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A Crash Course In Cover Letters: Adapting An Old School Tool For Your Digital Job Search

A Crash Course In Cover Letters: Adapting An Old School Tool For Your Digital Job Search

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Published by Hyperink
ABOUT THE BOOK

Today, job seekers need to build active, networking-based methods into their job searches. They have to have a game plan-and it's got to be crafty, bold and strategic. Hiding behind a computer and machine-gunning resumes into blind mailboxes over and over again is the recipe for a super long, frustrating job search.

Cover letters, we hear, are redundant, a waste of time for the applicant and the hiring manager, no longer useful in the age of online applications; and no one knows how to write them, anyway. This is just plain wrong.

Done right, cover letters provide an additional means by which you make your case for hiring to the employer. Far from being job search relics, they continue to provide value-both to you and to the hiring manager-in the application process. And, yes, they are still considered essential documents by a majority of employers. As reported by the Washington Post, 53% of employers surveyed give the edge to applicants who include cover letters over those who do not, and 91% claim that a well-written cover letter improved the odds of a less qualified candidate reaching the interview stage. A cover letter can truly make or break your application.

In this book, you'll find out: Whether to leave that graduate degree off your resume and what you can fake What you never should when describing your skill set How to find a job with social media savvy How to make sure social media isn't working against you How to stand out in the slush pile

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

J. Maureen Henderson is a business strategist, copywriter and Forbes contributor. She writes primarily about career issues affecting young professionals and recent grads, with an emphasis on the often messy intersection of demographics, economics, technology and pop culture. In addition to Forbes, her work has been featured in venues such as Salon, The Atlantic and The Huffington Post. She blogs at Generation Meh, is prolific on Twitter and has an abiding love of dachshunds and the Eurovision Song Contest.

EXCERPT FROM THE BOOK

If possible, address your letter to a person. If the job ad itself doesn't have a contact person, try matching up the email where you address your application with a name on the corporate website. If that doesn't yield results, see if you can sleuth out the name of the company's manager or director of human resources (via the corporate website or LinkedIn) and address it to him or her.

Lead with the future, not the past. Start your letter by mentioning the position you're applying for (the company might be staffing multiple vacancies at once) and a brief sentence in which you state the skills you think would best allow you to excel in the role.

Link your skills and experience to what was included in the job description. Make a connection between what they want and what you offer. You can't cover every desired qualification, but you should zero in on the top three and provide examples from your work history that illustrate your ability and experience in undertaking these tasks. Don't worry if you sound too pedantic. The hiring manager is going to be glancing through a lot of cover letters, so make his or her life easier by being as explicit as possible in how you fulfill the job ad's requirements.
ABOUT THE BOOK

Today, job seekers need to build active, networking-based methods into their job searches. They have to have a game plan-and it's got to be crafty, bold and strategic. Hiding behind a computer and machine-gunning resumes into blind mailboxes over and over again is the recipe for a super long, frustrating job search.

Cover letters, we hear, are redundant, a waste of time for the applicant and the hiring manager, no longer useful in the age of online applications; and no one knows how to write them, anyway. This is just plain wrong.

Done right, cover letters provide an additional means by which you make your case for hiring to the employer. Far from being job search relics, they continue to provide value-both to you and to the hiring manager-in the application process. And, yes, they are still considered essential documents by a majority of employers. As reported by the Washington Post, 53% of employers surveyed give the edge to applicants who include cover letters over those who do not, and 91% claim that a well-written cover letter improved the odds of a less qualified candidate reaching the interview stage. A cover letter can truly make or break your application.

In this book, you'll find out: Whether to leave that graduate degree off your resume and what you can fake What you never should when describing your skill set How to find a job with social media savvy How to make sure social media isn't working against you How to stand out in the slush pile

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

J. Maureen Henderson is a business strategist, copywriter and Forbes contributor. She writes primarily about career issues affecting young professionals and recent grads, with an emphasis on the often messy intersection of demographics, economics, technology and pop culture. In addition to Forbes, her work has been featured in venues such as Salon, The Atlantic and The Huffington Post. She blogs at Generation Meh, is prolific on Twitter and has an abiding love of dachshunds and the Eurovision Song Contest.

EXCERPT FROM THE BOOK

If possible, address your letter to a person. If the job ad itself doesn't have a contact person, try matching up the email where you address your application with a name on the corporate website. If that doesn't yield results, see if you can sleuth out the name of the company's manager or director of human resources (via the corporate website or LinkedIn) and address it to him or her.

Lead with the future, not the past. Start your letter by mentioning the position you're applying for (the company might be staffing multiple vacancies at once) and a brief sentence in which you state the skills you think would best allow you to excel in the role.

Link your skills and experience to what was included in the job description. Make a connection between what they want and what you offer. You can't cover every desired qualification, but you should zero in on the top three and provide examples from your work history that illustrate your ability and experience in undertaking these tasks. Don't worry if you sound too pedantic. The hiring manager is going to be glancing through a lot of cover letters, so make his or her life easier by being as explicit as possible in how you fulfill the job ad's requirements.

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Published by: Hyperink on Nov 14, 2012
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10/31/2014

I.

