Ask Renee #4: Face masks, cover letters and more!

Inspired by my favorite workplace advice columns (Ask a Manager and The New York TimesWork Friend) here is post #4 in the “Ask Renee” series focused on answering job seekers’ questions. Here are a few that have come up these past few months during my coaching sessions.

Should I wear a mask during face to face interviews? -R.T. The pandemic has added an extra layer of stress to an already very stressful situation – interviewing! Should you or shouldn’t you wear a face mask if you are asked to come in for a face-to-face interview? Alison Green of Ask a Manager has also addressed this question recently. I agree with her view, though it is quite U.S. specific. In Hong Kong, it is very normal to wear face masks and no one raises an eyebrow if you have a preference to keep your mask on during a meeting, interview or social situation.

That said, I’ve struggled with the etiquette of this myself when I go to my clients’ offices for meetings. Should we take it off or keep it on (the facemask that is!). I usually just ask the client about their internal protocol. In one client’s office, they had a small sign in the meeting room, asking everyone to keep their masks on, which made it very clear. If you are really unsure, you can ask the recruiter who is arranging the interview what the protocol is at that particular client. Then you will know in advance and can avoid any awkward situation.

Having a 60-minute meeting while wearing a face mask is not the most pleasant experience, but it did make me a lot more self-conscious about the rest of the ways I was communicating during the discussion. Here are a few of the things that I thought about and recommend to others:

1) Realizing that 75% of my face was covered, I tried to be more expressive with my eyes and ensure more eye contact. 2) I also amped up my body language, using my hands a bit more to illustrate key points. 3) I tried to demonstrate more interest in the conversation by leaning forward slightly when the client was talking (though still maintaining social distancing, of course!) 4) If you’ve got a notebook, laptop or whiteboard handy, you could also physically draw a diagram or picture to make your point and share it with your interviewer.

Although it is challenging, wearing a face mask during a meeting or interview is also a great chance for you to practice using different communication channels. Everyone processes information in different ways. Although a face mask may cover up your smile, it won’t cover up your ingenuity and enthusiasm!

Although a face mask may cover up your smile, it won’t cover up your ingenuity and enthusiasm!

How do I approach my ex-employer if I want to try to get my job back or apply for a new role? – P.L. Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

It happens to everyone. You leave a job for a new opportunity. It doesn’t work out. After weighing up all of the options, you decide the best course of action is to go back to your old employer.

Sometimes, that is easier said than done.

How should you approach them? Well (like many things), it depends.

What were the circumstances surrounding your departure? If you left on good terms and still have connections with your old boss or team, it’s fairly easy to reach out to them via email, a phone call or direct message to request a conversation. When you do reach out, there are two points to keep in mind:

1) Try to be specific about what kind of role or team you are interested in re-joining. Make it easy for them. Don't just say "Oh, I want to return." Then they have to do the work of figuring out where to put you. Make some suggestions on what you want to do and tie that back to any new skills you’ve learned since you left (either via your additional jobs, certifications, etc) and why you can add value to them. This is particularly important if you are reaching out to an HR contact who may not know your history with the company. 2) Ensure there is a call to action so the conversation progresses. This can be as simple as providing some specific times and dates for setting up a call or meeting.

Here is some sample wording that you can use:

"After working for YYY for the last [YEAR/MONTHS], [I feel it is not the right cultural fit / I miss the environment at XXX company / I realize how much I valued my experience working for XXX]. I am interested in returning and using the new skills I have gained from my experience at YYY and [additional coursework/certification/etc]."

I am most interested in working in the ABC or XYZ department/team. I think I can add the most value there because of the experiences I gained at YYY doing ZZZ. I am [immediately available / available in early 2021/etc].

Is it possible to set-up a time to speak via phone or meet for a coffee so I can discuss this with you further? I am available on DATE/TIME. I look forward to hearing back from you."

However, if you left on bad terms, it may take a bit more leg work to get back into the good graces of your old boss or former employer. The first step is to reach out to your old contact and try to schedule a meeting or phone call. Apologize for any past misdeeds or miscommunications (like throwing your laptop out the window or flaming your ex-teammates in your exit interview). Explain how you’ve changed, what new skills you have gained, and the reflection that has led you to believe that returning to your old employer is the right move. It may not immediately get you an interview or an offer of your old job back, but it will be the first step to mending fences.

That said, large employers tend to have long memories. They may have performance records from your previous employment or information contained in your personnel file about why you left. If things ended badly, be prepared for the possibility that you may not be able to return.

That is why it is so important not to burn bridges—especially in a small place like Hong Kong. Everyone knows everyone and your reputation remains long after you have outgrown it.

That is why it is so important not to burn bridges—especially in a small place like Hong Kong. Everyone knows everyone and your reputation remains long after you have outgrown it.

Should I just have 1 cover letter and use it for all of my applications? – K.C. Yes and no. Similar to your resume, you should have one master cover letter that you are confident captures your unique skills, experiences and reasons you are a great fit for the role. I often share this article that has a very simple format for crafting your cover letter. But after you’ve got that master cover letter finalized (preferably with the help of a professional resume writer!), you have to tweak, customize and adjust it so it is suited to the role you are applying for.

Generally, I am not a huge fan of cover letters and unlike many other career coaches, I don’t advocate for them across the board. In fact, I think cover letters are a bit outdated in the era of LinkedIn and Google. Employers can find out all they need to know about you with just a few keystrokes. I caveat this by saying that if you are a career switcher or have a variety of diverse experiences in your background, a well-written cover letter can make all of the difference in explaining why you are a perfect fit for the role in a way that your resume or LinkedIn profile cannot.

In one of my previous HR roles, the CEO insisted on mandatory cover letters for all job applicants. Reviewing the cover letters added a huge amount of time to the screening process while contributing very little value (in my opinion). For efficiency, I typically only reviewed cover letters from candidates who had a more unique or unusual background, so I could learn more about their story and why they felt they were a great match for the company.

My opinion is just one of many! If you google “Should I include a cover letter with my application?” you will get a huge range of articles from various experts. Do what is best based on your experience, industry norms and target role.

#jobseekers #interview #hiring

✅ If you like this post, appreciate a 👍 and please follow me for updates. Renee Conklin is a career coach and HR Leader who writes about talent attraction, employee engagement and the future of work. Check out more of her articles on LinkedIn.

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