What fresh hell is this?

A super line attributed to Dorothy Parker –if you don’t know who she is, check her out on google, and even better, read some of her stuff. Brilliant. She used the line, apparently, in the office whenever the telephone rang.

Things were puttering along nicely in the early years of the new Millennium, those first few years of the noughties, as the BBC called the years between 2000 and 2009. But then, in about 2007, there were signs that the economy was changing, and not for the better. It got worse in 2008 and some of us began to panic – we weren’t financiers so we had no idea what it was about, we just knew it wasn’t good. I started to learn phrases like Collateral Debt Obligations. Shoor enuff, unemployment went at one point from about 4.8% to 5.0%; my friend-and-colleague and I (he very soon became my still-friend but ex-colleague as my previous employer went pfft) realized it wasn’t going to level out, the little increase of 0.2% wasn’t a nothingy bubble, it showed we were on top of a volcano, that was a bubble of lava, and it was going to blow. Being a non-financier with no idea what it was about, I hoped it would all get better in about a year. Hahahaha. Unemployment topped 10.3% before it finally started to come down.
So… here we all are in 2015 with unemployment, as I write this, at 5.4%. Are we nearly back to where we were at the end of 2008? I have absolutely no idea, because I’m still not a financier. I can tell, though, that the job market, especially in New York, has morphed. A lot. The following are my observations. You may think they are hugely insightful, in which case you are clearly related to my mother… I could do no wrong, or you may think I’m spouting rubbish – in which case, why not email me and let me know.

There just isn’t anything like the same number of financial services jobs around in Manhattan that there used to be. Technology, outsourcing, moves out of Manhattan, mergers and Murphy’s Law got rid of a lot of them. T-h-o-u-s-a-n-d-s of jobs disappeared and I don’t think they’ll be coming back anytime soon.

Similarly there just aren’t the same number of legal secretary jobs out there that there used to be. Law firms merge, disappear into the ether, attorneys make do with fewer admin staff to help them. Some lawyers type at 70 words per minute because they took typing classes in High School! – I mean, what’s THAT about. It means they don’t need to dictate hours of stuff to their secretaries, they can type it themselves and amend it as they go along – it can often be more efficient than the old way. Where do you learn shorthand in New York these days? Beats me. Presumably people thought there was no longer enough of a need of it. Heavens above, even some of the secretarial training schools disappeared, never mind their shorthand classes.

Talking of secretaries, where are they now? Went the way of Miss Moneypenny, retired to Florida or to the Typing Pool in the Sky. Colleges give 2 and 4 year degrees in Business Administration to train you as administrative assistants, where your knowledge of business is much more profound than it ever was allowed to be in the past. Administrative and executive assistants can be indispensable to their managers – they do immensely complex calendar management, arrange international travel without the help of pesky travel agents, have the telephone number for reservations for all the best restaurants on speed dial, know way too much about their boss’s medical profile, financial status, children’s schooling. If they work for someone amazingly senior and important (translation: major revenue-producer) then they only have one boss, but these days that’s rare. On the plus side, there is a career path for administrative/executive assistants that there didn’t used to be. Titles like Chief of Staff, Estate Manager, Administration Director are there for the taking. Of course, job titles don’t pay the bills, but potential salaries can be a lot higher than they were in the past.

On the negative salary side, post-2009, some of the salaries have stayed flat or actually gone down. Yup, a few cheapo bosses know that they can get away with paying what you just have to accept as better than nothing.

More importantly as a factor though is the very noticeable increase in temp-to-perm positions. Why would companies only consider temp-to-permanent hire? Presumably because they have a few months’ grace period before they start paying expensive benefits. It gives them an extra safety net in case they make a bad hiring choice and the owner wants a head to roll. To be fair, they also just might want longer to test someone out. And they can get away with it because there are still more unemployed support staff out there than there used to be. Try to be positive about it. You get to have a safety net too, and you can walk away from them, if you were the one not making the right choice, without feeling you have to explain away leaving a permanent job.

Oh, and do most of you work longer hours as the norm than you used to? Remember when 9.00 to 5.00 was a phrase that tripped off the tongue? There are probably a few jobs out there that are still 9.00 to 5.00 but the people in them are not going to leave unless they’re dragged out screaming, leaving claw marks on the door.

I have to think of something upbeat to finish the blog. Don’t I? This last year, year-and-a-half there has definitely been an upward swing in the number of jobs out there, both that agencies are being given, or that companies are advertising directly (dear me, I hate companies that don’t use staffing services. But that’s for another blog). And the signs (house building increasing, foreclosures decreasing) are that life promises to continue getting better. Works for me.

Dealing with agencies: Old hand or total novice?