The Case for Cover Letters
Introduction
A Crash Course in
Cover Letter Writing
A Cover Letter Cautionary Tale:
What Not To Do
II.
Leveling Up—Beyond the Cover
Letter
Social Search: Taking Your Job Hunt Online
A Social Media Job Search
Success Story
III.
Your Digital Job Search
Ten Quick Tips
There’s An App(lication) For That—
Your Cover Letter Questions Answered
Quick Application Hacks
No One Tells You About
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Adapting Your Application And Yourself
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I.
The Case for Cover
Letters
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You only get one chance to make a first impression. Aside from blind dates, there isn’t a
circumstance in which this is more true than in your job hunt. And there’s never been a
time that it has been more true than right now, smack dab in the middle of the digital
era. No longer are you just a name on an application form: a quick Google search and
potential employers can not only pull up your Facebook and LinkedIn profiles, but your
Twitter account, your Tumblr, and your abandoned MySpace page. They’ll even find that
op-ed piece you penned for the University of Miami student newspaper and your blog
devoted to craft beer reviews—all of which can inform and color their perception of you
as a candidate.
Instead of cause for sweaty-palmed concern, you should view this as an opportunity to
present yourself and your accomplishments to a well-rounded degree that just wasn’t
possible in the pre-digital days. Bloggers are landing book deals. Job hunters are
connecting with recruiters on Twitter. Website designers are building expansive portfolios
before they even finish high school. The internet, particularly social media, has both
complicated the job search—everything you do online is up for scrutiny—and put a great
deal more agency in the hands of job searchers themselves: you can create, manage,
and promote your personal brand in an unprecedented way.
It’s easy to assume that in this brave new world of digital job hunting, the trappings of the
traditional job search no longer apply—but that’s simply not true. While how we look for
work and promote ourselves as qualified candidates has certainly changed over the last
decade, the fundamental tools we use to do this—the resume and cover letter—are still
hiring staples. While few quibble with the continuing need to have some sort of document
that presents our work history, education, and accumulated skills (as a resume does), and
no one seems ready to part with their business cards just yet, it’s the humble cover letter
that tends to be branded as archaic and unnecessary. Cover letters—we hear—are
redundant, a waste of time for the applicant and the hiring manager, no longer useful in
the age of online applications; and no one knows how to write them, anyway.
In fact, a recent piece on DeadSpin asserted that “There’s no good way to write a cover
letter because your two options are to be boring or to terrify everyone by trying to NOT
be boring.” This is just plain wrong. While there are a lot of ways to get derailed with your
cover letter—we’ll address some of those later—cover letters aren’t inherently boring and
Introduction
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they are far from unnecessary or redundant. They shouldn’t be generic cut-and-paste
jobs or rehashes of your resume. Done right, cover letters provide an additional means
by which you make your case for hiring to the employer. Far from being job search relics,
they continue to provide value—both to you and to the hiring manager—in the application
process. And, yes, they are still considered essential documents by a majority of
employers. As reported by the Washington Post, 53% of employers surveyed give the
edge to applicants who include cover letters over those who do not, and 91% claim that a
well-written cover letter improved the odds of a less qualified candidate reaching the
interview stage. A cover letter can truly make or break your application.
In short, cover letters provide:
A snapshot of writing skills A cover letter is your chance to show off your
communication skills. In the era of text-speak, LOLcat talk and the unironic use of
“intensive purposes,” people who are able to write clearly, succinctly and in
accordance with the rules of grammar stand out from the pack. A well-executed cover
letter allows you to do that.
An opportunity to present your personal brand Resumes are—or should be—
pretty standard in their presentation. The focus should be on skills and experience, not
wacky fonts, animated GIFS, or bombastic language. These are not documents to
show off your personality; they’re more like spec sheets you’d use to compare
properties when house hunting.
Cover letters, however, allow you to inject a little personality into your application.
Think of them as the house listing ads that appear your newspaper’s real estate
section. Your tone and content still need to read as professional, but you have the
opportunity to showcase yourself, focusing on particular qualities of your choosing. In
addition, you can articulate your enthusiasm for the position and the creative way
you’re able to link your experience to the company’s needs.
A means of standing out from the pack In the era of information overload, cover
letters serve as point of differentiation among candidates. A hiring manager may
receive hundreds of applications for a single position, many of which boast similar
qualifications and any number of which represent applicants who could capably fulfill
the position at hand. A well-written cover letter gives a candidate an edge by enticing
a hiring manager to go to the trouble of reading the attached resume, and allows the
candidate to succinctly sum up why he or she is a better choice for the job than the
competition.
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Once you’ve accepted that your job application requires a polished cover letter, then
comes the task of drafting it. Most of us are working from templates we were introduced
to in high school or samples we pulled from the internet, but dated or generic letters
aren’t going to impress a hiring manager—and may instead make you seem apathetic or
out of touch. It’s time to be creative and to customize. I’ll show you how.
A Step-by-Step Tutorial
A friend generously agreed to offer up her cover letter for critique with the request that I
change the identifying details. (Hint: she’s never answered phones for a bounty hunter!)
Her document is a great example of what most folks are submitting along with their
resumes. It’s certainly not terrible, but there are a number of tweaks to be made that will
both correct common mistakes and take the document up a level to stand out from the
pack. Let’s have a look:
To Whom It May Concern:
For more than three years, I have worked in the ACME industries marketing department. I
have edited hundreds of brochures and answered thousands of questions. While I enjoy
my work, I am looking for a new experience. With my communication skills, proficiency
with technology, and ability to work with a variety of personalities, I feel I would be an
excellent [whatever] for [Company Name].
On a daily basis as a marketing coordinator, I edit press releases for publication,
coordinate bill payments for the accounting department and manage ACME’s web
presence. In my previous job as a receptionist for a bail bond company, I collected and
inputted data in bail bond agreements, tracked the status of our current bonds in a
database and sent classified information. This is in addition to basic office functions such
as faxing, emailing, and organizing files.
I use Microsoft Office suite regularly in the marketing department along with several
other programs. Years of experience have taught me to work through technical issues on
my own before seeking help. This is especially important since our schedule often means
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we work beyond the usual 9-to-5, long after the IT department has gone home.
I also feel my ability to communicate and interact with people would be a useful asset for
the position. I have worked with numerous vendors and potential in my daily work and at
tradeshows. I truly enjoy working with people and doing what I can to help them.
Thank you for your time and consideration. Please feel free to contact me at 347-555-
555 and a.jobseeker@gmail.com.
Sincerely,
A. Jobseeker
Now, let’s break it down by paragraphs:
To Whom It May Concern:
If possible, address your letter to a person. If the job ad itself doesn’t have a contact
person, try matching up the email where you address your application with a name on
