The Story of The Baker

A story we often tell when we get asked what Project House is all about, is one about a Baker who loves to bake pies.  We’ll call him The Baker.  The Baker made pies all of the time.  His pies were well-loved by his family, who demanded pies for every conceivable occasion.  His pies were delicious and better than anything available in a shop.  Over time,  The Baker started making pies for his kids’ fundraising events, for his friends and their friends, and before he knew it, his pies were in such high demand that he had a business on his hands and he needed to hire some helpers and find a community kitchen space several days a week just to keep up with the orders.

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Why You Need a (Good) Employment Agreement

business set-up and best practices

Ok. You’ve started your business, you have figured out your business plan, you have found a workspace and developed some initial service or product. Now what do you need? People. How do you hire them, what are the rules, what is a simple and legal set-up for your company? And what kind of employer do you want to be? If you want to do it right, you need to figure out insurance, how to pay people, what information to get from your employees (and what information is none of your beeswax), and how to kick off the employment relationship properly, which starts with an offer and an employment agreement.

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Dear Job Applicant…

Dear Job Applicant image ideaDear Job Applicant,

I really want to help you get work, and I’d like the process to be as simple as possible for both of us. With that in mind, I have some straightforward suggestions for you as you apply for jobs.

For now, let’s focus on your Cover Letter, which is the first piece I am going to look at when your application comes my way.

I post jobs for my own company as well as for my clients, and every job posting I create asks for at least a cover letter and a resume. I get hundreds of applications, and I want to consider each one carefully. I want to screen out the people who aren’t qualified, and keep the people who might be right for me. Because I have to do this without ever meeting you, I need to see your cover letter in order to help me decide if you might be a great hire.

Here’s how you can help yourself:

1. Please write a cover letter. I’ve asked for one, and I want one. I am willing to read extra words (I’m a really good reader), so please don’t ignore this instruction. Not including a letter when I’ve asked you for one means you can’t follow instructions, and I might not read your resume. I sound serious about this, because I am.

2. Take a moment to figure out how to address your letter. If I’ve listed my company name, please look at the website and find out my name or my client’s name. If there is no information available, then your letter can be addressed “Dear HR Manager” or “Dear Hiring Manager”, or even “Dear (Company Name)” and that’s ok. If you can see by my photo that I have a name and that I am a woman, please do not address me as “Dear Sirs.” That seems lazy to me, and that’s not a great first impression for a job application.

3. Customize your letter and tell me why you really want the job. I don’t know who is advising you to tell me that your goal is to “work for a company where I can grow my skills and use my organizational expertise”, but phrases like that are so generic that they just take up valuable room in your letter. If you don’t talk about what the company does and why that interests you, I don’t believe that you are genuinely interested in the position. If your whole letter is impersonal, and my company’s name shows up in a different font, I know you’ve sent me a form letter, and I know you spent little to no time on your application. I think my company is special. That’s why I work so hard, that’s why I created a website, that’s why I get up every morning and skip to the office and away from the people I love at home. Read about my company/product/service/team and decide if you actually want to work for me. Then decide why you want to work for me. Then tell me about it in your cover letter – I will be so happy to hear what you have to say!

4. Spelling. I know I’m not supposed to care about spelling and grammar, but I really, really do. I can forgive a typo, but only if it’s clear it that it was a one-time error. If you misspell any word in the phrase “attention to detail,” I will roll my eyes and sigh. If the job doesn’t require great spelling, I won’t be as hard on you later, but your cover letter is my first impression so please show it some care and respect. Have someone else proofread it for you. And please use spellcheck. And don’t let it autocorrect the name of my company into something else. I chose the name of my company very carefully.

5. Stand out in a good way. If you are applying for an art position, in graphic design for example, you are allowed (encouraged even) to give me a more exciting letter and resume. Format and font: go for it! This is your opportunity to show me your skills. If you are not an artist you don’t need to show me how cool and colourful you are, but I’d like to see if your personality is going to fit with mine or with my client’s. If you are a friendly person, sound friendly. If you are formal and polite, write your letter that way. No swearing or “let’s be best friends” creepiness please, just be genuine and nice. If you think something in your personality and your experience or skills will make you a good candidate for the job, tell me about it. If you aren’t sure that you are qualified for the job, but you really think you’re a great fit for the company, tell me why. I will listen! And I might keep you in mind for the next position that comes along.

