Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The DOs and DON'Ts of Finding a Job: Cover Letters

Most organizations look at hundreds of applicants for any position posted. It is integral to write a cover letter that not only showcases your strengths and skills, but demonstrates your knowledge of the organization that you are applying to, connects your skills to the skills needed in the position, and has an anecdote that is memorable. It is essential to target every cover letter to the position and organization that you are applying to.

Tip: If your cover letter can be used to apply to multiple positions, you won't be getting a phone call.

With just one page to fit all of that into, it sounds impossible. Writing cover letters is a time consuming practice,  but the more you do it, the better you will be!

A good cover letter will:

1) Look professional: Make sure all of your personal information is laid out at the top of the page, and the layout matches your resume. Use a professional font. Make sure your margins are a normal size (margins that are way too big or too small make your cover letter look unprofessional at first glance).

2) Address the right person: If a name is given to apply to, absolutely, 100% address the letter to that person. If the position has not listed a name, do some research. Go on their website or Linked In to see if you can find the name of the hiring manager. Addressing the correct person demonstrates that you are professional and that you pay attention to detail. If you absolutely cannot find it, whatever you do, do NOT open the letter with Dear Sir. Remember, it is very possible that the person doing the hiring can also be a woman. People do not appreciate the assumption that a manager would be a man.

3) Start off your cover letter with a story that shows who you are: Of course, you may want to start with your education or work experience. But try to express yourself in the first few sentences, you want to grab their attention so they will keep reading the letter. Reading letter after letter about people's skills and abilities gets boring, you want to be the one that sticks out.

An anecdote about why you would love to work at that organization would be great to use. Here are a few examples:

"In my current position I had the opportunity to mentor students who were applying to jobs, and I realized that I really loved this aspect of the position. I enjoyed working directly with students to determine their skills and interests and to help them leverage those skills to start their career. When I saw the Human Resources position posted, I felt that this position would be a great opportunity to continue with my passion for working with people while using the skills that I have developed in my current role".

"As a person who has spent some time volunteering with non-profit organizations that support aboriginal people, I have seen first-hand how the lack of resources for aboriginal people in our country affects their quality of life. I firmly believe that it is our responsibility as a country to provide resources such as health care, community resources, and support to aboriginal people so that they have the opportunities that others have. I believe these values are in line with those of your organization, and I would love the opportunity to help provide this support in the fundraising role that has been posted".

4) Showcase your skills in a memorable way: Don't just list your skills. Anyone can list skills. I have seen countless people claim that they are detail-oriented, but their resume is littered with spelling mistakes and doesn't even address the person listed in the job posting. Just saying you have skills doesn't mean anything to a potential employer.

What you need to do is give examples of skills that you have and then tell them how you got those skills. Not where, HOW. Give a story of something you did to develop those skills, talk about a report you had to write, or a project you worked on. Make it memorable. Here are a few examples:

"I developed strong cross-cultural communication skills while working at the Banquet Centre. While I was a server at the Banquet Centre, we served wedding receptions for people from a variety of backgrounds. During these events I had to adjust to the cultural norms and traditions associated with wedding receptions. I also had to adjust to the way people interacted with me and understand that not every culture would address me the same way. This experience has given me the ability to react quickly to different cross-cultural situations so as to provide the best customer service possible".

"I developed international business skills while writing solutions to business cases in my courses at University X. One such business case that we studied was for Wal-Mart when they entered the market in China. When Wal-Mart entered the Chinese market, they were very unsuccessful due to a variety of cultural differences that they had not considered. Chinese customers rarely have vehicles, therefore they do not buy in bulk to get the savings that Wal-Mart provides. Shoplifting was also a serious problem at the locations in China. One of the solutions that I had developed for this case was to focus heavily on e-commerce, which would be delivered to the doors of customers. This was a solution that no one else in the class had thought of, and turned out to be one of the directions that Wal-Mart had taken to find success in China".

5) Do your research: Do your research on the company! Show that you love the company. Show that you are not just looking for a job, you are looking for a job with THEM. That is so important, as any organization wants someone who will be passionate about their mission and vision.

Simply copying and pasting the mission or vision of the organization into your cover letter will not cut it, either. They know what their mission and vision is, don't spit it back out at them. Read through the company website as thoroughly as possible, but don't stop there. Look for news articles on that company to make sure you understand what is happening for them right now. Look at their Linked In page, and research what is happening in their industry. Here are some examples:

"I read recently that CompanyX has received funding to expand and build a new location. I would love to work for CompanyX as I think this is a very exciting time to be involved with the growing organization that supports people in the arts. I strongly believe that people in the arts need space and support to grow their careers, and being a part of that growing initiative is an amazing opportunity".

