Sharing the Pain

Dear Anita,

My job is the biggest royal pain. Can you help me get a better one?

Woman in painDear, Complaint Queen,

According to research conducted by SERMO, yours truly actually has one of the top 10 most painful jobs. Yes, that’s right. Writers and journalists rank up there with construction workers, truck drivers, and those on the production line. (Mechanics, gardeners/landscapers, athletes, firefighters, lawyers, and IT professionals round out the top 10.)

But instead of focusing on our pain on the job, try targeting a hiring manager’s daily discomforts – and how you, above all others, can help relieve his or her troubles. A few years ago, Liz Ryan, CEO of Human Workplace, trademarked the idea of a Pain Letter. This is the opposite of the generic cover letter (no more “Dear HR, I saw your ad and am applying for the open position. Blah, blah, blah.”).

The first step in writing a Pain Letter is to research the company. Use LinkedIn to find the hiring manager’s name.

Secondly, congratulate the manager and/or the company for a recent accomplishment (which may also be gleaned from LinkedIn or Google research). Ryan calls this the “Hook.”

Next, determine what keeps this manager up at night, and outline the “Pain Hypothesis.” Ryan gave this example for an imaginary Payroll Specialist in Forbes:

I can imagine that hiring as many people as you are, keeping tabs on payroll issues might be a constant challenge. With regulations constantly changing, it’s not easy to keep everyone paid correctly and well-informed in a growing company.

Then, include your “Dragon-Slaying Story,” describing specifically how you handled similar pain in your current or previous position.

When I ran the payroll system at Angry Chocolates, I kept the payroll accurate and in compliance and answered dozens of employee questions every day while we grew from 15 to 650 staff members.

Keep the letter brief, closing simply:

If payroll accuracy and advice to your team is on your radar screen, I’d love to chat when it’s convenient. All the best, Nancy Drew

Readers: How do you focus on alleviating the hiring manager’s business pains in your cover letter?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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RELATED POSTS:
Covering the Cover Letter
Bypassing Human Resources
My Job is a Pain in the Neck – Literally

Best of 2015

Dear Readers,

We should not look back unless it is to derive useful lessons from past errors, and for the purpose of profiting by dearly bought experience. ― George Washington

Let’s take a look back to see what lessons we have been able to put to use in the past year. Here are the most popular articles of 2015, in order of views:Two business people

#1: Asking for Vacation Time Do you ASK your supervisor or TELL her when you are taking vacation? What’s the best strategy?

#2: Crimes & Misdemeanors It’s no surprise that this post about finding a job with a criminal record made the top of the list, since nearly one-third of Americans have been arrested by age 23.

#Hiding_the_Gray_0000122551363: Hiding the Gray on Your Résumé (and Beyond) Tips for graying triathletes (and the rest of us mere mortals) on how to compete with younger job seekers.

#4: Functional Format for Résumés Not just for the greybeards the functional résumé can work for people with gaps in employment, caregivers returning to the workforce, or recent grads with little experience.

#5: How Long to Find a Job? I am often asked by discouraged job seekers of all ages some variation of the question, “How long does it really take to get a new job?” After reviewing the statistics, see what you can do shorten your search.

On_the_Fence_iStock_000009524325_Small#6: Stay or Quit? Follow this advice if you are asking yourself on the job, “Should I stay or should I go?”

#7: Bypassing Human Resources When to try an end-run around HR, and how to cooperate with the human resources department as a job seeker.

#8: Texting on the Job In this day and age, is texting on the job OK? Check out the data on cell phone distractions in the workplace and see if the facts change your mind.

Woman_Cell_Phone_iStock_000000292386_Small#9: How to Get Past the Phone Interview Learn how to put your best virtual foot forward during the initial telephone screening.

#10: Overcoming Negative References Steps to take when you think a former boss is giving you a bad reference.

Readers: What Anita Clew article was most helpful to you this past year and why?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita. Your question might make next year’s Top 10 list!

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Happy Holidays

Happy_Holidays

Why All the Cut & Paste?

Ms. Anita,

I would like to know why all the applications when you have a résumé?

Dear, Cutting Corners,

Untitled-1Bothersome, isn’t it? Cutting and pasting information from your already attached résumé makes applying for position postings online seem like a full-time job in and of itself. And for the unemployed, it is your primary goal. So, although it may seem a hassle, do what your future employer asks of you, and fill out the online application to their specifications.

Some job application systems are formatted to use the data you enter to match you with open positions, as it is much faster than a human resources professional personally reviewing each and every application for key words and phrases. These HR pros want the information in the format they require rather than having to search for it wherever you happened to include it (if at all) in your résumé. So skip the extra application step at your peril. You may not even be considered for the job, or you’ll look like someone who cannot follow directions or is simply lazy. (Now, now. I don’t want to hear you calling these hiring managers lazy; they often get hundreds of résumés for online job postings. The onus is on you to make selecting your application easier.)