the corporate website. If that doesn’t yield results, see if you can sleuth out the name of
the company’s manager or director of human resources (via the corporate website or
LinkedIn) and address it to him or her.
For more than three years, I have worked in ACME industries marketing department. I
have edited hundreds of brochures and answered thousands of questions. While I enjoy
my work, I am looking for a new experience. With my communication skills, proficiency
with technology, and ability to work with a variety of personalities, I feel I would be an
excellent [whatever] for [Company Name].
Lead with the future, not the past. Start your letter by mentioning the position you’re
applying for (the company might be staffing multiple vacancies at once) and a brief
sentence in which you state the skills you think would best allow you to excel in the role.
On a daily basis as a marketing coordinator, I edit press releases for publication,
coordinate bill payments for the accounting department and manage ACME’s web
presence. In my previous job as a receptionist for bail bond company, I collected and
inputted data in bail bond agreements, tracked the status of our current bonds in a
database and sent classified information. This is in addition to basic office functions such
as faxing, emailing, and organizing files.
Link your skills and experience to what was included in the job description. Make a
connection between what they want and what you offer. You can’t cover every desired
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qualification, but you should zero in on the top three and provide examples from your
work history that illustrate your ability and experience in undertaking these tasks. Don’t
worry if you sound too pedantic. The hiring manager is going to be glancing through a lot
of cover letters, so make his or her life easier by being as explicit as possible in how you
fulfill the job ad’s requirements.
I use Microsoft Office suite regularly in the marketing department along with several
other programs. Years of experience have taught me to work through technical issues on
my own before seeking help. This is especially important since our schedule often means
we work beyond the usual 9-to-5, long after the IT department has gone home.
Many job ads list some level of computer proficiency as a requirement. Unless the job—a
graphic designer, business analyst or a programmer, for example—depends on advanced
technical skills or expertise with software that the average Joe isn’t running on their
laptop, you can skip this paragraph. Employees will assume you know your way around
word processing and have been surfing the net since middle school until you prove
otherwise.
I also feel my ability to communicate and interact with people would be a useful asset for
the position. I have worked with numerous vendors and potential in my daily work and at
tradeshows. I truly enjoy working with people and doing what I can to help them.
Keep the reference to your key skills or qualities, but link them to future success in the
position: “I am X, Y, Z, which will help me to A, B, C for your company and contribute to
*** outcome.” This paragraph is also where you can demonstrate your research chops by
dropping the reason (be specific) you want to work for this particular company.
Thank you for your time and consideration. Please feel free to contact me at 347-555-
555 and a.jobseeker@gmail.com.
Feel free to show a little swagger here. Say that you’re looking forward to discussing
further how your skills and experience would be a fit for the position and the value you
could bring to the role. If the job ad requires you to answer additional questions (your
earliest availability, salary requirements, etc.), this paragraph is the place to do that.
Then, just end with your contact information.
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We’ve discussed what goes into a good cover letter, but how do you know what to leave
out? Getting overly enthusiastic or bombastic when trying to sell yourself to an employer
might not just get your application relegated to the circular file, it could also turn you into
an internet cautionary tale.
In a previous job, I used to play a role in hiring our summer interns. Most of of the
resumes and cover letters we received were fairly standard. Some were succinct. Some
were long and rambling. And one included a paragraph that described in great detail the
applicant’s love of mixed martial arts and graphic novels. Being nice people, my
coworkers and I simply passed around his application for the giggle potential and it never
went any further than that.
Not everyone is so nice, though. One aspiring finance tycoon found this out the hard way
when his cover letter for a summer position at J.P. Morgan became the laughingstock of
Wall Street and ended up being featured by the likes of Gawker and Business Insider. But
what exactly made his letter so cringe-worthy? And how can everyone from would-be
interns and rookie job seekers to mid-career pros pounding the pavement after an
unanticipated layoff, avoid the same mistakes that made our aspiring investment banker
a viral laughingstock? Read on to find out.
Here is NYU student Mark’s letter, as printed by Gawker:
1/23/2012
J.P. Morgan
Dear Sir or Madame:
I am an ambitious undergraduate at NYU triple majoring in Mathematics, Economics, and
Computer Science. I am a punctual, personable, and shrewd individual, yet I have a
quality which I pride myself on more than any of these.
I am unequivocally the most unflaggingly hard worker I know, and I love self-
improvement. I have always felt that my time should be spent wisely, so I continuously
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improvement. I have always felt that my time should be spent wisely, so I continuously
challenge myself; I left Villanova because the work was too easy. Once I realized I could
achieve a perfect GPA while holding a part-time job at NYU, I decided to redouble my
effort by placing out of two classes, taking two honors classes, and holding two part-time
jobs. That semester I achieved a 3.93, and in the same time I managed to bench double
my bodyweight and do 35 pull-ups.
I say these things only because solid evidence is more convincing than unverifiable
statements, and I want to demonstrate that I am a hard worker. J.P. Morgan is a firm with
a reputation that precedes itself and employees who represent only the best and rightest
in finance. I know that the employees in this firm will push me to excellence, especially
within the Investment Banking division. In fact, one of the supporting reasons I chose
Investment Banking over any other division was that I know it is difficult. I hope to
augment my character by diligently working for the professionals at Morgan Stanley, and
I feel I have much to offer in return.
I am proficient in several programming languages, and I can pick up a new one very
quickly. For instance, I learned a years worth of Java from NYU in 27 days on my own; this
is how I placed out of two including: Money and Banking, Analysis, Game Theory,
Probability and Statistics. Even further, I am taking Machine Learning and Probabilistic
Graphical Modeling currently, two programming courses offered by Stanford, so that I
may truly offer the most if I am accepted. I am proficient with Bloomberg terminals,
excellent with excel, and can perform basic office functions with terrifying efficiency. I
have plenty of experience in the professional world through my internship at Merrill
Lynch, and my research assistant position at NYU. In fact, my most recent employer has
found me so useful that he promoted me to a Research Assistant and an official CTED
intern. This role is usually reserved for Masters students, but my employer gave the title
to me so that he could give me more work.
Please realize that I am not a braggart or conceited, I just want to outline my usefulness.
Egos can be a huge liability, and I try not to have one.
Thank you so much for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you.
Best,
Mark
Here’s how you can avoid his viral fate:
Skip the pointless bragging
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“That semester I achieved a 3.93, and in the same time I managed to bench double my
bodyweight and do 35 pull-ups.”
While the folly of mentioning your fitness routine should be self-evident, you can skip
including the GPA, too. And the discussion of the classes you’ve excelled in and the
laundry list of adjectives to describe your awesomeness. Your cover letter should be
concise, targeted, and should focus on what you can and will do to contribute to your