"I understand that not-for-profit organizations face a different set of challenges that private organizations do not. Your budget demonstrates that government funding has been cut for your organization recently, and that you rely more heavily on fundraising to provide the support needed. I believe that all homeless people deserve housing as well as community support, therefore I would love to be a part of your fundraising department to ensure that as many homeless people in our city can get that support as possible".

6) Link your skills to what the organization needs: So now you've shown yourself, you've shown that you know the company, link those two things to really hit home. Sure you have skills, and you like the organization, but why should they choose you over someone else? Plenty of people have skills needed for the position you are applying for. Why are you their choice?

"The communication skills that I have developed over my work experience would be an asset in this position while interacting with potential donors. With my passion for this initiative, I could clearly communicate it's importance to the community so potential donors have a good understanding of what they are supporting and how it will have a positive influence. This skill paired with the financial skills that I developed in my education would create a smooth process for acquiring new donors and processing the transactions".

7) Proofread, proofread, proofread! Don't do what Tim Smith did. I see this over and over, people use cover letters that they used for other positions and forget to take the name of the other employer out. Nothing shows that you could care less about the position than that. Also, it shows that you do not pay attention to detail. Those are the biggest things that send your cover letter to the garbage, when employers are looking at hundreds of applications, small things like that just give them a quick and easy reason to cut the pile down.

The same goes for spelling mistakes. Read it over multiple times, check the spelling and grammar, do not rely on Microsoft Word to pick up all of your mistakes, and get another set of eyes to read it over for you. Read your letter out loud a few times to make sure that it sounds the way you want it to. Rework your bulky sentences. If you have time, sleep on it for a night and come back and look at it with fresh eyes in the morning. This attention to detail will keep you in the maybe pile, and will ensure your cover letter is read from beginning to end.

.... I know. It's a lot of work. Which can be frustrating when you apply for job after job and never seem to hear back from anyone. However, carefully crafting your cover letter will make you stick out from the rest of the applicants and will give you a fighting chance. Use this method, and you will be writing master cover letters faster and faster each time you do it. Eventually you will get that call! And when you do, I will have tips and tricks to help you with your interview!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The DOs and DON'Ts of Finding a Job

In my current job, I connect students with employers and organize networking events, job postings, and interviews. I thought I would start sharing some of the job hunting knowledge that I've been accumulating in this process. So for the next few weeks, you will be seeing the dos and don'ts of finding a job! So for this week:


So if you're like me, networking at events with strangers that are much further in their career than you are is absolutely excruciating. I have many times been guilty of going to networking events and not speaking to anyone. I have actually been advised to take leadership classes, which I do plan to do in the future.

However, simply showing up at networking events isn't going to do anything for you. You need to talk to people and make connections, as 80% of jobs are not advertised. Therefore, all of the jobs you see posted are only 20% of the jobs out there. The more connections you make and mentors you gather, the more likely someone will connect you with someone that is hiring or recommend you for a position!

Then how do we get over this networking anxiety? If you're like me, when you do get the courage to talk to someone, you are also painfully awkward. Well have no fear, there is a solution. Practice. Reflect. And repeat!

Go to an event and force yourself to speak to someone. At least one person. Start small if you have to.

After the event, reflect on the conversation and the interaction. What made you so nervous? Did the other person react in any way? Did everything go okay? Did anything bad happen because you talked to this person?

Go out there and try it again! Make yourself goals. Talk to two people, approach someone when you're by yourself, try to sell yourself, use your elevator speech. As you continue reflecting upon these interactions, you will realize that some of your anxieties are in your head, and that nothing bad happens when you fight them and get yourself out there. Practice will make you better at it, and reflecting will make you more comfortable.

So get out there, go to any events possible, and network! I know I know, but you don't have the time. Make the time. Networking is one of the best things you can do for your career, and it will not be successful unless you practice it!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Ethical decision-making

Everyone likes to think they act ethically. People aren't inherently evil, they just find ways to justify their actions to themselves. This makes the matter of ethics confusing, whether referring to it on a personal level or on an organizational level.

There is push these days for organizations to act ethically, but what defines ethical decision-making is not black and white nor cut and dry. It is instead a sliding scale, ranging from not-for-profits whose entire reason for existence is for the greater good, to organizations that participate in corporate social responsibility to appease consumers and to try and give back to the community, to organizations that push every limit and act fraudulently and corruptly to make as much profit for shareholders as possible, and everything in between. There is no answer to ethical decision-making, but it is important to remember that the closer we get to unethical decision-making, the easier it is to justify to ourselves taking it one step further.

