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Market Yourself: Conversations to Attract Potential Employers in any Situation

By Miriam Salpeter

When you are looking for a job, there are few things more important than preparing what to say, no matter what situation you face. When you meet and speak with potential networking contacts, recruiters, and employers, consider everything that comes out of your mouth to be part of one, big interview. Even casual conversations are subject to evaluation in this competitive market.

How can you succeed, when everything you say could be critiqued? Prepare in advance to be equipped to engage with any potential contact, and so you will make the most of every interaction.

Plan your pitch. There is no way around this: you must be able to introduce yourself succinctly. Maybe you’ve learned about the “two-minute elevator pitch”? Unlearn it. Most people will not focus on you for two minutes when you first meet—you need to give them reasons to decide you are worth their time first.

Use this template when you create a short (30-second) introduction:

I work with [target audience] to [what problem you solve]. This is how [your impact/results].

When you can explain what you do—what problem you solve—and make it relevant to the listener, you are golden.

Ask yourself:

  • What is your goal? What do you want to do? (Consider your audience’s needs.)
  • What impact do you have? What results do you create? How do you help your organization to be more successful?
  • What problems do you solve? What gets done because of you?
  • How do you create positive results?

An example, from 100 Conversations for Career Success:

As an attorney with experience investigating fraud, waste, and abuse in government programs [target audience], I examine fund applications, contracts, bidding documents, and invoices to make sure my department doesn’t waste any resources [problem I solve]. As a result of my efforts, we saved over $1.5 million in the last year [impact/results].

How to tell people you’re looking for a job. This is trickier than you think, because you sometimes only have once chance to convince someone he or she can help you. Don’t just say, “I’m looking for a new job, do you think you could help?” Instead, be very targeted and specific with your inquiry. Include the types of companies where you’d like to work, where you’d like to be, and the level of person you need to meet. Finally, make sure the person knows you don’t expect an interview as a result of his or her help. For example,

I know you’ve heard my company just had its final round of layoffs, so I’m on the job market. I’m hoping you may know someone at X, Y, or Z organization in an upper-management position who would be willing to have an informational meeting. I’d love to sit down and meet some folks to learn more in-depth information about these companies than what I can find online.

When you make it clear that you don’t expect a job at the other end of a meeting and you specify exactly the type of person you’d like your friend to introduce to you, it makes it so much easier for a networking contact to help than if you’d made a blanket request, “Can you help?”

How to keep in touch. Have you ever thought about planning ahead to extend the life of your networking contacts? We all know the scenario: you meet someone you’d like to know better, promise each other you’ll keep in touch, but nothing ever comes of it. Consider those meetings lost opportunities.

If you have some goals in mind when you meet, it makes it easier to extend the conversation beyond the first encounter. When you think ahead, you’ll be able to make the most of every meeting.

What’s the trick? Find out something personal about everyone when you meet. What is her favorite sports team? Vacation spot? Restaurant? Does he have children? Enjoy films? Plant the biggest garden in the community? When you steer the conversation away from work and to the things people like to discuss, you’ll learn what you need to have a follow-up “hook.”

Say a great contact you recently met is planning a long-time dream trip to Paris in the spring. What better way to reconnect and ask for that in-person meeting she promised than by sending along an article you saw in the New York Times about great new museums in Paris?

Dear Fran: I saw this article and I thought it was perfect for you! I hope it gives you some ideas for your upcoming trip. Also, I’d love to see about scheduling that coffee we discussed at the Spring Falls networking meeting earlier in the month. Are you free anytime in the next few weeks? Tuesdays and Thursdays are best for me, but I can be flexible if necessary.

It all comes down to planning and preparation. Use all the resources available to you to prepare for you meetings: find out who will attend networking events in advance and look those people up on LinkedIn. (Use LinkedIn’s Events application to find out who is coming, or peruse e-vites to see what you can learn about the guest list. Search online for anyone who interests you and decide what you want to say to them. When you are prepared, all job search communication is easier.

How to Build a Network

by Andrea Santiago

Job search experts and career counselors and coaches are constantly touting the benefits of professional networking. For many job seekers and professionals, establishing and building a network is not that simple. Many wonder where to begin, and with whom to connect. How exactly do you build a resourceful, dynamic network that can actually help you with job search or career advancement?