6. If I’ve asked for something else, please give it to me. If you are applying to be a graphic designer, and I have asked for cover letter, resume, and portfolio, please do not send me a cover letter that says “portfolio available upon request,” because now you’re throwing the dice. If I already have some great applicants, I may not go out of my way to ask you for it (I already asked, remember?) and your application may be in jeopardy. Why take that chance?

7. Show me a spark. Who are you? Are you good at researching? Are you polite and polished? Are you someone who can spell and proofread? Do you have any relevant interests outside of work that tell me more about you – volunteering, mentoring, teaching, participating in coding challenges or finance Meetups, creating websites for friends or leading a weekend legal seminar? Great teams and companies are made up of all different types of people and personalities, and hiring the right person into the mix is hard! Your letter can help me get to know you faster.

In summary, please write a thoughtful and personalized cover letter. This takes time I know, but it will show me that you are the kind of person who will take the time to do things right once you start working for me.

Want us to write a future blog on resume writing? Let us know at hello(at)projecthouse(dot)ca!

“Human Resources”: A rose by any other name

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Ok I get it – “Human Resources” is not a widely understood term.  The title is a bit cold and uninspiring, and people don’t want to be referred to as “resources”, but rather as living, breathing, creative beings.  “Human Resources” doesn’t really reflect the skillset within the profession either:  there is no hint of staffing or training, recruiting or leadership coaching, strategic planning or interviewing, onboarding or outplacement, contract negotiation or employment law…  “Human Resources” is a broad businessy term with no tangible indication of friendliness, supportiveness, or of helping people succeed in their work.

Fair enough.  Many companies avoid “Human Resources” by using the abbreviation “HR” (I often use this term because it’s shorter and friendlier), and others have created new titles that suit their culture better, such as Manager of “People Potential” or “Talent”.  Until a new term is commonly used, I’m happy to just work hard for my clients and companies, and to talk about the meaning of HR as I perceive it, and (more importantly) how it pertains to their individual needs.

As an HR professional who has also had a long career in project management and development, and who has often been a customer and a partner to HR, I know firsthand that the role of HR isn’t always clear to everyone.  At the heart of the profession is a focus on employees, their potential, and their success within a company.  In the overall corporate balance, it is important to have someone more focused on people and process than on product or finance, but who appreciates that all of these aspects are critical to a company’s success.

Here’s what I care about:  Are the right employees performing the right jobs at the right times?  Are they trained?  Are they happy?  Do they know what is expected of them?  Are they treated fairly and legally?  Do they have everything they need in order to thrive at work?  Are their managers and leaders trained and engaged?  Is their company thinking about future hires, succession plans, performance measurements, rewards, promotions, competitive salary ranges?  Are people being hired properly, introduced to their responsibilities thoroughly, and also terminated when it makes sense?  Do they have a voice at the company, and are the right people listening?

A great company cares about their people because they know that great employees are critical to a company’s success, that it is difficult and expensive to find and hire them, and that great employees leave companies when they are not challenged or appreciated.  Great employees also leave when their managers are not strong, and when they are not given opportunities to do good work or grow their skills.  A great company knows that a strong reputation as an employer matters, and that people will work harder (and for less money) if they feel good about what they are doing and about who they are doing it for.  A great company understands the importance of clear roles and expectations, solid hiring and onboarding practices, and the need to recognize when an employee isn’t working out – as well as the desire and ability to find out why, and to do something about it, even if that means letting them go.

Many startup companies have fewer employees who are, by necessity, forced to wear multiple hats – founders often juggle the roles of CEO, CTO, COO, HR, Administration, Office Manager, Caterer, Programmer, Web Designer, Janitor –this is just the reality of running a lean machine until there is more money to spend.  However, because employees thrive when they are managed and guided by people who like and appreciate (and are skilled at) managing them, these companies often make the decision to invest in HR, in either full-time or consultant form, as early as possible.  HR, if used well, can help a company find the best people, use them wisely, set them up for success, and help them stay motivated, active, innovative, and hard-working over the long-term.  Essentially, where there are humans, there is a need for someone who specializes in them.