Answer the Question

The following Guest Editorial appeared in yesterday’s newsletter for the Financial Executives Networking Group, regarding executive level job searches:

From David Bass, Chairman of our Raleigh Chapter, David writes:

 I asked someone involved in a recent search to provide some feedback on the candidates that came through FENG. Initially, there was some reluctance to circulate the lead, as he didn’t want to get bombarded with unqualified candidates. Couldn’t I just give him the contact information for the top 3-4 candidates from the chapter? Eventually he agreed to permit circulation to the entire chapter and provide the feedback that I am about to share.

 The position was with a private equity / venture capital investment fund, as their internal CFO. This required a good bit of partnership accounting and taxes, valuation of privately held portfolio companies, and reporting to investors. In their view, these are different skill sets from those needed in a typical operating company role, and were explained in the job description.

 The feedback included some good news. There were a few highly qualified candidates, who tailored their emails (serving as the cover letter) to highlight how their backgrounds related to the particulars of this position, and who’s resumes backed up these cover letter assertions.

 The feedback included some bad news too, and more of it. There were multiple candidates who emailed resumes and the email text highlighted their strengths and qualifications for a generic position but did not make any connection to the specific job description at hand. In other words, obvious boilerplate verbiage, which the reviewer interpreted as an indication that the candidates were not paying very close attention, if any at all. The email verbiage should give the reader a reason to look forward to opening the resume. These folks did the opposite… they clearly gave a reason to skip reading the resume and move on to someone else.

 There were many specific examples of bad form. Three attached a resume to an email that included a standard outbound signature but no verbiage at all, not even a basic “please find my resume attached.” Another had misspelling and incomplete sentences. Some had only one sentence in the email followed by a signature. Another had a short diatribe about how difficult it has been to find a job. Several replies were to a different job – yes the FENG members sent a reply for a different position to the email address for the CFO position. This occurred on multiple replies.

 For each candidate, there is a basic question: How do YOUR QUALIFICATIONS connect or match up with the particulars of THIS JOB? In the reviewer’s opinion, answering this question is the objective of a cover letter or email verbiage. If a firm is looking for a specific skill set, give the reviewer (right away) some reasons to feel confident that you have those skill sets. Everything else could be toxic information – if it poisons your chances of having your resume opened and reviewed. Put differently and more bluntly, the question might be: Why should I open your resume?

 All of the “bad news” feedback revolved around FENG members who failed to answer the question, and only hurt themselves in the process. Which leads back to the title of this editorial, “Answer the Question.” Every job posting asks a question. If the question is about certain skills or experience, then you need to acknowledge those requirements, you need to meet those requirements, and you need to say so right up front. If you can’t or won’t answer the question, you are wasting your own time and the recruiter’s time.

 Before hitting ‘send’ it is a good practice to review your email text or cover letter as if you were a hiring manager receiving the same email/letter from someone else. Does the candidate appear to understand the requirements? Is the response worthy of someone who has the title of the job posted? Would you want to look at the resume? If not, you’ve still got some work to do.

Your comments?


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