Network early, and often. (And don’t stop networking!) It’s never too early to start networking. Building a network is a marathon, not a sprint. If possible, start building your network before you’re in dire need of a job. Devote a few minutes a day, several times per week to networking. Even when you are gainfully, happily employed, you should always continue networking, to help you learn more about your industry, advance your career, or develop relationships with potential clients.

Give before you receive. The most effective networkers are able to provide value to their connections, whether it’s industry knowledge, professional introductions, or assistance with any defined need. Dan Schawbel, personal branding expert, offers this advice in an online interview: “Figure out a way to help . . . in some fashion. Give value to others without asking for anything in return.”

Use online and offline networking resources. Social networking sites are a very effective tool for building your professional network. But be careful not to get lost in cyberspace. Get out for quality face time at networking events, conferences, interviews, etc., as well as general face-to-face social interaction of any type.

Online Networking

Account set-up is only the beginning! If you were attending a professional conference or trade show, would you set up your booth and then walk away, leaving it alone, and expect prospects to flock to your empty, unmanned station? The same applies to online social networking. For success in building your network, you must remain active, post updates (preferably ones with some value to your network), and continually invite others to connect with you. Joining the network is just the first step. A blank, dormant account will not attract worthwhile connections.

Focus on proven networks: There are hundreds of networking sites, and deciding where to begin can be overwhelming. Start with one network, and then add one or two more if needed. LinkedIn is a great starting point, and a convenient “home base” for maintaining your network. Eventually you may want to also join a network specific to your industry or professional role, if there is a strong, active site pertaining to your career.

Respond and interact with others. Networking should include mutual interaction. While it’s important to post updates and links from your account, it’s equally important to comment, “like”, and share updates and posts from others’ accounts, particularly those of key influencers. By doing so, you will increase your visibility to important connections as they review responses to their posts, and your connections will be more likely to notice you and remember you when an applicable need arises.

Face-to-Face Networking

Informal, unofficial events can be the best networking opportunities. Some of the best places and times to network are often outside of “official” networking meetings or industry conferences. These can include social gatherings, or everyday activities in public places such as sitting on an airplane, standing in line, or riding in an elevator. Every interaction is a potential networking opportunity.

Ask questions. People are more likely to open up and let down their guard when asked questions about themselves. Taking an interest in others’ lives and their expertise can help engage a new contact.

Follow-up online. Be sure to reach out online after meeting someone. Invite them to connect to your network so you can keep track of them and continue to reach out to them conveniently.

How does networking work to your advantage? Alison Doyle, author and job search expert, provides some real-world examples of networking successes, plus additional networking tips.

Take just a few minutes to plant a few networking seeds several times a week, and you will ultimately build a resourceful, thriving network of engaged professionals.

10 Tips to Build the Perfect Resume

By Louise Kursmark

What’s a perfect resume? It’s a resume that opens doors, gets you noticed during your job search, attracts interviews, and ultimately gets you hired! While every resume is unique, follow these resume builder tips to make sure that yours is as close to perfect as it can be.

1. Review sample resumes. Don’t copy another person’s resume or try to make your background fit into an arbitrary resume template. But looking at great resume examples will give you ideas, solutions, and inspiration for your own masterpiece.

2. Start with a goal. It’s impossible to write a resume that’s clear, powerful, and sharply focused if you don’t know what kind of job you’re looking for. Decide what you ideally want to do and write a resume for that position. Chances are, it will be perfectly useful for other, similar positions as well.

3. Showcase your success stories. The unique accomplishments that you feature in your resume are what make it unique, interesting, and memorable. Choose achievements that relate to your goal and demonstrate your professional skills.

4. Get organized. We’ve all seen examples of resumes that lack consistency in design, coherence in structure, and clarity in format. Don’t let your resume be one of these bad examples! Organize your material before you write. Arrange similar information in the same way to help your readers understand your background and qualifications.

5. Highlight your job titles. In most cases, the position you held is more meaningful than the company where you worked, so don’t let those good titles get lost on your resume. Bold type, all caps, small caps, or slightly larger types are good options to consider when presenting your job titles.