While we’re on the subject of filling in online job applications, please pay attention to capitalization. I hate to see apps with names or other proper nouns typed in all lower case. That’s just as bad – no, worse – than SHOUTING in all caps. After all, you are smarter than a 5th Grader, aren’t you?

Readers: Go ahead; have a little rant below about all the extra work of filling out online job applications. Then… do it anyway.

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

Subscribe to receive weekly emails with career tips and advice for job seekers, employed people, and managers and supervisors.

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The True Cost of Employees

Dear Anita,

My wife and I have a mom-and-pop shop with a dozen employees. One of my workers acts like I’m being a cheapskate with his salary, hinting he deserves a big year-end bonus. I try to pay a competitive wage, but I have to make a profit, too. How can I communicate the economics of a small business?

Dear, Pops,

Total_Compensation_Statement

Payscale’s Total Compensation Statement shows the employer’s contribution in addition to the wages.

Employees often think that their salary is the only cost to the employer for their services. They often do not realize that taxes, workers’ compensation insurance and even the cost of “Mom” completing the paperwork can cost your business another 30 percent in payroll costs.

I assume that you have done salary comparisons for the job title in your geographic region to ensure that you are, indeed, paying a living wage that rivals your local competitors. If you are, a little education may illuminate the realities of employer-paid contributions to all of your employees.

“Total Compensation Statements” can include line items such as:

  • Base pay
  • Bonuses
  • Vacation/PTO/sick days and other paid leave
  • Payroll taxes (Social Security match, Medicare, state unemployment insurance tax)
  • Employer-paid portions of insurance plan premiums (health, dental, vision, life, disability
  • Employer contributions to employee’s retirement plan, such as a 401(k) or pension
  • Stock options or profit sharing
  • Annual usage value of a company car
  • Value of any other fringe benefits offered, such as:
    • Fitness club membership
    • Cell phone service
    • On-site child care
    • Free or discounted public transportation or parking
    • Tuition assistance/professional development
    • Company discounts

Non-quantifiable perks may include flex time or on-site facilities available for employee use. For new hires, include one-time benefits, such as relocation expenses or signing bonuses. There are handy Total Compensation Calculators online.

While a Total Compensation Statement can illustrate the true cost employers pay for an employee, it has the potential to backfire as a teaching tool. Workers may feel you are fudging the numbers if you “double-count” vacation or PTO and they don’t really receive additional pay. Also, if an employee does not use a perk, such as child care, then the value is moot for them. A pitfall with salaried employees may occur if they feel any overtime is not valued since it won’t be reflected in the compensation.

Employees who may be shocked to learn that their $40K annual salary is actually costing their bosses around $52,000 may be a little more grateful, or at least have a greater understanding of the realities their employers face.

Readers: Have Total Compensation Reports opened your eyes to the true costs your employer faces?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

Subscribe to receive weekly emails with career tips and advice for job seekers, employed people, and managers and supervisors.

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Thanksgiving Joys

Readers,

Whether you choose to spend the day with family and not darken the door of a single store (see the list of chains closed on Thanksgiving Day) or rush through the traditional turkey dinner to line up outside of the stores opening on T-day for early Black Friday specials, I encourage you to pause to count your many blessings.

Happy ThanksgivingWith a grateful heart for your continued readership,
Anita Clew

Readers: Will you, or won’t you, shop on Thanksgiving Day?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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Mr., Mrs., Ms.? How about Mx.?

Dear Miss/Mrs./Ms. Anita,

I never know which salutation to use on my cover letter. “To whom it may concern” seems so old school. Sometimes when an email is provided for résumé submission, the first name is not given, only an initial. So I don’t know whether to use Dear Mr. X or Dear Ms. X. What’s the best solution?

Dear, How Do You Do… the Greeting?

When responding to a job posting, do a little research. If the email is in a firstinitial.lastname@companyname.com format, search Avatars of silhouettes with different hairstyles.LinkedIn or Google for the surname + company name to sleuth out the first name and hopefully gender of the hiring manager. If no photo is available and the name is a gender-ambiguous – Terry or Riley or some such – “Dear Terry Smith” or “Dear Riley Jones” will keep you from offending your potential employer. If the email is a vague HR@businessname.com and your research doesn’t let you narrow down the one person to whom you are submitting your application, or if you are uploading your cover letter to an impersonal online application, use “Dear Hiring Manager,” to avoid gender mistakes.

Dictionary.com just added some new words to its lexicon, among them the gender-neutral prefix Mx.

Mx.: a title of respect prefixed to a person’s surname; unlike Mr., Mrs., or Ms., it does not indicate gender and may be used by a person with any or no specific gender identity.

I haven’t seen this used often yet, so Mx. could be construed as a typo by the reader. You may want to include a hyperlink to the definition to help educate and encourage usage of the new label.

If the Mx. salutation gets you to the interview stage, be sure you are looking fleek (another new slang term meaning “flawlessly styled and groomed”).