potential employer’s success. Unless the job you’re applying for involves heavy lifting,
leave out the gym stats.
Don’t make it all about you
“J.P. Morgan is a firm with a reputation that precedes itself and employees who represent
only the best and rightest[sic] in finance. I know that the employees in this firm will push
me to excellence, especially within the Investment Banking division. In fact, one of the
supporting reasons I chose Investment Banking over any other division was that I know it
is difficult. I hope to augment my character by diligently working for the professionals at
Morgan Stanley, and I feel I have much to offer in return.”
Not only does Mark mention two different companies in this paragraph (a dead giveaway
that he’s been shopping the same cut-and-paste letter to multiple firms), he speaks only
in the broadest of generalities about the company he aspires to work for. He doesn’t
demonstrate any knowledge of their operations and doesn’t include any details about
their latest newsworthy accomplishments, or give an indication that he’s so much as
browsed the corporate website before firing off a resume. Your cover letter isn’t about
you; it’s about what you can do for the company. And you can’t effectively discuss that
without speaking in specifics about their business and how you can strengthen it.
Know when to quit
Mark’s letter is six paragraphs long. The more you write in a cover letter, the more
opportunities you have to turn off the hiring manager by including information, details,
typos or awkward phrasing that will land your resume in the circular file. Your job is to get
in, make a good impression, and get out again as quickly (and in as few words) as
possible. Let your resume do the heavy lifting when it comes to selling your skills. The
cover letter should only be long enough to introduce your most relevant experience,
demonstrate how it would concretely benefit the company’s operations and provide a
brief closing that confirms your interest and availability for further discussion.
Don’t get sloppy
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There are typos in Mark’s letter, as well as missing words and the ultimate faux pas of the
mixed-up company names mentioned above. If you can’t sustain a professional level of
communication in a one-page note, it makes you seem careless, uninterested and sloppy.
These are not qualities anyone hires for. Proof your cover letter fanatically and get at
least one additional set of eyes to review it on your behalf. And for God’s sake, don’t cut
and paste the same letter for every position.
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II.
Leveling Up—Beyond
the Cover Letter
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Think: when was the last time you applied for a job with a hard copy resume and cover
letter? Gone are the days when you circled job ads in the newspaper classifieds and
either applied in person, resume in hand, or mailed it off with a first-class stamp. But
there’s more to the digital job search than just emailing applications, posting your resume
on Monster.com or submitting it to an electronic database. Job hunting and employee
recruitment hasn’t just gone electronic—it’s gone social. And so have savvy job seekers.
Social media use has doubled since 2007, with 66% of American adults belonging to at
least one social media platform. Given how much time we spend on social networking
sites, it only makes sense to combine business with pleasure and leverage your
participation on those sites to support your job search—especially when employers are
increasingly going online to recruit and screen candidates. In fact, according to a survey
by Reppler, 90% of participating hiring managers had viewed an applicant’s social
networking site profile as part of the screening process, and almost 70% had used
information they uncovered to inform their decision about whether or not to hire a
candidate.
Being plugged into the info grid almost 24/7 means that uncovering new opportunities
and making a positive impression on potential employers is no longer something that can
be confined to a specific time and place, say, Mondays and Wednesdays from 2:00 – 4:30
p.m. at a table at your nearest Starbucks. A tweet you send at 7:30 a.m. can catch
someone’s eye. You can submit your resume to a recruitment agency’s database on your
lunch hour. Tinkering with your LinkedIn profile might be your go-to insomnia cure.
Check out these great infographics from JobVite and OpenDegrees to see the ways social
media is being used for recruitment purposes and how to leverage your own social media
presence to best capitalize on the trend.
Straight From The Horse’s Mouth: Expert Advice On Adapting To New Job
Search Realities
Recently, I caught up with a couple of accomplished career experts to ask them about
the reality of job hunting in the age of social media, and how to be at the top of your
Social Search: Taking Your Job
Hunt Online
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game when it comes to capitalizing on opportunities. Whether you’re looking for that first
career-track opportunity after graduation or job hunting after an unexpected lay-off, they
have some advice for you.
Steph Auteri is a one-stop word nerd shop. In addition to providing general writing and
editing services, she does ghostwriting, co-authoring, and consulting for sexual health
professionals. When she’s not sexing it up in print, she does career coaching for word
nerds. Feel free to stalk her on Twitter.
Jenny Foss operates a Portland, OR-based recruiting firm, Ladder Recruiting Group, and
is creator of the blog, JobJenny.Your job search BFF and tough love expert on finding
career passion, Jenny is also the author of the job search strategy ebook, To Whom It
May Concern: Or, How to Stop Sucking at Your Job Search. You may find Jenny on Twitter.
How has job hunting changed in the last 10 years? What has remained the same?
Steph: Nine years ago, when I was fresh out of college, job hunting was vastly different.
Filling out an application or sending in a cover letter/resume felt like launching myself out
into a nameless, faceless void. These days—thanks to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.—
it’s so much easier to establish a personal connection with the person you’re contacting…
if you’re smart enough to do your homework.
What has remained the same, though, is that it’s all about who you know… or, more
importantly, who knows you.
Jenny: Less than a decade ago, searching for a new job typically involved taking a few
spins on Monster.com, dialing up a recruiter who “knows people” and/or asking around
and finding a relatively quick opening. When the economy imploded in 2008, everything
changed. Almost overnight. We now had hundred’s (sometimes, thousand’s) of people
applying online for a relative few number of posted opportunities. The pendulum swung
and the advantage was no longer in the hands of the job seeker; not by a long shot.
These tried and true methods no longer worked like they used to. The problem, however,
lies in the fact that everyone was so used to using these old, passive search methods
that, when they found themselves unemployed or wanting to make a transition, these
were the methods they knew how to employ. And so these were (and, for many, continue
to be) the methods they defaulted to.
Today, job seekers need to build active, networking-based methods into their job
searches. They have to have a game plan—and it’s got to be crafty, bold and strategic.
Hiding behind a computer and machine-gunning resumes into blind mailboxes over and
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over again is the recipe for a super long, frustrating job search.
What has stayed the same? You have to stand out. You have to make it very easy for
your intended reviewer to make a very quick connection between “Here’s what I need”
and “Here’s what Joe Jobseeker has to offer.” The more logical you can make this for the
reviewer? The more likely it is that you’ll be invited in for an interview.
You have to realize that employers are looking for someone who fulfills these three
things: 1) Can he/she do the stuff we need him/her to do? 2) Do we like him/her? and 3)
Will he/she fit in around here? This has always been the case with recruitment and hiring,
and will continue to be the case.
The big change is in the “How you get the attention of the people who matter” piece of
this—and that, in large part, is where social media can come in handy.
How can social media help or hurt a job hunt?
Steph: These days, hiring managers are quick to Google job applicants before bringing
them in for interviews. They do this to find examples of an applicant’s work, to see how