This is a visual representation that I made for a business case dealing with ethical decision-making. It is important to remember that all of our decisions exist on an ethical sliding scale, and that we must ensure that our decisions do not begin sliding to the unethical direction. We must also value ethical decision-making as a high standard for organizations as consumers. By being aware of how ethical our actions are, we can make the world a better place.

Friday, August 22, 2014


Professionalism is just as important in the art field as it is in any other type of business. The way you portray yourself is very important, and while the image of an artist as a disheveled eccentric is attractive in theory, portraying yourself as professional leaves the impression of a trustworthy individual in the minds of others. This is essential when people are considering purchasing your artwork, when they are trusting that you will follow through on a commission, or when someone is trusting that you will have a body of work prepared for a gallery showing in time. If someone has a sense that you are well-managed and put together, they will be more likely to give you these opportunities.

A good friend once said to me: dress for the job that you want, not the job that you have. For years I believed that being an artist meant that I could play by my own rules and avoid the standards that everyone else would have to live their mundane lives by. However, when my friend said these words to me,  I was working for minimum wage in a mundane office, unemployable as an artist, and those words really stuck with me. I realized that getting ahead as an artist would take more than talent, hard work, and good ideas. It would also require me to present myself as someone that is put together. And despite the fact that I wanted to be acknowledged as a working artist, I began feeling as though the job that I wanted as a working artist was not one as a disheveled eccentric who was obsessive of all things art, but one as a professional looking artist who is successful at their business.

I began dressing more professionally at my job, I purchased a few blazers and always tried to look nice. However, when I started business school I never thought that I would fit in. I never felt that my attire would ever be up to snuff, and I always had difficulty looking truly professional. As time went by and I gathered more business attire (might I add, at no cost more than I was buying regular clothes for the most part), I realized that it's not that difficult, and that anyone can dress professional with a reasonable amount of comfort as well.

Can't wear a pair of pantyhose without a starting a huge run in it? Buy some damn dress pants. Break my face on the bus with high heels? Payless has plenty of flat shoes, don't worry. Can't find a button up shirt that doesn't look like the buttons at the boobs are hanging on for dear life? Well, there are plenty of nice shirts without buttons.

Another thing I learned years ago is that your art should look professional as well. Now, mind you, I am not saying to change your art style. If you art style is a mess, let it be a mess! However, there is something very important one of my professors during my Visual Arts degree taught me. I was working on a book project for a printmaking class, and I had printed and bound a book. Now, I was never very good at precise detailed work, but I wanted to make a nice-looking book like the ones I had seen made in workshops I had attended. But instead the inside cover of my book had glue all over it and the pages were all a bit crooked. My professor for that class, when critiquing my book, told me one something that has stuck with me ever since. She said "Lenore, your artwork is very messy. That isn't a bad thing, it's the type of artwork that you make and it's who you are. But you have to embrace it and to always make sure that if it looks messy, it looks messy on purpose".

That has stayed with me to this day. My messy disheveled artwork was suddenly no longer something I struggled with, but instead became something I could be proud of. I stopped trying to make neat artwork, and instead put my efforts into making sure the messy work I was making was presented properly. My artwork remained messy while the presentation changed.

It took me years to realize that this practice was important for myself as well. I could remain a messy person, who is all over the place, constantly busy, constantly have a million ideas running through my head, working on a variety of projects, as long as I presented myself in my dress pants, nice shoes (no heels) and nice shirt (no buttons) so I looked like I was being a messy person on purpose.

Have any tips on professionalism as an artist? I'd love to hear it! Comment below!

<3 Lenore

Friday, August 15, 2014

Love art every day

As I said a few posts ago, when I spoke about how I keep focused on art while I am busy, I often try to make whatever small doodles and drawings I can to keep myself involved. Here's a quick little doodle I did on my iPad. Thought I'd share as a reminder to you all to love art every day.

<3 Lenore

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The struggles of a Fine Arts graduate

When I finished my Visual Arts degree, I was very unsure of what to do next. If there is one thing I've learned after completing a university education, it is that the focus of university is on academia and knowledge, and what you do with it when you're finished is of no concern to them. This is unfortunate, however, because many students are never taught the skills to get the job, or to even know what job they are qualified for. There is something that I find very frustrating about programs that charge such large sums of money and put teenagers in insurmountable debt despite holding the firm belief that there is no place there to teach usable real life skills in the field.

While I was studying Visual Arts, I spent the entire four years feeling as if I had myself all figured out. "I am soooo lucky that I know what I'm passionate about and what I want to do for the rest of my life straight out of high school", said my brain while dragging my tired ass to class every day.

