Mindset shifts and adopting new strategies toward building your resume
I'll never forget those months during the Great Recession when it took me over 2 years to find a new job. I'm generally an optimistic person, but as time wore on, the continued rejections took their toll on my self-confidence. What was I doing wrong? Wasn't I good at my job? Was it time to change careers?
It was confusing when the feedback was good: "We loved Larissa. Great personality. Very good attitude, she'd make a great addition to any team, unfortunately, it isn't a fit." What the heck? Why? As difficult as comments like that were to navigate, what was even more nerve-wracking were those times when I sent a resume and cover letter off into the black hole, otherwise known as Taleo, never to see the light of day. How long do you wait for a call or email about an interview? When do you move onto the next opportunity? I was a perfect fit - surely I'd hear back soon.
We've all been there at some point or another. During those years, I went through more versions of my resume and cover letter than I can count. Some got great responses right away. Other formats, not so much. I experimented with chronological and functional resume formats, and eventually discovered one that worked well for me, and got responses. Cover letters, however, were a different story.
Nobody likes to write them. There's so much conflicting advice. Eventually, I discovered that a key shift in mindset, and adopting a more strategic approach, was a method that helped land an interview almost every time - I recently discussed in an interview with LiveCareer.com. Read below to learn what worked for me - and great tips and advice from others.
This article originally appeared on LiveCareer.com.
How a Cover Letter Can Help You Land a New Position After a Layoff
Anyone who has faced the aftermath of a sudden layoff knows it’s a daunting experience.
“It was very difficult because I had a lot of bills to pay and responsibilities to take care of,” says Larissa Lowthorp, a Millennial hit hard during the last recession.
Maintaining a positive attitude during such a trying time is not easy. However, getting over the sting and presenting yourself as a talented individual worth hiring opens the door to new opportunities.
“The best advice I received was, ‘Recruiters are not trying to include you in the candidate pool – they are trying to exclude you,’” Lowthorp says. "I altered my mindset and approach after that and adopted a ‘yes, I can’ attitude, where I was confident that I had the skills to do the job or could learn them.” Her number of interviews quickly increased.
Presenting yourself as someone worth getting to know better starts with solid application material. Taking time to compose a thoughtful cover letter after being laid off can help you gain a hiring manager’s attention.
As you think about how to write a cover letter after a layoff, keep the following in mind:
You can choose to mention the layoff . . . or not.
Cases can be made both ways as to whether or not to mention a dismissal in a cover letter after being laid off, especially if you hit the job market quickly and your resume doesn’t contain a questionable employment gap.
“I don’t see any reason to,” says Heather MacArthur, consultant with The Executive Advisory and author of Low Man on the Totem Pole: Stop Begging for a Promotion, Start Selling Your Genius. “Companies do layoffs due to org restructures, changes in strategy, or financial constraints. The focus (of a cover letter) is what you bring to the table, not about your previous company.”
However, many candidates feel better letting the prospective employer know that a termination occurred for a reason beyond their control rather than because of a problem with performance. Thus, one might make a brief mention of the incident in a cover letter after being laid off but then quickly return to positive self-promotion.
To explain a layoff, you might write something like:
“Budgetary cuts forced the recent elimination of 11 workers at Company X, and my position was one of them. I am saddened to leave a place where I learned so much about our industry, mentored others, and consistently earned high-performance reviews. However, I look forward to using my experience to help my next employer reach new levels of success.”
Never write these things in a cover letter after being laid off
Conventional wisdom professes that landing a new job is easier when you already hold one. Employers like to see skills in action, and you may be viewed as a better bet to hire when someone else is already employing you. Thus, it can be tempting to “tweak” your cover letter to sound like you still have a job, especially if the layoff was very recent.
Simply put: Don’t lie. Employers eventually will connect the dots, and you’ll find yourself in the uncomfortable situation of explaining why you misled them.
Lavie Margolin, author of Mastering the Job Interview, notes that candidates needn’t refer to specifics of the layoff, but they shouldn’t make it appear as if they are still employed. Instead, “When writing of relevant experience, one could say, ‘In my last position . . . .’ Focus on the positives that relate to the job to which you are applying – What did you accomplish? What duties were similar? What relevant knowledge did you gain?”
Besides dishonesty, negative emotions likewise don’t belong in your cover letter. Blame, excuses, or long explanations of why a layoff occurred do little to convince anyone you’re the perfect person for the position at hand and instead draw unnecessary attention to an unfortunate event.
And forget the guilt route, too. Yes, your recent layoff may have been unfair and you really need a job ASAP to pay your bills. But such information fails to show the employer how hiring you is in his best interest, and begging tends to turn people off.
Stick to the point in application materials
The unpleasant aftermath of a layoff undoubtedly monopolizes your attention. Realize, though, that employers look at a candidate pool with their own interests in mind, not yours. Your goal in a cover letter and resume is to convince them to bring you in for an interview because you’re just the person they need – not because you need a job.
“One has to remember that [they are] not competing with other people that were laid off, the person is competing with all applicants – working or not,” Margolin says. “Focus on your past only as it would be relevant to the future. Make sure that your cover letter promotes you best. It should be a marketing piece and not a life story.”
Adds MacArthur, “It’s no different for someone laid off or someone simply looking for a new job. Research what the hiring company is up to right now. What is going on with their strategy? Are they in the news for anything? Has there been a shift in leadership? Authentically share what about the direction of the company you are excited about and why. Share why you have a love for the industry or function that the role is connected to. The point (in a cover letter) is to personally connect with the job in a way that your resume doesn’t highlight.”
And above all, remain optimistic. Others have gone on to great things following a layoff, and you can, too.
“Don't give up because the right job is out there for you,” says Lowthorp, who landed employment several times after layoffs and later went on to found TimeJump Consulting. “Take a creative look at your skills and ways they can branch out to other things related to your expertise and industry and use those to your advantage - it will give you a competitive edge.”