web-savvy they are, and sometimes to get a sense of a person’s character.
I get pretty darn personal on my social media accounts. I’m of the mind that if a person is
squeamish about what I reveal, I probably don’t want to work with them anyway. But I
suppose that’s an easy stance to take in my industry. Professionals should remain ever
aware of the fact that their status updates, tweets, and blog posts are visible to everyone.
If you don’t want a client/employer knowing something, keep your mouth shut about it
online.
Another thing that can hurt someone’s prospects? A complete lack of social media
presence, or obvious signs that you’re just not that good at it. In this day and age, you
can’t afford to not know what you’re doing within the social media sphere. A sign that
you’re not up with the times could make an employer worry that you’ll require lots of
hand holding. How can social media help your job hunt? It can help you build your
network. It can help you establish yourself as an expert in your field. It can help you build
a platform and an audience, so that you can more effectively promote your work.
Bottom line: Know what your goals are with social media before you dive in.
Jenny: Social media, when employed well, can be an incredibly beneficial resource for
job search. These tools have virtually leveled the playing field on who you can contact,
and how quickly you can get to them. LinkedIn, for instance, is probably the single most
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vital tool job seekers can master today, for a zillion reasons—research, building a
professional brand, connecting with people of influence, finding people working within the
companies you have your eye on, etc. It’s huge. I always tell job seekers to learn the ins
and outs of social media tools like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and personal
blogs or webpages. But if you employ or master only one? Make it LinkedIn.
Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Pinterest, and personal blogs/ webpages can also be
beneficial, absolutely, but if you employ just one? LinkedIn.
Now, social media can also hurt you—in a number of ways. The most obvious way is if
you have a shocking or otherwise loser-ish public persona on social media. If I Google
your name and find vulgar stuff in your Twitter feed or pictures of you going wild on
Spring Break on your Facebook?
I’m going to say “No thank you.”
Social media can also hurt your job hunt if you don’t have goals or a strategy. You really
need to think about your objectives before you start using social media for job search.
What do I want to accomplish? Who do I need to reach? What do I need to say when I get
to that person? Or, for say, your LinkedIn profile—What am I using LinkedIn for? How do I
need to brand myself? What can I do to make sure I get my key messages across? If you
just dive into a bunch of social media outlets and start floundering around, you’ll probably
look like a newbie, you might offend someone and you could undermine your efforts—
have a game plan. If you’re new to the social media tool, observe how people engage on
it for a while before you leap into the conversation.
What is the one best and one worst thing a job hunter can do in crafting materials (cover
letters, resumes, pitches, etc.) for their job search?
Steph: The worst cover letter I ever received? It was just a few sentences long, and not
at all targeted to the publication at which I was working, or the job for which I was hiring.
In fact, the email was CC’d to a whole slew of editors at other publications. Not even
BCC’d! Aside from the obvious faux pas, what made this letter so terrible was that it did
not show the applicant’s interest in the publication I was at, or the job position I was trying
to fill. It just showed… desperation.
The best thing you can do with your application materials is basically the opposite of this:
Do your homework and show the hiring manager why you want to work for his company,
why you want that position, and why you’re the best person for that job.
I also suggest keeping around one master resume that includes your entire work history,
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and then tweaking it for each job you apply to. Leave in the stuff that’s most relevant.
Minimize everything else.
Jenny: Consider your target market and what will matter most to them. Make it very
easy for them to see the WIIFM—what’s in it for me? Speak directly to the core
deliverables of the types of positions you’re pursuing. Show your personality.
The worst thing: Trying to kill 17 birds with one resume. If you’re unclear on your target
market, you may need 2-3 versions of your resume. Again, you need to make it very easy
for the reviewer to “get” why you’re a natural fit.
As a career expert, what success story from a client are you most proud of?
Steph: Many of the clients I work with are looking to start their own businesses, but
these lessons are still important for them, because now they need to impress many
clients/editors. I can’t help but do a little happy dance when previous clients email me to
say that they’ve finally broken into their first major glossy magazine.
Jenny: I recently worked with a client who had been in restaurant management for many
(successful) years. Almost two years ago, he was laid off from a regional management
position with a major family restaurant chain; the franchisee was moving his son into the
role. He’d truly never had to search for a job before, and was overwhelmed by the
process. As he approached the two-year mark, he was starting to become very stressed
and bewildered.
Here’s a guy that knew he was excellent at what he does, had a stellar career record, but
no one was giving him a chance. And that certainly was not for lack of trying. He was
applying for jobs every single week.
I took one look at his resume and knew why he wasn’t getting response. It was very, very
vague and gave the reviewer absolutely no indication that he was a standout. It was also
formatted in a very antiquated style, which made him look old. Worse, he went too far
back in his work history and listed his graduation date ,which was in the late ’70s.
We reworked his resume so that it was instantly clear the value he can bring into a
restaurant chain, we showcased his key wins from past positions, and we shared how he
was valued by his team members. We also de-emphasized this 30+ years of experience
to reduce the chance he’d be ruled out on age (which I know employers aren’t supposed
to do, but to suggest this doesn’t happen is just baloney).
Within three weeks, he had a handful of interviews, and a job offer with regional
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restaurant chain. Two years of stress and anxiety before he got to the bottom of what
was going wrong.
I was so excited when I got the email announcing that he’d landed the new job. That stuff
just makes my week. Stories like that make my job so incredibly fulfilling.
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Still skeptical that social media can be a boon to your job search? I asked Twitter pal Jenn
Pedde to share the story of how she landed not one, but two jobs based in large part on
the strength of her social media presence and her ability to leverage social media as a
platform, demonstrating her expertise in the area of community management. Here’s
what she said:
“One thing I can say before I get started is that every connection you make can be a
possible job lead. Your best friends will help you search, but it’s really the second and
third degree connections that will actually find you the best opportunities. In this case,
your Twitter network can be extremely invaluable and you should always continue to
grow it and network. Facebook just really isn’t the ideal place to search.
My story begins in early 2007 when I decided to leave my job in NYC and spent nearly
three years living and working abroad in Seoul, South Korea, teaching English, because I
wanted to travel and pay off college debts. I decided to come home in December 2009
(home being Syracuse, NY) and try to figure out what to do professionally. I had used
social media a bit in Korea for ways to promote cultural exchange groups I was involved
in, and when I was interviewing with recruiters talked a bit about that experience. Well,
one recruiter at an agency on Wall St. in NYC decided to take a chance on me and after
only five weeks of searching in the worst economy possible, they hired me to help out
their social recruiting. I did some consulting for them and as I was building on my skills, a
friend RTed (retweeted) a job posting for a community manager in Syracuse. I applied,
