usually easier to find and still shows initiative.

3. Dear [name or title of the position's manager]: "If the posting says 'reporting to the senior associate manager,' query on the organization's website until you find out who that person is and use [his] name," Smith says. If you can't find the name, just use the title.

4. To the [name of the department]: Callista Gould, certified etiquette instructor at the Culture and Manners Institute, recommends using the section or department name, if a direct contact can't be found (e.g.,"To the consumer affairs department").

5. Dear [hiring manager/personnel manager/human resources director]: If you've done your research and still can't find any specific information to include in the salutation, Sherry Mirshahi Totten, president of career marketing company Roadmap Career Services LLC, says it's OK to address it generally. But instead of "To whom it may concern," use "Dear hiring manager," "Dear personnel manager" or "Dear human resources director." "Dear recruiter" or "Dear decision maker for X position" works too.

5 ways to give your résumé a makeover

By Susan Ricker, 

Fashion and style change over time -- and so should your résumé. What may have been a trendy way to format five or 10 years ago could now be considered outdated. And with technology changing how jobs are found and applied for, being current is more crucial to your job search than ever.

Take the time to update your résumé with these five tips:

1. Swap out dated categories for modern information

Résumés used to serve as a different form of introduction than they do today. While hiring managers used to wonder who you were and what you were seeking, as well as if anybody could vouch for you, today's hiring process is more streamlined. "Today, like the understanding of the unspoken objective, everyone knows that a job candidate will provide references when and if they advance to the next stage of the hiring process," says Karen Southall Watts, business coach, consultant and author.
Instead, find a way to use your résumé's valuable space more wisely. "The top third of your résumé is prime real estate and should not be home to something as obvious and outdated as an objective statement," Watts says. "The reader already knows you are looking for a job like the one advertised. It's better to put a personal branding statement or skills summary in this key area." Below your contact information, write a short summary of your achievements and years of experience and highlight your skills.

2. Use the latest technology to your advantage
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When designing your résumé, keep in mind both who and what will be receiving it. Bruce Blackwell, managing partner of Career Strategies Group in White Plains, N.Y., says, "Rule No. 1 is to keep your design simple. Make sure it is compatible with the résumé database programs used by employers and recruiters. Called applicant tracking systems, these programs electronically "read" incoming résumés, parse their keywords and slot them into a database file. Résumés with headers on the name and address lines, with bullet points in the contact area, with fancy lines and other graphic effects, often cannot be read and end up in the garbage."
Having more than one format of your résumé is crucial to your search. "There should be a résumé that works no matter where you need it to go: A printed paper version for traditional employers, a PDF version that can be scanned and a hyperlinked version that ties to samples of your work or your social media links," Watts says.

3. Skip the buzzwords and give specific results

Instead of describing yourself as a hardworking, creative, talented team player, quantify your success and include achievements in your work experience section. "Emphasize specific actions and the results achieved," says Michelle Proehl, president of Slate Advisers in Sunnyvale, Calif. "For instance, saying that you 'identified $1 million in administrative cost savings that enabled the sales team to add head count' is far more powerful than 'conducted analysis of division financial plan and budget.'"
Abby Kohut, human resources executive, recruiter and author of "Abby's 101 Job Search Secrets," says, "Avoid buzzwords designed to sweeten your résumé, but don't really hold any meaning. With more companies relying on computers to vet résumés before sending to hiring managers, it's crucial to weave the appropriate keywords into your résumé and professional online profiles. Learn the difference between a buzzword and a keyword, and your résumé will rise to the top of the stack."

4. Give context to your experience

While you may know what your past places of employment did or believe a company name is big enough to be recognized, hiring managers may not. Jon Mazzocchi, partner and general manager in the accounting and finance search division at Waltham, Mass. based recruitment firm WinterWyman, says it's crucial to give context to your past employment experiences. "Even if the hiring manager is familiar with your past employers, it is a good idea to point out the similarities between those companies and the one you hope to join. Similarities in size, culture and industry definitely help."