However, things were very different after I was out of school. I was left with this wandering sense of "now what?". I had to find somewhere to live, money to pay rent, and no one was showing up at my door offering me money to live as an artist.

So what did I do?! Well I did what many artists do at that point in their career! I started working at a call centre. (Other acceptable answers here would have been gas station, restaurant, or retail outlet).

It's a sad truth: since the recession it has become extremely difficult to be an artist. I don't understand how art schools can stay afloat if they do not begin teaching students the skills to survive after art school. You see, no matter how passionate you are about something, you still need to eat and pay rent. No matter how passionate I was about art, I had to work 40 hours a week at a call centre. There have been several points in my life where I've had to work two jobs, up to 60 hours a week, just to afford the cost of living. Finding the time to make art on top of that is difficult. Finding the time to network yourself or to sell your art on top of that is near impossible.

Here is a great Maclean's article about how difficult it is to be a Fine Arts graduate right now, and how schools have to adapt.

Students need to start these processes while still in school. Students need to start gaining the business skills (networking, marketing, financial skills, etc) while still in art school, because they will never find the time to learn these on their own. Instead, they end up in dead end jobs with piles of half-finished and finished canvases in their bedroom that no one will see because they don't know how to get someone to look, while busting their asses to pay off their debts.

Now that I'm enrolled in an MBA, I feel like I am gaining the necessary skills to be a working artist. If that doesn't work out, I have the skills to find a job that will pay me enough that I can at least have the time to get my art out there. However, I was never made aware that applying for an MBA was an option for me as a Visual Arts graduate. It took me four years the figure that out. Nor did I think for a second to enroll in business electives during my undergrad. Why did no one tell me these things?! Why have I suffered this whole time?

I think one of the issues is that the professors teaching these programs never faced the problems that we do. When they finished school there was grant money available, there were teaching jobs, they didn't have to choose between making art and eating. However, I sincerely feel that they should look around them and see what is occurring to students after they walk out of the school doors. They need to adapt, or there will be no room for art school and no room for art in the lives of the upcoming generation.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

How I stay focused on art when I am very busy

I have been busy and while enrolled in an MBA and my life has been very business-focused, so I try whenever possible to keep art in my mind. Even when I do not have the time to make art, I try to keep inspired in the little free time that I have. In an attempt to remind myself that the purpose that I am attending business school is for the business of art, because art is my real passion. Truly, I would like to integrate business and art together in my life. When I first finished art school and was attempting to figure out what to do, I found few resources relating business and art or addressing the business side of art. I think I would like to communicate the business skills from my MBA to other artists, to help them as well.

This summer has been hectic for me, but here are some of the ways I have been keeping art in my head.

1. Reading about art. 

Art & Physics: Parallel Vision in Space, Time and Light
by Leonard Shlain

I feel that reading about art really keeps me focused. The work of other artists can be really inspiring, and get you motivated and excited to express your own thoughts and ideas. I often like to read about art from different viewpoints, and I have always taken great interest with physics, so I picked up this book. I take many issues with this book, the author many time forces his theory and I feel he also manipulates the concept of some of the artwork to mean what he wants it to mean. Also, the author often leaves out important advances in physics in the book because they do not contribute to his theory. However, at 437 pages I think this book is a great overview of art and physics and I enjoyed the ability to compare the timeline of the two together. If nothing else, Shlain demonstrates how changes often occur in both fields at the same time because of the shift of perspective of everyone in society. I also enjoyed having the inspiration that comes with reading about many of my favourite artists again, and sometimes getting perspectives on their artwork that I hadn't been exposed to before. 

2. Listening to podcasts

I have the luck of working from home for my internship, so when I am doing more visual work (formatting documents, etc) I can listen to podcasts. One of the few great resources I have found for business and art is Alyson Stanfield's blog and podcasts. Her website,, has some great resources and if you search for her podcasts, she has a ton that covers all of the topics you could imagine encountering as an artist. It keeps me motivated and informed. 

3. Drawing and painting small things

I don't have the time to work on big paintings, therefore I try to do small sketches and small paintings whenever possible. Even if the paintings have no conceptual meaning to me, sometimes it's just nice to have a tool in my hand and move a medium around on a surface. Here is a small painting I did this summer (unfinished at this point, some shoulders went in later). 

Acrylic on canvas

The fight of my life since I finished my Bachelor of Fine Arts has been finding the time to keep up with my artwork. I do not come from a family that can support me while I don't work, and it is difficult to find a good paying job these days. I keep reminding myself that I am doing an MBA to free up more time and have access to more resources when I do find a good job, and using these techniques to keep myself focused on art helps me along the way.

<3 Lenore