referenced the tweet, had an interview, and was hired.
I spent eight months working as a community manager and voraciously reading
everything I could in order to do the job the best way possible since it was so new. I
started working for the company in May 2010 and over the summer discussed the ins and
outs of the job with a friend who was the new Community Manager for Syracuse
University at the time. We decided to start a Twitter chat since they had been so
instrumental in both of our networking pasts. We really thought that someone would
come out and say, ‘Hey guys, there’s already one that exists, you should just join that
one,’ but fortunately for us it never happened. I never would have reinvented the wheel.
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one,’ but fortunately for us it never happened. I never would have reinvented the wheel.
In September 2010, the first #CmgrChat took place with 88 people and 761 tweets in one
hour on the topic of ‘Time Management as a Community Manager’ with very little
promotion. After that, everything happened so fast. The chat is now over 20 months old
and still going very strong with anywhere from 80-140 people attending each week.
One of the chat participants introduced me via email on that first day to the person who
owned TheCommunityManager.com and wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with it. He
and I chatted a bit about what we could do with the chat and the site together, and the
concept of a community for Community Managers was born. I came to New York in
November 2010 to meet him, just two months after the chat had started and we brought
on another collaborator to help us make this idea take shape. Two weeks later, the
company I started working for decided to sell and was letting go a good portion of the
workforce. I announced on Twitter that I was now looking for a new job and through a
chat connection, that night I was introduced to the community manager for 2tor at the
time. She sent me a Facebook message at midnight on a Thursday, we set up a phone
call for 15 minutes on Friday morning and then later that afternoon I had another 15
minute phone conversation with my would be supervisor and the CMO of 2tor. I was told
the job was mine by the end of that day and I accepted—completely sight unseen. No
formal interview, no Skype, I had never set foot in the office. I started the job right in
January 2011 as a community manager for one of 2tor’s programs and one year later, I
am now the community strategist for all of 2tor. Forbes just rated it one of the top 10
startups changing the world—and it really is.
When it comes to social media, jobs in all areas are everywhere. However, it’s hard to
just jump in and find them. Through carefully curating lists of influential people at a
number of companies over time, you build relationships and friendships. When you need
a job, that network will be right there to help you and if they don’t have anything for you,
they’ll keep an eye out for things that they think you might be a good fit for—even if you
have never met. It takes an incredible amount of time and energy to build that kind of
system, but it’s well worth it. If you are impatient, you will not reap the rewards. You have
to put yourself out there and be authentic and knowledgeable, too.”
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III.
Your Digital Job
Search
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No matter how confident you are in your social media skills, we can all use an occasional
refresher. Keep these quick tips in mind the next time your job search takes you online:
1. Assume that anything you post online can and will be attributed to you, no matter
what privacy precautions you take. This doesn’t mean you have to self-censor to the
extreme, but it does mean that you have to be willing to stand behind and take
responsibility for your digital paper trail. If you can’t defend what you’ve said or done
and still be able to look at yourself in the mirror, think twice about saying it—online or
off.
2. Set up a Google alert for your name. If you’re being mentioned online, you want to
know when, where, and by whom.
3. On a related note, Google yourself to see what comes up. In particular, pay attention
to which details of your social media profiles are accessible in search results and
revisit your privacy options for those accounts accordingly. Can strangers only see
your name and location if they happen on your Facebook profile, or can they note
your birthdate, hometown, and current employer, as well as browse through your
album of past profile pics at their leisure?
4. Make sure you use a professional email address for all job-related correspondence. At
its safest and most foolproof, that’s some iteration of firstnamelastname@gmail.com.
This one is a no-brainer.
5. Create a job application email signature that includes your name, number, email
address and a link to your professional online presence (portfolio, LinkedIn, etc.). If
you already have an email signature that includes personal links (blog, Twitter,
Facebook) that you don’t want to share with hiring managers, edit it to ensure that
your meticulously-crafted cover email and resume aren’t undermined by a link to your
tumblr devoted to pictures of Ryan Gosling in suits.
6. Update your definition of networking. It now includes participating in Twitter chats,
joining LinkedIn groups, commenting on blogs within your industry, participating in
free webinars and reaching out to peers and thought leaders via email to let them
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know if you find a piece of content they’ve created particularly interesting or useful.
7. Follow Twitter accounts that regularly tweet job leads or job ads for your area. Try
searching “jobs + <your city> on Twitter to see what comes up. For example:
8. If you’re in an industry that appreciates this kind of effort (think media, advertising,
tech,etc.) consider creating an infographic resume, or at least registering
yourname.com and developing a simple site that provides an overview of your work
experience, links to past work. a summary of the type of opportunity you’re currently
seeking and plenty of ways for visitors to connect with or contact you.If you want to
get really creative—and you know the company you’re targeting will appreciate it—
you can even make a site customized to grab their attention like this job hunter keen
to work with hot start-up Shopify did.
9. If you’re looking for work while already employed, update your LinkedIn consistently
instead of sending red flags to all your connections—including your current employer!
—by overhauling your entire profile at once. For more LinkedIn Dos and Don’ts check
out this advice from one of my Forbes colleagues.
10. IRL still exists. Online job search efforts should supplement your in-the-flesh efforts,
not replace them. Meeting people, mining your network for leads and getting/keeping
active in your field requires shutting the laptop at some point.
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Recently, I put out a call via Twitter and Facebook to find the most pressing questions
followers had about 21st century job searching. Here are the top five most frequently
asked questions and their answers:
Should my cover letter be an attachment or in the body of the email?
In the case of applying via email, the text of the email is your cover letter. Instead of
wasting that space and forcing the reader to perform an extra step in order to check out
your awesomeness, you want to capture their eyes as soon as they open your message.
If you’re cutting and pasting it from Word or another program, make absolutely sure your
formatting is solid, though. Email a copy to yourself before you send it to a hiring
manager to make sure the internet hasn’t eaten your paragraph breaks or refused to
wrap the text at the end of lines.
What file format should my resume and cover letter be in?
Unless the job ad specifies .doc or .rtf, I recommend opting for .pdf. There’s no way to
guarantee that a Word document will look the same on the hiring manager’s screen as it
did on yours and mangled formatting doesn’t make for a great first impression. With a
PDF, you can be confident that what you sent is going to appear exactly as you intended
it to.
How can I increase my chances of getting screened in when applying via an
online system?
Most companies employ software that scans your resume, cover letters and/or any other
data for specific keywords that appear in the job posting to which you’re applying.
Without sounding as if it was written by an SEO robot, your application should include as
There’s An App(lication) For That