5. Give every detail a professional polish

To avoid quickly being discarded, triple-check your résumé for errors, and be sure you're presenting yourself as a professional. When it comes to getting in touch with you, Watts says it's important to give multiple contact methods. "It's highly unlikely that HR is going to send you a letter in the mail. Your résumé should include a phone number, an email, your social media links if you use them professionally and your website if you have one." Laurie Morse-Dell, personal branding coach in Bismarck, N.D., adds, "Make sure you have a professional email address. If your email is or could be perceived as vulgar, cutesy, juvenile or cheesy, get a new one."
Most importantly, your résumé should prove you're a qualified candidate for the job. By taking the time to put your best résumé forward, you're sure to create a great first impression.

Source: careerbuilder

Reinforce your résumé with an effective referral


Job seekers know the power of networking in their search for employment. But it's not just who you know; it's also who your contacts know. An effective way to make the most of your connections is by asking for referrals.

A referral is just one piece of the hiring puzzle, but it can support a well-crafted résumé and help your application rise to the top of the stack. It's a recommendation made to a hiring manager, on your behalf, by someone who knows you both.

What can a referral do for you?

You may have one of several goals in mind when asking a contact to refer you: Perhaps you're hoping to set up an informational interview. Or maybe you've applied for an open position and hope to cement your candidacy with a personal endorsement.
A thoughtful recommendation gives context to your résumé and adds a stamp of approval from someone the hiring manager knows and trusts. It's a personal introduction that connects you with the company on a level that's deeper than the rest of the application process allows. A referral says, "This is someone to pay attention to."

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What's in a referral?
A strong referral has all the hallmarks of an effective cover letter -- it's persuasive, engaging and relevant. The advocate introduces you and explains how she knows you. Then, the person highlights the characteristics, values, experiences or skills that led her to endorse you. In closing, it might include a personal note or comment that reinforces the connection between your contact and the hiring manager.
A referral does not have to be formal. It can take many forms, from an email or social media message to a quick phone call or hallway conversation.

How to use a referral

Tap into your network to find potential advocates -- and to help them help you. Here's how to ensure a strong referral:

  • Ask the right person. Review your closest contacts -- friends, business associates, former managers or colleagues, coaches or mentors. Also make a list of companies you're targeting and positions for which you're applying. Then, determine where the two intersect. Reach out to prospective advocates who have ties to those companies, requesting that they speak on your behalf. Don't send a mass email, which will seem too impersonal. Many companies have incentive programs that encourage employees to refer qualified candidates for open positions. But your advocate doesn't have to work for the company you're pursuing. Your contact and the manager may be connected socially or through a professional or charitable group, for example.

  • Provide enough info. Arm your advocate with enough information to make a solid recommendation. Share your résumé and also be clear about how your skills and experience align with the requirements of the open position. Don't assume your friend or colleague knows why you're right for the job. The more thorough you are, the better able the person will be to make a case for your candidacy.
  • Follow up. Once your contact makes a referral, the ball's in your court. Follow up quickly so you don't lose momentum. If your advocate copies you and the hiring manager on an email, reply by acknowledging the introduction, attaching your résumé and requesting a meeting. If your advocate sends a written letter or recommends you in person, wait a day or two and then reach out to the employer, mentioning your contact by name and asking to connect. You may not always be able to follow up, but do so whenever possible.
  • Rise to the occasion. When a contact makes an introduction on your behalf or endorses your capabilities, the person is putting a little of his own reputation on the line. And if you don't shine brightly, it'll reflect badly on him. You owe it to your advocate to put your best into anything that follows from the referral. That means, for example, responding quickly to any inquiries from the hiring manager or thoroughly preparing for a resulting interview.
Final thoughts
Be sure to thank anyone who provides you with a referral. Send a handwritten note or a small gift card or take your contact out for coffee. And if someone you've asked for a referral politely declines, don't press. Not everyone is comfortable or feels qualified to provide a recommendation -- no matter how talented you may be.

Yes, You Really Need a Cover Letter!

By Kate Lorenz,

It's the age-old question from job seekers: Must every resume be accompanied by a cover letter? The answer, according to professional career counselors, is a resounding yes. And not just any cover letter. It must be tailored to the specific job to which you are applying.

Experts say that it takes just seven seconds to make a first impression. If a hiring manager sees you don't have a cover letter upon first perusing your application, it's possible you could lose all chances of being contacted for that job.

Here are some tips for a foolproof cover letter.

Cover the basics.
Your letter should be brief, easy to read, and always include your full name, address and phone number in case your cover letter becomes separated from your resume. Don't forget to proofread to avoid spelling errors and typos. Make sure the job title and employer name are correct, too.