We had a nice candidate walk through our doors the other day, charming but clueless. She had never been to a staffing service before and presumably didn’t know what to expect. When told about a rather fabby job we had, she somehow didn’t believe her luck and started grilling us; e.g.
Us: “Billions in assets”.
Her: “Well, it has to be a major corporation”.  
Us: “Unless you think we mean billions of quetzbogs, not billions of dollars, we can assume it’s a major corporation”.
Ok, conversation didn’t go 100% like that, but the naive woman clearly had a trust issue there.
Staffing services are there to pluck you out (poor unemployed / unhappily employed wretches that you are) from the ether aka Monster, social websites, referrals. We have also managed by magic to find clients who ask us to help them fill positions they’re too frazzled to do themselves — long may their frazzledom continue. We do our due diligence with you, the candidates, – finding out your requirements, what you absolutely insist on, what you’ll settle for. We marry you up with the open positions we have, we persuade our clients to meet you, we help you through the process – never underestimate the amount of help we can give – and with a bit of luck and a following wind, help you through the offer process.  In an ideal world, you get the job and are thrilled, the client fills the job and is thrilled, we get our fee and are thrilled, and our children don’t have to go to the poorhouse. Sounds simple but of course gets a lot more complex in practice.  
For your part, all you have to do is be open with us – if there’s something you’d rather not tell us e.g. a vacation you’ve booked, the restricted hours you can work, the fact that you haven’t quite finished your degree, a spot of bother with the background check, the fact that you were fired for whatever reason, sorry, you have to tell us. Not telling us won’t help you get the job; sometimes alas, you may not get the job if you have a deal-breaking restriction, but sometimes, and indeed quite often, we can help you overcome it. Just be prepared to answer a lot of our questions with, “Look, here’s the scoop…” and we’ll figure it out together. Oh by the way, if we try to help with your resume, listen to our advice and either take it or not  – your resume, your life – but recognize that we see thousands and thousands and thousands of resumes so we tend to know what the clients want.
Rightie-ho, that’s the newbies taken of.  What about those who have been to many agencies over the years and have become a bit, cough cough, jaded with the service they’ve been given? Try to analyze whether it’s your fault or the agency’s!  If each and every one of us says e.g. your resume is too prosey, too long, not long enough, then the chances are we’re right, so you’d be advised to go home and change it. If ever there’s a scenario where I, Margaret, recommend something and you say, “But another agency told me such-and-such”, please remember that I, Margaret, am always right. It’s a gift I was given and I’m here to share the benefits of it with you. You won’t go wrong.  
There is a range of quality amongst agencies, some are wonderful, some you wouldn’t let into your home, some you would trust with your daughter, some you wouldn’t trust with the milk money. Please don’t judge all of them by comparing with the worst. I hope you don’t do it with humanity, and it’s the same concept with agencies. Find a couple of nice recruiters who tell you The Good, The Bad and The Ugly about a job, so you can decide if it’s for you. Learn from both the good stuff and from your mistakes, and listen to your friends and colleagues for agency referrals. In the course of the interview process, you’ll have a chance to verify that the job/salary/benefits are what you were told. However, dear readers, perhaps a word of advice is to have some ready answers when they ask you questions about other job interviews you’ve been on. The scuzzbuckets want to know so they can phone up the company and get the job for themselves. “I’m not comfortable telling you at the moment” is a wonderful phrase to learn off by heart.  Of course, please do tell them general info e.g. “I’m going back for third interview on Tuesday” will help the agency know where they themselves are in your interviewing schedule and they can possibly hurry their client along.  
The old hands know what to do, which in one phrase is “keep the agency informed”.  No going MIA or into a transcendental state of meditation that won’t let you answer the telephone or email. If you don’t want to speak to an agency for any reason, this is a stunning thought here, let them know in advance. Have emails ready such as: (i) I’m taking myself off the job market. I’ll contact you again if I need to (ii) I got another job and I’m happy there, thanks. I’ll contact you if I need to. (iii) I’ve withdrawn from the process for EA to the CEO at The Truth Makes Us Nauseous PR Company, thanks. I’ll contact you if I need to.
If you do this you will save us hours of angst trying to track you down, wondering if you’re ill, off on vacation, still interested in dealing with us. We can put you onto the backburner and move on, and not waste precious time.

Working with staffing firms is a bit like trying to find your prince, you may have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find him. But be selective, use your common sense and good judgment, and it will be well worth it. They often have the keys to the castle.