Your Cover Letter Questions
Answered
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many of these keywords (focus on the skills and required experience sections of the job
ad) as possible and even repeat phrases directly from the posting in the text of your
cover letter. It seems pedantic, but it works. You could be a perfect match for the
position advertised, but if the software doesn’t find what it’s looking for, your application
will likely never be viewed by human eyes.
Is there any value to sending my application through snail mail?
Always reply to the job ad in the manner in which it specifies. If it says apply by email, do
that. If it specifies snail mail, do that. If you are given a choice of options, pick only one!
Just because the job posting lists multiple modes of submitting your application, don’t
take it as invitation to spam the hiring manager via all available channels. With respect to
choosing between email and snail mail, some experts will tell you that using good ol’
USPS will help you to stand out from the electronic crowd, but you have to ask yourself
whether you’ll be distinguishing yourself in a good way or running the risk of being
branded a Luddite. Add in the possibility of your package getting lost in the mail,
languishing on the wrong desk, ending up under a stack of unrelated papers or being
subjected to an unfortunate coffee spillage accident and I recommend email. if you’re
really lucky, the employer will have set up an auto reply message for the application
address and you’ll receive an immediate email notifying you that your application has
been received after you’ve submitted it.
How much research should I do on a company before applying, and how
much of that should be reflected in my cover letter?
There’s no such thing as too much research when it comes to a potential employer. But
the majority of that should be saved for the interview stage, when you want to be able to
let your knowledge of the company shine with a few targeted questions for the hiring
manager. If there is an organic way to mention the company’s latest (positive!)
achievement or most recent appearance in the news in your cover letter, go for it. And
definitely state clearly what it is about this company in particular—be specific—that
makes you want to work for them. But save the discussion of their CEO’s noted
enthusiasm for mountain climbing for another time. (Possibly never.)
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So far we’ve focused on the cover letter and how to upgrade, troubleshoot, and digitize it,
but what about the humble resume? Shouldn’t it get a little love, too? In this section, we’ll
review a few tricks for taking your resume up a notch without sacrificing the truth.
When a CEO or business leader plays fast and loose with the rules of resume writing, it
has the potential to backfire in a spectacular fashion. Here are just a few examples. But
this type of behavior isn’t confined to the c-suite. In fact, 8% of Americans admit that
they’ve fabricated or embellished their credentials, but, as in the case of famous fact
fudgers such as Yahoo! CEO Scott Thompson, you take your career in your hands when
you misrepresent yourself to an employer.
We can all likely agree (save for the 8% of you with your pants on fire) that outright lies,
omissions and fabrications are resume killers, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t
ways to polish your on-paper image that won’t result in a pink slip. The goal of a resume
is to present your achievements and experience in the best possible light and that
requires being savvy about just what’s presented and how.
Here are four tricks that will help you do that, ethically:
1. Leave off that graduate degree
A friend of mine has a BA, two MAs, and an almost-complete PhD, but zero interest in
becoming an academic. You better believe that job hunting outside of the ivory tower was
more than a little difficult for her when it came to trying to land an entry-level position. If
your academic qualifications far outstrip what the job description demands, it’s easy for a
hiring manager to write you off as overqualified (read: likely to be bored and to cut and
run). Also, if your degree is in a field outside of the one in which you’re looking for a job, it
may very likely raise questions about why you’re course correcting now or why you spent
time and money pursuing an advanced degree that you aren’t applying in your career.
The exception to this rule is if you’re applying via an electronic application system that
specifically requires you to input all of your educational credentials. In that case, you’re
gonna have to fess up. No getting around it.
Quick Application Hacks
No One Tells You About
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2. Tailor your job duties for the position
In the course of a given job, you’re going to be juggling numerous responsibilities and
projects. That doesn’t mean you should mention all of them—no matter how impressive—
on your resume. What hiring managers want to see are the accomplishments and
demonstrated skill sets that relate directly to the position they want to staff and they
won’t bother scanning through a slew of unrelated bullet points to get to them. For
example, if you’re applying for a PR job, your resume should highlight the PR components
of previous positions. Maybe you also managed budgets and drafted supply contracts, but
if those duties aren’t related to what you’re applying for, delete ‘em.
3. Dump the dead weight
Unless it’s the only work experience you have or you’re applying for a similar gig now, the
fact that you worked your way through college hostessing at Applebee’s doesn’t need its
own line item on your resume. Your resume is a summary of your qualifications, not a
sworn affidavit. It should emphasize only the most relevant past experience as opposed
to cataloging every position you’ve had since age 16. In the past, I’d sometimes leave my
freelancing work off a resume because it was a side venture and it pulled focus away
from the corporate experience I was trying to highlight.
The exception to this rule is if you held the job in question for a significant period of time.
If you’ve been hostessing at Applebee’s full-time since 2001, you can’t omit that
information and leave the last decade a blank. In a case like that, you can use the