Readers: Have you seen or personally used the new Mx. title used in a salutation?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

Subscribe to receive weekly emails with career tips and advice for job seekers, employed people, and managers and supervisors.

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Covering the Cover Letter
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The Dreaded Salary Requirement Conundrum

Anita,

Why don’t employers put the pay rate or salary in their job postings? It would sure save everyone on both sides a lot of time. I never know what to put when the ad says to include your salary requirements. I don’t want to ask for way too much and blow my chance to even get an interview. But if they pay more than I am used to, I don’t want to cheat myself either. What do you suggest?

Dear, Waging War,

Many employers choose not to list salary ranges. Candidates will almost always negotiate for the high end of the range and if they don’t get the max, they may end up with lingering resentment. Another consideration for large employers hiring nationwide is the wide discrepancy in costs of living. A yearly salary of $50K in San Francisco won’t provide much buying power, but the same salary in a Detroit suburb may provide a middle class lifestyle.

If salary requirements are requested in a job posting, be sure to comply or risk looking like an applicant who can’t follow instructions or does not pay attention to detail. But, just like you shouldn’t bring up salary at the beginning of the interview process, wait until after you sell yourself in the cover letter. Then, include a salary range instead of just one number. Remember, this is a negotiation, not a demand. If you really won’t accept less than say $40,000, state your salary range is between $41,000-$46,000. (I prefer non-rounded numbers; it sounds like you really figured out what you’re worth and what you need to cover your expenses. And you did research comparable positions on Salary.com, Payscale.com, or Glassdoor, right?)

You may be able to avoid giving a number with a phrase such as, “My salary requirements are negotiable based on the position and the total compensation offered, including benefits.” Remember when negotiating that perks such as holidays/vacation time/PTO, flex-time, company-paid professional development opportunities or even bringing your dog to work can make a job offer more attractive than salary alone.

The salary discussion is always fraught with tension, but look at it this way: If you really need a certain wage, why waste time interviewing for a position that won’t even pay the bills?

Readers: Do you have a strategy for the salary requirement question on a job application or during an interview?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

Subscribe to receive weekly emails with career tips and advice for job seekers, employed people, and managers and supervisors.

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Exit Strategy

Anita,

I have finally made the decision to leave my job of 8 years, but have not sent out résumés or contacted any potential employers yet. My decision is not based on anything negative – I love my bosses, co-workers, etc., but want a career change. I work at a fairly small (25 employees), family owned business and lead one of their four departments, though the dept. only consists of myself and a newly hired assistant (who won’t be able to take over). I want to leave on good terms with the company and I know they will have an extremely hard time finding a replacement. I do not want to commit to staying until said replacement is found, but planned on offering 1 month notice and staying until I have completed those clients that have already booked (I am a dog trainer). Additionally, the gal who does the sales for me is leaving in less than a week and I will now be expected to take on these appointments. My question is: knowing that I will be leaving, is it appropriate for me to not give notice to my employer until I have secured a new job and complete my sales appointments as if I AM staying, or should I notify them of my intent to start looking for alternate employment so they are not then having to cancel clients who may book farther out than 1 month and run the risk of them excusing me before I find new employment. Thanks in advance!

Exit_000017488442_smallDear, On Short Notice,

Searching, applying, interviewing, and finally landing the right job may take a while. By the time you are ready to give your standard two weeks notice, it could be months and the salesperson may already be replaced. But since you have worked with this small company eight years, you may wish to inform your bosses of your career goals to allow them the extra time to find a replacement for you and the salesperson.

While you may not harbor ill feelings, when leaving a less than satisfactory job, some people may be tempted to quote country music singer Johnny Paycheck and tell the boss to “Take this job and shove it; I ain’t working here no more.” Here are tips to create an exit strategy that won’t have repercussions down the road.

  1. Update your résumé, including career highlights from your current position. Review my post, “Importance of Annual Résumé Updates.”
  2. Start networking – discreetly and on your own time. Put out feelers to find open positions and companies in which you may be interested.
  3. Stash away an adequate emergency fund. You never know when your boss may catch wind of your plans to leave and fast forward your decision. There may also be a period of time between your old job end date and your new position start date, and bills still need to be paid.
  4. Use Paid Time Off (PTO) or vacation time judiciously to save enough for interviews. Be sure you know your company’s policy for unused sick time or vacation time. You don’t want to lose any time that you’ve worked hard to earn.
  5. Once you have a firm job offer (preferably in writing), tender your letter of resignation. Two weeks’ notice is the professional minimum. However, if you have a management or key position, consider staying a while longer to train your replacement. Some companies don’t like “lame ducks,” however, and may whisk you out the door that very day. See why #3 is important?
  6. During your last weeks on the job, maintain your work ethic. Organize and delegate your projects and workload with adequate instructions and documentation.
  7. If your company does an exit interview, keep your comments positive. There is a better chance that your criticisms will negatively impact you than bring about any lasting changes in your company.

Readers: How many weeks notice did you give your last employer when you quit?

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Stay or Quit?
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Disclaimer

Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.
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