Let’s not tell the agency

Lord love a duck.***(***Stupid English i.e. not British, specifically English… expression uttered when nothing else will fit… often used when stunned or dismayed.) We sit here day and night searching for candidates and clients and suitable jobs, try to put everything together in order to make a few pence, keep the wolf from the door, stop us ending up in the poorhouse. And what thanks do we get?
In no order of importance, here are some observations about the rôle of staffing services, what we do, what we shouldn’t do, what the candidates should do, what the candidates shouldn’t do…. My last blog was a bit of a cathartic download of emotion, so let’s keep this one upbeat.
1)  When you have been temping with a client — client to us, potential employer to you —  and it comes to the knotty question of being hired permanently, and hoping the company can afford you, it sometimes transpires and occurs that the company is not exactly flush with extra cash. They may take you into their thought process, “Well, we can’t give you $X,000 per annum this year – remember there’s the agency fee we have to pay”. Smile sweetly and say nothing; their cash flow isn’t your problem. You do not, let me re-type that, YOU DO NOT helpfully suggest that you and they don’t have to mention it to the agency. No-one will ever know, and when the agency call you up to find out why you’re no longer temping with their client, and what’s the scoop, you just don’t answer the phone to them. Ever again.
Do you see, chaps, how this isn’t cool? You think you’re being helpful, or of course, you think you’re being cleverly devious, as a way to ensure employment. Nope. It’s dishonest, and will usually come back to bite you in the posterior. If the client really is having difficulty finding the cash, they can tell US, the agency, and we’ll find a way round it; it’s called negotiation. With luck, they’ll reply, “No way. Known her for years, wouldn’t dream of cheating.” They might just say, “Ooh, yes, please” in which case you deserve each other, (though the agency STILL deserves its fee).  
If the company is the naughty one that says, “Don’t tell the agency”, you have to wonder, dontcha, about joining a company like that. If you’re desperate for employment and feel obliged to go along with it, email me and I’ll tell you how to deal with it – it’s ok, it doesn’t involve violence and keeps your integrity untarnished.
Right, that was the worst one. What else do you not want to tell the agency?
2)  “I don’t actually have the degree that my resume falsely claims I have.” I’ve listened to all sorts of stuff over the years – well, not that often, fortunately – to explain away why the candidates can’t quite prove they have the degree (“The dog ate the certificate,” “My ex tore it up,” “The college didn’t keep computer records then,” “The college records department burned down”). It’s all rubbish if it isn’t true. You’ll get found out and we’ll all feel bad for assorted reasons. If a company insists on a degree for a job and you don’t have one, then you’re not getting the job. Sigh deeply and move on. The agency is here to help you though this type of scenario, including trying to persuade the client not to be so dam’ picky, and trying to get you to tell the truth on your resume in a positive light (“did some college but ran out of money”).
3)  “I live a long way out of Manhattan so I am not writing my address on the resume in case the employers won’t want me.” Think this through, dears. It might get you the first interview but you’re going to have to ‘fess up when they ask where you live. If the company wants you to live nearby, then living in Moose Droppings NJ won’t get you the job. Neither will leaving off the resume the fact that you live in Moose Droppings NJ.
There is an exception, I suppose, for those who don’t want to write down their address lest a crazed stalker finds their resume (I really have to stop watching so much Investigative Discovery Channel). You still have to write down the town, “Bronx NY”, “Westport CT” will suffice.
4)  Reasons for leaving your previous jobs. You totally have to tell us. Positive spin on all sorts of scenarios is one of my specialties, “Ooh, say that again please, so I can write it down” is a comment I hear often from candidates. Do I get them to lie? No, I most certainly do not. There are ways, though, to tell the truth in a sensible light that will have the client looking bored (absolutely the best response because it means it’s not important to them) and move on to the next question. Therefore to your staffing service you give the whole l-o-n-g story, “No no, I tell a lie, it was a Wednesday.” We can tell you what’s important to the client, what’s not, and how to give your reason in an upbeat 10-15 seconds or less.   
5)   Some candidates, now you just won’t believe this, no, no, really, don’t want to give us their current salary. “I googled it. I don’t legally have to”.  No, don’t suppose you do. But a potential employer has an equal right to ask for your W2 and if you want the job you’ll have to give it to them. So why won’t you tell the agency? We’re here to help – could you all please remember that? – and for that we need the facts. One of our tasks is to help you get the maximum salary the company will be prepared to pay without their feeling aggrieved and we can’t do that if we don’t know what you earn(ed). Why wouldn’t you tell us? Beats me… Perhaps you think the company will base an offer on what you earn and not the top range of what they think the job is worth. And you’d be right; it’s their call to do that. They may have it in their budget to pay – making these numbers up here – $80,000 – $100,000, just in case a high-earning superstar applies for their job, but you’re only earning $62,000. They are not necessarily going to offer $80,000, never mind more. They tend not to like paying more than a premium of about 10-15% more than your current salary (lots of exceptions, thank goodness). We look after the client companies as well, of course, but we want them to hire you and have you become a happy bunny in the job. That way you’ll stay there for years, give all your friends to us as referrals, and the company will give us lots more jobs to help them fill. It’s called nirvana.

Why have I written all this annoying stuff? Most people out there know that agencies are there to help them find a job, and that they can be the difference between acing the job search and failing. Some staffing services aren’t as good as others, but I’m talking good ones here, Merit and all the others who care about their clients, their candidates and doing a good job such that they feel they earned their fees with integrity.  Help us help you by being upfront, telling us what we ask, and taking/at least listening to our advice. And then we all win. No, I do not intend to become a motivational speaker, that last sentence just made me sound like one.