approach mentioned in the second trick and focus your efforts on crafting a stellar cover
letter that highlights transferable skills from your current position.
4. Aim high
While not strictly a trick, this does involve more daring than the average job seeker is
typically comfortable with. Simply put, if you meet a majority (but not all) of the
qualifications for a given job, you should still apply. A career expert pal recommends
greenlighting any jobs for which you meet 60% of the requirements. Some job
descriptions feature such a disparate mix of skills and experience that the “ideal”
candidate doesn’t exist anywhere outside of a genetics lab, so the odds of the firm
getting exactly what they’re looking for are pretty slim. If you’re close-but-no-cigar to
what they want, it doesn’t hurt to throw your hat in the ring.
As a caveat, you’ll have to rely on your own judgment to determine which aspects of the
job description are considered must-haves and which are less critical. For example, if
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job description are considered must-haves and which are less critical. For example, if
you’d be absolutely perfect for the position if only for the fact that you aren’t a
professional engineer with construction industry experience and couldn’t tell a blueprint
from a treasure map, you’ll probably want to take a pass on that one.
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You should realize by now that there is no one perfect cover letter or foolproof way to
look for work online or off. Life is all about pitching yourself—as a potential employee, a
mate, a good candidate for a car loan. And that pitch is being continually adapted based
on what you want people to buy—your employability, your sex appeal, your
creditworthiness. Your job is to know your own value, to understand the needs of your
audience, and figure out how to communicate the former to latter in the most compelling
manner possible. In many cases, this is a trial and error process, but there are a few
steps you can take to make sure you take full advantage of any and all opportunities to
sell the world on you:
Demonstrate that you’ve done your homework
During my days as a TA, I used to get emails addressed to every variation of my name
under the sun. These students saw me every week. My name easy to spell and
pronounce, not to mention it was on the syllabus, so there’s no excuse for sending an
email with the salutation Dear Ms. Handy, Doesn’t really predispose me to grant your
request for an extension, does it?
You don’t need to take things to a stalker level, just don’t be sloppy. Follow directions.
Initiate contact in the manner that you’re directed to in the job posting and include the
materials requested. Get names and titles right. Customize your pitch to the audience.
Make the recipient feel special, and yes, follow up. This is Pitching 101.
Play to your strengths
Don’t just give the hiring manager what you think he or she wants to hear—pitch what
you can do well in a way that fits their needs. If the initial fit between what you do well
and what they seem to want isn’t there, start Venn diagramming until you can find the
overlap between the two and jump on that, or look for positions that are a more
comfortable fit for your skills and experience.
Keep it brief
Adapting Your Application And
Yourself
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Don’t give the hiring manager an opportunity to say no. The more you ramble (in print or
in person), the more information you put out there to be nitpicked, dissected and/ or used
to dismiss your request. Also, you will bore the person on the other end and they will hold
that boredom against you. Keep your cover letter or introductory email as short as
realistically possible (one or two lines won’t cut it). If you can’t make your case in a single
page, you need to get better at editing yourself (or bring in outside help).
Realize that you are selling yourself (but not in a dirty way)
The job of any pitch is to sell you (as a writer, a startup founder, an employee, a hot date)
to someone else. Personality trumps all. For example, you can pitch an editor a killer
idea, but if your writing is sub-par, they will take a pass on you. You can also pitch a been-
there, done-that piece, but the way you frame it and the strength of your voice and style
can get you the “yes”.
Your credentials and presentation will seal the deal, but the initial impression you make is
the deciding factor, and where the bulk of your effort should be directed. You want to win
over the hiring manager during the precious few seconds they spend glancing over your
application. Spend less time on trying to be a mind-reading chameleon who can give
everyone exactly what they want on their terms and more time refining your unique
selling proposition; hone your powers of persuasion in communicating your own value.
Why are you the right person? For this job, to get this VC funding, to make out with? If
your pitch can’t clearly convince the recipient of that, then it needs to be reworked until it
leaves no doubt. Good luck and keep at it!
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Forbes, Inc.
J. Maureen Henderson
Since its founding in 1917, Forbes has been providing insights, information, and
inspiration to ensure the success of those who are dedicated to the spirit of free
enterprise.
Its flagship publications, Forbes and Forbes Asia, reach a worldwide audience of more
than six million readers and its website, Forbes.com—the leading business site on the
Web—attracts an audience that averages 30 million people per month. Forbes also
publishes ForbesLife magazine and licensed editions in more than 25 countries around
the world.
Get more insight. See what the Forbes transformation is about. Get Forbes!
J. Maureen Henderson is a business strategist, copywriter and Forbes
contributor. She writes primarily about career issues affecting young
professionals and recent grads, with an emphasis on the often messy
intersection of demographics, economics, technology and pop culture. In addition to
Forbes, her work has been featured in venues such as Salon, The Atlantic and The
Huffington Post. She blogs at Generation Meh, is prolific on Twitter and has an abiding
love of dachshunds and the Eurovision Song Contest.
About The Authors
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