Target it.
Avoid using "Dear Hiring Manager" and find out the name of the company's human resources contact or recruiter. You can find this information by logging on to the company's Web site or calling the main phone number and asking a receptionist for the name and title of their corporate recruiter. Once you have a contact name, experts recommend using the person's formal title such as "Mr.," "Ms." or "Mrs."

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Be detailed.
State which job you are applying for in the very first paragraph and make sure to include other specific details such as a job ID number (if one was provided) and where you heard about the opening. The reason for this detail is simple: Many recruiters are responsible for multiple openings within their companies and must be able to determine which job your application is targeting. And if you were referred to the company by an employee, be sure to mention this in your letter as many companies have employee referral programs.

Have personality.
One of the objectives of a good cover letter is to make a personal connection with the reader. Gone are the days when you could simply change the name of the company in your salutation, attach it to your resume and fire it off to the employer. Recruiters see right through these types of letters and recognize them for what they are - a lazy person's attempt to find a job.

Do some legwork.
A winning cover letter will require some research into the company's history and recent accomplishments. It should show the reader that you have some knowledge of their company and that you made an informed decision when you decided to apply for a job at their company.

Show your worth.
When writing your letter, keep the requirements of the job in mind and address them specifically. Remember, it's not what the company can do for you; it's what you can do for the company that counts.

Get the interview.
Go ahead and tell the hiring manager you want that interview. Express that your cover letter and resume are just the tip of the iceberg and you look forward to a face-to-face conversation.

If you are still unsure about where to begin when writing a winning cover letter, you can find samples of dynamic cover letters online and at bookstores. 

Is shaving experience off your résumé a good idea?

By Alina Dizik, 

Just because you have enough work experience to cover three pages doesn't mean you need to include it all on your résumé. In fact, trimming your résumé to create a more targeted message about your skills and achievements can be a better way to land your next job. 

Most employers are interested in knowing only the most applicable ways your skills can help their organization, and a concise résumé is the first step. "It's vital to make sure the relevant information is at the forefront and easily viewed by the reader," says résumé expert Charlotte Weeks and founder of Weeks Career Services. 

Not sure which experience to leave off your résumé? Here's what to consider.

Decades-old experience
Most hiring managers don't care what you did 20 years ago, unless it was something truly spectacular. As you revamp your résumé, be sure to focus on the last 10 years of your experience, with only a few mentions of previous achievements to provide breadth. But there's always a caveat: If the role you held 20 years ago is still essential to your experience and it won't make you appear overqualified, leave it in. 

Appearing overqualified
Jam-packing your résumé with too much experience can hinder your chances of getting hired. Most recruiters and hiring managers are looking for candidates with just the right amount of experience. As a general rule, shave off experience "when you've been working a lot longer than the years required for the job," Weeks says.
Unrelated industry jobs
Once you've racked up enough experience, it's OK to skip the mention of your summer college job or a position you held in an unrelated industry. While leaving it on your résumé can demonstrate work ethic, it can also create a cluttered document that can confuse recruiters. As you gain more experience, most recruiters expect that irrelevant positions will no longer be listed on your résumé. 

Short-term jobs
Even if it pertains to your field, there's typically no need to include a short-term position. For example, if you're applying for a marketing manager role and you held a three-month stint in a marketing department five years ago, feel free to take it off. The only instance where keeping a short position on your résumé is beneficial is if it is the only proof of industry experience.

When you're just starting out, your internships are everything. However, as you progress in your career, these internships should be replaced with a more solid employment history that includes more permanent positions. 

Create different versions
As you whittle down your résumé, there's no need to think you need to make the same trims for every position, Weeks says. For each position, she suggests looking at the specific job positing to see what of your experience is most relevant. "See what requirements they're seeking, and make sure you include this information -- if you legitimately have it -- on your résumé," she says.

Condense work experience
Not sure how to fit in your most recent experience on your résumé? One trick is to condense other bullet points. The older the job, the less information you need to provide about your role and achievements, Weeks says.
As you build your résumé, it's important to take time to reassess the applicability of your experience. Since most résumés are one to two pages, it's important to constantly edit to keep only the most relevant parts of your experience. This can be difficult with a 20- or 30-year employment history, but it's often the only way to get hired.