Now it’s our turn to b*tch

Of course, we’re all total angels at Merit and would practicallynever dream of criticizing candidates’ behavior…..
No, it’s just supposed to be a headline that grabs your attention. What my colleagues and I thought might be useful to y’all would be a blog letting you know what the recruitment process is like from OUR side of the eyeballs. Any comments are supposed to be helpful to you – the fact that I might find it cathartic to write them is purely a bonus.
How often should you contact us? Not too often and definitely not too infrequently either is the quick answer. But what does that mean? Please don’t be calling us every day – we have hundreds of candidates, and so even a couple of dozen phone calls just takes us away from calling clients for jobs, and setting up interviews. If we haven’t called, we don’t have anything suitable for you. There are only so many ways you can say, “Elvis Presley still dead”. We shall indeed let you know if there’s anything we think is appropriate for you. Call us, or even better email us, every week or every two weeks to let us know you’re still around. We don’t forget you – you are, after all, emailing us regularly! If you do find something else, we’d love for you to tell us – we care that you found a job, even if this time we weren’t the ones to help, and it lets us know not to bug you for stuff we might get.  
Having said that, though, if we call you about a position, p-l-e-a-s-e keep in touch with us. We have clients nagging us unmercifully and it sounds lame to say, ‘She/he hasn’t called us back yet”. Doesn’t impress them with your follow up skills either. Please don’t be a candidate who shows an interest in a position and then goes MIA.
A depressing number of candidates A few of you think you are suitable for practically every job we have, and call up to tell us so. Alas, if only that were the case. You might think, “I know I don’t have Concur/a degree/10 years of experience/mutual fund experience, but I have other stuff that compensates”. It is in everyone’s best interests to help you find a job – we kinda get paid by the clients for doing it, and that’s powerful motivation. However we can’t make them take candidates who don’t more or less fall within the criteria of what they’re looking for. Sometimes we have flexibility, and I have my phrase, “Oh just shut up and see her” that I am able to use on occasion when I know the client will love my candidate despite a lack of something-or-other. As far as the candidate is concerned, though, it’s a staffing service/client judgement and you have to go with it.  
You would NOT BELIEVE the stuff we should get told but don’t until it’s too late, and then there’s egg on face all round. (I wrote about something similar in a previous blog). (i) Vacations you booked but don’t want to mention in case it spoils your chances. (ii) Being fired for being naughty is not the same as being laid off. Depending on the level of naughtiness we can persuade the client it doesn’t matter. But only if we tell them in advance of their finding out… Simple really.  (iii) Time restrictions can usually, albeit not always, be worked around. Classes every Thursday at 5.30, Amateur Dramatics twice a week…whatever. The client may be sympathetic if told in advance, and will most definitely be very cross if not told in advance.
We are here to help you spiff up the resume. Take our advice or not – your resume, but we’re happy to help. However please make the effort to proof before you see us. There are actually a few of you out there – not many, thank goodness, but it only takes one or two to annoy the life out of me – who EXPECT us to proofread the resumes for you. And the ones who don’t even have the courtesy to send us the corrected version? Sigh….  
If you make an appointment to come in to register with us, you have a choice. (i) Turn up at the appointed time. (ii) Let us know if you have to re-schedule (iii) Let us know if you have changed your mind and don’t need to register. Email if you’d rather not call with (iii).  Please take note of the lack of (iv) Don’t turn up but don’t bother letting us know. We work our calendars around candidates registering with us.
If you change your mind about an interview with a potential employer, you might think, “I’ve left it a bit late and I should have thought it through earlier.” And indeed maybe you should… But it’s ok, we’ve lived through it all before and the world didn’t stop. Please try to think of a few phrases that approximate the truth, “I’ve just decided it’s not for me”; “This isn’t the right time for me to be interviewing, I have too much going on with my life”. Please do NOT be coming out with, “I’ve just been in a car accident”; “My father has just been in a car accident and is in the hospital”, “My grandmother died” – these are examples we were told and which were found out to be complete fibs. FIBS. “I got splashed from head to foot by a taxi when I was crossing the road. I can’t be interviewed looking like this”.  At least that one made me laugh (It hadn’t been raining). I haven’t yet had the excuse, but I live in hope, “I’m a werewolf and I miscalculated the 28 days. I have to go somewhere private to transform.”  
Gosh, that made me so much better writing all that. My point, at the end of it all, is that we are here to help. We are not just an impediment for you to get through to the potential employer. Tell us the truth, and we can figure out the way that the client will, perhaps but not always, accept the truth. There’s  a reason the court system oath is The truth, THE WHOLE TRUTH, and nothing but the truth.  

We can help smooth your way into the company as a brand-new excited employee. And that’s what it’s all about.

