Sunday, November 24, 2013

Job Search: Writing a Blammo Cover Letter!

For a long time, cover letters were a real throw away for me. I hated writing them, and given half a chance, would skip them all together. Who reads 'em anyway?

But then I realized I was throwing away my opportunity to sell myself to my future employer. This is the place that I can set myself apart from the crowd and also speak to the potential employer about my value proposition. "Value proposition." if you aren't familiar with it,  is a term taken from the marketing and sales world. I define it as what you (or your product) will add to the potential customer, or employer that will enrich the potential customer or employer in some way. Enrich is a broad term, and it could mean increasing their bottom line or it could mean increasing some value they hold or capability they have. It is how you explicitly show then why they want to talk to you.

Your cover letter needs to do this in a way that they reader can feel the passion you have for the work. And I've found that if I can't write a compelling cover letter, then probably I shouldn't apply for the job. Yes, you read that right. I strongly recommend that you NOT apply for a bunch of things, but only the few that you feel strongly about. When your value proposition maps to the employer's need, you will make the sale - that is, get the interview.

So hear are my five steps for writing a "blammo" cover letter:

1. Write a introduction that "hooks" your reader.
2. Describe how one of your core values matches the core values of the hiring organization. Job duties come and go, but core values last for ever!
3. Describe why you want this job with this organization. Be specific. Hint: because you need the money is not a reason. Nobody wants to be just a "booty call."
4. Ask a question if you have one, especially if it points out a qualification you have.
5. Make a nice ending.

So let's take a look at a strong cover letter to see how I used these steps. Here's one I wrote the last time I was unemployed. The position was with a local community college. They were looking for someone to help local businesses see the value of partnering with the college. It was a part instructional designer, part sales job that sounded like it was just up my alley. Here's the letter I wrote:

Dear Search Committee:
Recently I was speaking with a potential employer. When I learned the
details of the position, I realized that the job was not the one for me.
But I did know someone I thought would be a great match. So I gave
the interviewer that person’s contact information. Then I followed up
with a email to help both parties make a connection.

Why would a person do such a thing? Because I’m a bridge-builder.
That’s just what I do.

So I was thrilled to see your Product Manager position posted. Here is a
position that combines client-centered development of training
solutions. An opportunity to combine my strong entrepreneurial bent,
my original and well-proven needs assessment and development skills,
in a community college setting.

I note that the posting asks one specific question: Do I have a
Bachelor’s Degree in business, marketing, communication,
management, or a closely related field from an accredited institution.
As you will see on my resume, I have a BS in Education. However, I do
hold an MBA from the Simon School, in Operations Management and

I’d very much like to discuss this opportunity and my skills and
experiences further. And I do appreciate your consideration.

Best wishes,
Clare Dygert

So how does it measure up? I got the interview, by the way. In fact, if I follow these guidelines, I almost ALWAYS get the interview! Try them out, and let me know how it goes for you!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Cognitive Load Basics ... or... Let's Not Make This Harder Than It Has To Be

Cognitive load is one of those things that makes a huge difference to your e-learning. But, unfortunately, not a lot of instructional designers have a good grasp on how what they do impacts the cognitive loads their learners must bear.

Human beings have a limited amount of working memory to use, period. How much working memory they have to use when interacting with learning materials depends on the cognitive load demands of the instruction. There are three kinds of cognitive load: intrinsic, extraneous, and germane.

Intrinsic load is the load that is caused by the student having to understand what the content is about. When  a student is new to the subject area, content will have a very high intrinsic load. Why? Well, the student doesn't know what any of the terminology means. So she will have to learn all of that. And she probably doesn't have a schema in place, so she had to figure out what is important, what is repeating, how things should be organized. And she might have to do this at the same time as she is trying to learn the content. When you see a student furiously taking notes -- no -- not taking notes, taking dictation, you are looking at a student who suffering under a huge intrinsic load.

Extraneous load is load we add to content that really needn't be there. Poorly designed UIX is a major culprit. If the student has to decipher the interface, she is using processing power for that that she can't use for learning. Other things that can add extraneous load are poorly organized content, graphics that just are there to be pretty, but don't add anything to the content, and extra content that doesn't support the learning outcomes. Extraneous load is something we can definitely do something about.

Germane load is the load caused by the student actually learning. It's the good load. The idea is to reduce intrinsic and extraneous load to make room for germane load.

The big names in cognitive load theory (CLT) are John Sweller, Jeroen  J.G. van Merrienboer, and Fred G.W.C. Paas. One of their early works was "Cognitve Architecture and Instructional Design". If you would like to read it (and believe me -- you WANT to!) you can see it here: