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Résumé, cover letter eating up job-hunting time

DEAR J.T. & DALE: I am spending so much time focusing on getting my résumé and cover letter right that I feel like I am wasting time and not actually applying for any jobs. It feels like I will never be done and my résumé will never be correct. Is this right? – Marco

Dale: Exactly right. In finding a new job, the résumé is a minor tool and a major hindrance. For most people, perfecting the résumé is an escape from job-searching, not a driver of it. I sometimes advise people who have fallen into the Circle of Endless Perfecting to break out by burning their résumé.

J.T.: That’s an overstatement, of course – you need a résumé. However, your résumé shouldn’t take more than an hour to create, and far less to customize as needed. As for cover letters, once you know how to write them, again, each one shouldn’t take more than an hour. Anything more than this is not a productive use of your time. What you need to be doing is figuring out where you want to work and connecting with people who already work there: Most jobs are gotten via referral. When someone can walk your résumé and cover letter in to the hiring manager, you have a much greater chance of getting the interview.

Dear J.T. & Dale: I have a co-worker whose phone vibrates all day long. She is the most social person I know. I am very distracted by it. Is it OK to ask her to turn off her phone? We sit right next to each other, and our desks don’t have drawers, so there’s no place for her to put it away. – Victoria

Dale: I am with you completely on this one, Victoria. “Vibrate” is not silent, and is more distracting than a distinctive ringtone because you can’t separate one buzz of vibration from another.

J.T.: I think it’s OK to tell your co-worker that the phone is distracting to you. You might preface it by saying: “This is awkward for me to bring up, so I hope you won’t be upset. I am distracted really easily, and I notice that your phone buzzes a lot. Is there any chance you could put it in your purse or turn it off during office hours? It would help me concentrate more, and I’d be really grateful for it.” I’m sure she’ll understand and will do what she can to accommodate you.

Dale: Turn it off or keep it in her lap, her pocket, her sock … wherever … it’s her problem. The point is that she has no right to interfere with your work, and she needs to understand that she is a concentration killer.

J.T.: If she doesn’t see it that way, you can tell her that while you love her as a co-worker, you’re going to need to ask to move desks, because feeling productive at work is important to you. At which point, when she realizes that your manager will hear why you want to move, your co-worker may realize that she needs to put the phone away.

Dear J.T. & Dale: A lot of the companies I want to work for don’t have jobs advertised. What is a good way to approach them and get noticed? – Pilar

Dale: Yes, you are wise to include such companies in your search; after all, one reason companies don’t feel the need to post jobs is when their environment is so sought-after that people are competing to work there and every current employee knows talented people eager to join in. Said another way, the culture has become the headhunter.

J.T.: But don’t let that intimidate you. In addition to the type of organizations Dale is describing, there are many companies that have decided to replace the posting of jobs with proactive recruiting techniques, like finding candidates on sites like LinkedIn. So, I would encourage you to get your profile set up. The more you get out there and talk to people who are working for employers you admire, the sooner you’ll land a job!

Jeanine “J.T.” Tanner O’Donnell is a professional development specialist and the founder of the consulting firm jtodonnell. Dale Dauten resolves employment and other business disputes as a mediator with Please visit them at, where you can send questions via email, or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., 15th Floor, New York, NY 10019.



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