You’re not what they want

 A statement like that does wonder for the old self esteem. NOT. We all have to face it in life at some time, though. If it’s in the singular, you’re not what he/she wants, it could be rejection, major bummer, by the person you want to be your life partner if only the feeling were reciprocated. It could be that you can’t get into a particular club, college, society, branch of the Military, let’s not depress ourselves further by thinking of more examples.  What I’m thinking of is rejection by a company which you had hoped would offer you a position.
You’re not what they want. Sigh. Let’s try and make lemonade out of lemons and see how you can learn from the experience. If it makes you a better candidate for the next position you go for, then the rejection will have served you well. I personally have always gone for the Denial way of coping with Bad Stuff in Life. It doesn’t work, by the way, so I am therefore in some ways better equipped to tell you what you shouldbe doing! Sticking your head in the sand just leaves your posterior sticking up in the air more vulnerable for target practice.   
Basically, it’s not rocket science. You just have to be honest with yourself about why you didn’t get the position. If self-awareness isn’t one of your strong suits, listen to your recruitment service (and family and friends) about what they think went wrong. Let us assume that all consultants in staffing agencies are as helpful, knowledgeable, insightful as those of us at Merit…. Here are some of the scenarios.
1)      You weren’t as qualified/experienced as the person who was offered. Not much you can do about that. If you break the world record and still get beaten by the chap who beat it by a bit more, you only get the Silver Medal, which equates in this case to no job offer.
2)      Your computer skills set wasn’t quite up to snuff. That’s fairly easy to fix for most software packages. Practice, practice, practice.
3)      You were beaten out by someone who had a connection to someone in the firm and, although not quite as good, they decided to go with the referral. It happens probably more than we realize. Not much you can do about that one, I’m afraid, except not take it personally.
4)      You were late for the interview and, although you apologized profusely, it was a black mark against you. It does make the company a bit unforgiving, doesn’t it, but don’t be late again. Better to be way early and find a diner to have a coffee than turn up frazzled and late, because the buses, trains and traffic were doing their usual.
5)      You weren’t prepared enough for the interview. Look, don’t make me find out who you are, come round to your apartment and shout at you. DO YOUR HOMEWORK. You don’t have to have memorized the annual report but you have to know something about the company and job, or else why did you apply? I MEAN….PUH-LEEZE.
6)      You weren’t suitably dressed — happens infrequently but more often than you think. Read my blog about how to dress for interview.
7)      You weren’t too impressive with your answers (or questions). That’s a whole training session’s worth right there. Again, it’s practice, practice, practice. A good recruitment consultant will help you with how to answer difficult questions, how to shine when you’re by nature too self-effacing for your own good, how not to oversell yourself because you’re not used to bragging on and on about wonderful you are and you therefore overdo it. Read my other blogs about difficult questions. “What’s the most difficult thing you’ve ever experienced?”   “I’m living through it right now. How am I doing?” (Actually, the interviewer might laugh, but I still wouldn’t advise it as an answer).  
8) You ignored the people you didn’t think were an important part of the interview process e.g. the receptionist, some of the others in the HR department. They are ALL important in the interview process, so smile at them even though you haven’t been introduced.
9) Salary. It wasn’t a good fit for a million reasons – you were too expensive, whatever… Maybe you were aiming too high and the company thought they’d give interviewing you a whirl anyway, but then decided they needed more experience i.e. they were prepared to pay more money for exactly what they needed. Maybe you went for the interview thinking you could make do with less, but common sense kicked in. Maybe when you got all the facts – benefits, commuting costs, you had an aha moment. Doesn’t matter. Just try to be realistic with the agency and yourself the next time.
10) You were awful at negotiating salary. You had the ball in your hands and you fumbled. A good recruiter will tell you what to say – and ideally will do all the negotiating for you. It’s an art to come across as flexible, not too rigid, not too greedy but not a doormat, and not more interested in money than the job. If you’re not going through a staffing service, you’re at the distinct disadvantage of not knowing how much leeway the company has. At the risk of being bombarded with requests for advice from my readership (my readership? hahaha) about how to negotiate direct with the company, why not email me via our website and ask?
 11) You failed the background check. Don’t bother going for jobs where you know you’ll fail. Be upfront with the person who asks about any  transgressions – ‘fessing up beforehand sometimes works, ‘fessing up afterwards never does. New York City has just changed the laws that it’s no longer legal (with a few exceptions) for companies to bar you from employment because of bad credit. WOO HOO.
12) Eleven reasons for not getting the job is enough. There are probably more but blimey, enough already. You get the point, I hope. Try to learn and change what you can, and just move on from the stuff that you can’t change. Wow, that’s a bit like life, isn’t it?   

How do I modestly cover myself?

In March 2013 I wrote about cover letters and how to impress with a really good one. On re-reading, I notice that two years ago I was fantasizing about Ryan Gosling. Still am. And he still hasn’t called.
The thought occurred that in the previous blog article I didn’t answer the initial question, “Why do I send a cover letter?” I could therefore usefully have called this blog “WHY do I modestly cover myself?” but I didn’t think that was as amusing a heading as the one I have chosen. Either way, you knew immediately from the title that I was going to write about cover letters, there can’t have been any confusion with anything else?
What is the point in writing cover letters?
Everyone does them, so you’d have to have a jolly good reason for just sending your resume out there with nothing to explain it. They might even think you’d forgotten to include it.
Your resume is perfect for that particular job and stands by itself without need of any extraneous help; in fact, Human Resources will be oohing and aahing over it and passing it round the department to marvel at its fabulosity? Possible but not probable…
The cover letter gives you a chance to highlight from the resume the two or three main components that are particularly relevant for the job – ideally in the form of achievements. Achievements let you mention numbers. Men, mathematicians of both sexes, and Human Resources just love their numbers. In HR’s case, they want to know how you quantitatively increased the good stuff, and decreased the bad stuff.
You can show off your writing skills. Resumes have to be well-written, but they should be written succinctly, in phrases. More in the less-is-more, Hemingway-style brevity, less in the you-can’t-pay-me-to-read-all-this-through-to-the-end Henry James-style denseness. It was popular in the 80s, but so was Bruce Willis. These days resumes have to be bullet-pointed brief. I digress à la Henry James. Cover letters give you the opportunity, more than a resume will, to showcase your writing ability, and let the world know you can write whole grammatical, error-free sentences with subjects and predicates that would make your English teacher beam with pride.
A resume is about YOU, after all, but a cover letter can allow you to relate what you’ve done/achieved to the company’s goals, culture, mission. The company, and the specific job, is all about THEM, let us never forget, so a little buttering-up to highlight that fact won’t go wrong.  

I’ve just been rejected. No-one loves me

If you think this is going to be a helpful article to help you get over the rejection from your actual/potential boyfriend, you’re reading the wrong blog. Sorry.
I made passing reference in a previous article about not getting the job. Let’s pick at the scab – I speak metaphorically. You have been rejected. “What does it all mean? What can I do about it?”
You’re allowed a moment – whole evening, in fact – of wallowing in self-pity. That’s it, though. Life is what happens while you’re waiting for life to happen, so you have to get over it and continue on your Road to Change Your Life. Changing your job may just be part of your striving for a bigger life change, in which case, everyone at Merit wishes you the very best for yourself, but I’m afraid I’m just here to write today about change in your employment situation.
There are many steps in the recruitment process. Rejection is thumbing its nose at you at every single one of them.
You are unrealistic about the sort of job, kind of salary of which you think you are worthy. It may take a loving friend/ family member/ trusted colleague/ AHA moment that you yourself have/ knowledgeable recruitment agency/ therapist to help you with this one. I sympathize; while I was waiting for Ryan Gosling to search me out, Eva Mendes got to him first, because no-one had the nerve to say to me, “You’re kidding, right?” Remember, even the Internet can help with info like market value salaries for some jobs. Try to be ambitious but realistic about your next position. You may not be Chief of Staff level yet, you may have to go through Senior Executive Assistant hoops first. Superman/woman? Not in dispute, but able to leap tall buildings in twobounces.  
Your resume may not be selling you as well as it could. Do your homework and spiff it up. You shouldn’t have to spend a fortune going to professional resume writers – there are so many other resources out there willing to help for free.
Your cover letter is ghastly and undoes all the good work of a fabby resume. Should I write a blog about writing good cover letter? S’ppose I should. The thing is, when you come to a staffing service, we’re your cover letter and know how to sell you to the potential employer, so I tend not to think about them as much as I do resumes. Maybe I should do my philanthropic bit and help those of you out there who are reading this blog but unlikely to come register with us – bit of a schlep from Minneapolis to Manhattan.
Yet another note to self: next blog topic.
Telephone interview. Remember the potential employer can’t see you and so, duh moment here, it’s different from in-person. You paused for a few seconds while you considered their difficult question, and then gave a reasoned answer but in the meantime, all the interviewer heard was – nothing. Sounding upbeat helps, the occasional, “hmm..” lets them know you’re having a wee think, and even, if it’s a real stinker of a question, “Ah, good question, thanks.” And then they know you’re thinking…
If you’re quite a quiet, low-key person, be true to yourself and not try to come across as Miss Effervescent 2015, but have a practice on some friends and ask if it sounds too monotone. At the other extreme, If you’re trying to get across how enthusiastic you are at the fact that there’s a perfect fit between you and the job, listen to the interviewer and answer what’s been asked, without gushingly interrupting (of course, the occasional interruption can’t be helped. “Ooops, sorry, I interrupted” will do the trick). Competent interviewers should give you the opportunity to tell them all the good stuff they want to know. “Can I tell you about a big project I managed?” Sigh. “Must you?” thinks the interviewer.
Face-to-face, in-person, they-can-see-you-perspire-with-nervousness interview. You can only do your best. You a) are an intrinsically awesome candidate and b) have studied all my previous blogs to help you maximize your job offer chances. So much can go right; you wowza-ed them with your experience, skills, education, personality. But an equal amount can go wrong. Some of it was out of your control – the owner’s brother-in-law got the job, the budget got slashed – don’t dwell on it, what’s the point. Just learn from what you think you did wrong, “Did I really f-bomb there?” “Was I too negative about my boss?” AND DON’T DO IT AGAIN.   
Follow-up was poor. You wrote a thank you email that read as though written by an alien from the Planet Zog. Get someone to read it through before you hit Send. You didn’t write a thank you email…YOU DIDN’T WRITE A THANK YOU EMAIL? ARE YOU INSANE?
You failed the background check… You smoked WHAT a few days ago? Sigh… You failed the credit check – oh well, wasn’t the job for you. Pick another future employer who doesn’t do credit checks.
And so on. And so on. Remember the crummy old line, which actually still makes me laugh, “You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince”? Job searching can be a bit like that. Learn from your mistakes, become a better candidate and with luck, and a following wind, even in a yeugh economy, you’ll find a decent job. 

124 non-verbal communication signs for interview

I totally made that number up. As my regular readers (of course, I think that may just be colleagues) will know, these articles with numbers in their title annoy me, so I came up with a silly number.  “I’m not supposed to remember 124 things to do/not do in interview, am I?” Nope, you’re safe. But there are some useful tips on non-verbal communication in general, and body language in particular, that could improve your interview chances.
Hand up to cover mouth/ brushing imaginary lint from trouser leg or skirt/ crossing your arms in front of yourselfas you answer a difficult question = YOU’RE LYING. The HR Manager may have gone to a training session where they taught this stuff so he or she will spot it immediately. You don’t have to remember all the signs. When you’re being interviewed, the one thing to remember is NOT TO LIE, then your body language won’t give you away. Simple, really.
Of course, if you’re asked a difficult question (“Why did they fire you?”) then a good staffing service consultant will have helped you with a truthful but positive answer.
Neuro-Linguistic Programming. A whole topic for a Master’s thesis, never mind a “Margaret Says” blog, so I’ll stick with one relevant example. 99% of people, when asked to remember something (“Where did you file that report?”) raise their eyes to the left to aid their memory. 99% of people, when telling big fibs — “When did you say you finished the report?”– raise their eyes to the right when they’re imagining a good answer, but trying to make it look as though they’re searching their memory. “Last week,” you lie, while inwardly thinking, “Blimey, better finish it tonight”. Again, you don’t have to remember that body language tip, which is an extremely useful one for Customs and Immigration Officers and Police Officers, but not so crucial in everyday life. The thing to remember is NOT TO LIE.
So…in interview, when asked an awkward question, about salary, performance reviews, what you thought of your ex-boss, tell the truth. There are many ways to tell the truth – your staffing service counsellor knows several of them to help you sugar coat your honest answer.  
Dress appropriately. What does this have to do with non-verbal communication, you ask bemusedly? Wearing a low-cut blouse, a grubby tie, a creased suit sends a message about the type of person the interviewer will think you are. The interviewers may be right or they may have misjudged, but none of what they think based on those three examples will be good. I’ve mentioned what to wear at interview in another blog, whether it’s for buttoned-up financial company or nerdy techy company, so won’t repeat it here.
Handshake. Somewhere between a dead fish handshake, and a macho-Vin-Diesel’s-got-nothing-on-me bone-crusher. If you have friends, family, colleagues who know you’re looking for a new job, ask if you can practice on them. If you live in a hippy commune where everyone hugs, DON’T (Listen, I don’t make this stuff up. My memoirs will sell like hot cakes).  
Eye contact. Some is good. None is weird and makes you look shifty/in need of psychotherapy. Too much makes you look like a candidate for one of those forensic programs on television about stalkers. This particular tip is one that you will have to remember, so you can vary your gaze. The thing is, if you’re not too stressed and treat the interview more or less like normal conversation, it’ll come naturally, so try to enjoy the interview. HR Managers or the department don’t want to interview someone who’s so uncomfortable you make THEM uncomfortable.
Mind those irritating mannerisms! If you don’t know what to do with your hands and don’t want to come across as a sparrow’s wings flailing about in the strawberry patch netting at one end of the scale or recently deceased at the other end, then put them on the arms of the chair. Armless chair? Rest them lightly, palms down, on your thighs.  You may even relax and find yourself using your hands to emphasize a point.
Inappropriate smells. I’m thinking perfume, aftershave here. I’m kinda assuming everything else, including yourself, is freshly washed or dry cleaned. A stupid number of people think they have tremendously sensitive olfactory skills and bang on about it e.g. “Her perfume gave me a headache for the rest of the day”. I’m not convinced they’re not raging hypochondriacs but they may be the hypochondriacs with the power to send you on, or not, to the next stage of the recruitment process. It’s therefore frankly best not to wear any perfume, cologne or aftershave. Annoying, but no-one said life was fair.

I have some swamp land in Georgia to sell you for residential housing development

I have some swamp land in Georgia to sell you for residential housing development
Don’t believe everything anyone tells you. Well, I mean, have SOME trust in people or you’ll end up a miserable, friendless old cynic. What I’m referring to are reviews on the Internet, possibly biased friends, potential future colleagues, company websites ….expounding on jobs, companies, salaries…
Company websites: I may be stating the obvious here (never stopped me before) but companies want to portray themselves in the best light, for future business, public relations, attracting the best staff. Even if it’s on the whole pretty good, and in fact can be excellent when the CEO remembers to take his medication, these are not particularly powerful selling statements. Websites emphasize the positive – the awards they won, the revenue they produce, the awe-inspiring education of the hedge fund management team. They don’t mention the high turnover rate of staff; they can’t even really say anything like, “And our staff turnover is much less than the competition.”
What’s your point, Margaret?
It’s a few pieces of the jigsaw puzzle, but it isn’t enough by itself to tell whether it’s going to become a seascape or skyscape. At the moment, it’s just a few nice blue jigsaw pieces.
Review websites. Shouldn’t really mention any by name, one of the best starts with a letter near the end of the alphabet. These reviews are unfiltered, Doris Lessing-like stream of consciousness and should be taken for what they are. Sometimes true, and accurate, either praising or criticizing the service they were given, sometimes horrendously off kilter. Who knows what the motivation is:
For the 5 stars out of 5 reviews:
        a) It really was a 5 out of 5 service and the world just has to be told.
        b) They are related to the owner of the establishment.
        c) They were somehow paid to write a good review (“Want a free dinner?”).
        d) Their standards are low (“It was the best grilled cheese sandwich I’ve ever had. And I didn’t                see a single    cockroach all evening”).  
        e) They want to see their name in print.
        f) They want to make their names as blog writers.
For the 0-stars-and-big-raspberry out of 5 star reviews. Let’s say X has criticized a staffing service. In fact I’m going to make it X and Y, because I’d have to keep writing he or she to keep it grammatical and I’d go nuts trying to re-word it not to do that.
a)      They came in with unrealistic expectations about what sort of jobs they wanted. A million reasons, no point in enumerating them, the poor souls were just unrealistic. The agency couldn’t find anything. Not the agency’s fault. If they can place and earn a fee, they’ll do it. So X and Y take to the Internet about how useless the agency was. Or even “I’ve been to several and none of them gets back to me. What’s their problem?” Now, class, join up the dots here….. what’s the common factor in not being sent out for interview by severalagencies? That’s right – X and Y. But they don’t listen to well-meaning advice about their resume, wearing their gang beads under, not over, their T-shirts, or refusing to brush up on their computer skills. Many agencies, Merit of course being one, can give you free tutorials for you to practice MSOffice at home. Take us up on our kind offer, don’t look at us as though we have two heads: we’re trying to help.  
b)      The economy has been, how shall I phrase this without using profanity, not good for several years now. It’s getting better, but it’s still problematic, and the job landscape in New York has changed, so it’s more of an uphill struggle that it was. If we get the jobs, we’ll ask our clients to consider you, but please don’t be writing on blogs/websites that the staffing services were useless.  
c)       No-one’s there to say, “That’s rubbish”, explain to you why your review is indeed rubbish and get you to take your comment down. So it stays there forever, giving people the wrong impression.
d)      Gosh, sometimes the comments are valid. But how can you separate out the gold from the fool’s gold (who remembers from chemistry class that’s iron pyrite?)
e)      e) and f) above still apply.
So read everything on the Internet with a pinch of salt. Even Wikipedia gets it wrong quite a bit because it’s written by people like you and me, and they don’t employ enough editors to fact check (Note to self: Maybe I should send them that three bucks they keep requesting). Use your judgment, ask people you KNOW who have had direct contact with the agency. I suppose since this is a blog I’m putting up on the Internet, I’m including myself in all this. Oh gawwwwwd. If you do disagree with my blogs, then write and tell ME and I’ll listen. Of course, if you love them, write and tell me and I’ll listen with a smile on my face.

5 things to stop you reading self-help articles with numbers in the title

Why is it that these articles, about making yourself a fortune, improving your love life, sticking to the diet, landing a new job, keeping your existing job, things to say in interview, things not to wear during interview, ALWAYS have numbers in the title? Not that it matters, really, but my theory is that the writers of course want you to read their articles, and somehow they have to make it look as though it’s easy for you to remember what they say. If there are actual numbers of things to do, say, not do, not say, then it’ll be easy peasy to remember them, won’t it?  I’ve even done it myself in one of my blog articles, but to be honest it was more as a laugh than anything; “5 resume dos, 5 resume don’ts.” Mind you, the advice was good!  
So…. What do we have to say about self-help articles, especially as they relate to finding a job, which is what the blog is about?
They’re only any good if you have the mind-set to change. You have to be in a frame of mind to change your resume, decide whether you really want to leave your job, what you want your next job to be (or, alas, what you’ll settle for.)  Other people, and what’s relevant here, staffing services, can help you in this next stage in your career path BUT THEY CAN’T DO IT FOR YOU. You can go look for jobs on the Internet, network like crazy, put your resume out there in the ether, or even just think, “Oh good grief, I’ll let an agency come up with the jobs, the ones they get all seem fine to me.”  But you still have to be in the right frame of mind, get your act together, improve the resume, listen to advice, reject what isn’t appropriate to you, start thinking like Pollyanna so that you look enthusiastic at interview. Otherwise it won’t work, potential employers can spot a Debbie Downer a mile away.
Aside – if your current job is so awful you go home feeling depressed, then get yourself off to a decent agency who will help you out of the Slough of Despond so that you’re ready to look.  
Right. Your loins are girded to go job hunting. When was the last time you revised your resume? That long, huh? Take a good hard look, see if your work history reads more like an obituary – things I have done so far with my life – than a proud proclamation  of what you have achieved and can still achieve.   
They say a week’s a long time in politics, and a year is a long time not to be updating your resume. You’ve worked hard but not achieved anything in over a year? Saved no money for the company? We don’t believe it… you’ve answered 50 phone calls a day for a year, produced obscene numbers of Excel reports, arranged so many business trips you know more than the travel department. Let the world know.
If you’re looking for a punchy new format because you don’t know what’s hot in the market, then come to an agency (no bias, but how about Merit?) and we’ll help. What we’re here for.
This is where I shoot Merit in the foot and tell you how to help yourself without an agency…. Social media are there for a reason (I g-u-e-s-s). Use them. There are all sorts of sites, I mentioned a couple in a previous thread, but why not put your information out there on Monster, CareerBuilder and LinkedIn. What THEY’RE there for. Of course, they’re not as good as a good staffing service, cough cough, but they’re much better than nothing. And how else could we find you?  
Make sure you have a couple of decent interview outfits. I’m not saying expensive, I’m saying more-or-less corporate, with a jacket, conservative pair of trousers (can’t bring myself to say pants, even after 22 years in America. Pants are still underwear to me), boring blouse or white/blue shirt with staid tie. Make sure everything is clean/brushed/dog-hair-less with no buttons missing. Do this now or you’ll be panicking the evening before an interview.
Dear me, that’s only four things you should be doing to prepare yourself for the Job Hunt, and I headed it 5 things. Oh well. There’s probably lots more, and if you think I’ve forgotten something vital, let me know.