6. Emphasize what’s important. On the other hand, if all of your experience has been in low-level jobs unrelated to your current career goals, then it doesn’t make sense to highlight those job titles. Instead, call attention to projects you’ve completed, leadership roles you’ve held, volunteer work you’ve done, or other meaningful activities that will let an employer understand the value you offer.

7. Dig deep to find results. Job search today is intensely competitive, and your resume may be all you have to capture attention. You can make your resume stand out by including specific, measurable results of your jobs, projects, and activities. Precise numbers and concrete outcomes will distinguish you from the pack of job seekers who write bland, generic resumes.

8. Be creative. Looking at resume examples and using a resume template builder like ResumeHUB are great ways to get started writing your resume, but don’t be afraid to bend the rules just a bit to make your resume as unique as you are.

9. Take the time to get it right. Employers consider your resume to be an example of your very best work. It’s not something you can dash off at the last minute. Invest the time necessary to produce a top-notch document—write thoroughly, edit extensively, and proofread obsessively.

10. Get help with your resume. No need to go it alone! There are great online tools like ResumeHUB that make creating a professional resume easy. These resume builder programs walk you through each step and provide help for each section of the resume.  Once you have your resume written, ask people you respect for their opinion. Find a mentor in your field who can coach you on resumes, interviewing, job search, and how to get ahead in your career. Most of all, understand that you’re likely to change jobs 10 or more times in your career, so learning now to write the perfect resume will prepare you for every change that’s sure to come in the years ahead.

Layoffs and Overqualified Workers: How to Rebound and Not Be Overlooked

By Andrea C. Santiago

If you are an experienced or mature professional who has been laid off, finding that next job opportunity can be incredibly challenging, even disheartening at times.

According to the AARP, as of June 2012, jobless people who were 55 and older had been unemployed for almost 56 weeks, compared with an average of 38 weeks for all age groups. However, in some industries, people as young as 30 and 40 are considered “older.”

There is no easy answer for job seekers who are later in their careers. However, if you remain positive, active, and focused in your search, there are many things you can do to be the one who does get the job.

Stay Positive and Open-minded:  Focus on positive aspects of your life, whether they are health-, family-, faith-, or skill-related, etc.

Don’t focus on your age or your employment status, but instead focus on your experience, skill set, and everything you bring to a company.  Remain open-minded about your future—it may not look like you had imagined it would, but change can be good. You will work again, but your new career may be in a different industry, or may not pay as high as your last job. You may want to consider self-employment, or contracting your skills out independently.

Tap into Your Network: Your friends and loved ones know your capabilities better than anyone, and they don’t care what age you are. Be sure to include people from all generations in your network. The entry level associate you worked with 10 years ago who was 15 years your junior may now be a hiring manager. The most successful job seekers are those who maintain professional and personal contacts with a variety of people, and they network whether they are employed or unemployed.

Streamline Your Resume:  Maintain multiple versions of your resume based on the job to which you’re applying. One resume should be for jobs within your industry, while other versions of your resume would be for lower level positions, or ones outside your current industry.

Be honest without completely giving away your age or level of experience. To avoid being immediately dismissed for being overqualified, play down high-level management experience when applying for lower level jobs.  Also, don’t list your entire work history back to college or high school graduation. Fifteen years of work experience should suffice, unless there is something in your earlier career that you feel would help you get the job. Also, you don’t have to list the year you obtained your degree, if you feel that it would give away your age.

Look Your Best: At any age, your appearance is important when interviewing. Your image makes a strong first impression on the interviewer and can significantly impact the outcome of your interview.  For older workers, you want to be age-appropriate, not outdated, or trying to be too trendy.

Dress professionally and in classic styles. A tailored suit, pants, or skirt will make you look your best. Small efforts can make a huge impact – updating your hair color and cut, whitening your teeth, and taking care of your skin can go a long way in helping you look your best.

If possible, exercise and eat healthy foods. As we age, bad personal habits take a greater toll on our appearance. If you come into the interview looking tired or out of shape, it will age you. Being fit helps you look and feel younger, and you will have more energy, which will help you to perform better in the interview.

Learn New Tricks: You undoubtedly possess a lot of knowledge from many years of experience. However, new technology, trends, and research may have impacted your field immensely since you last were on the job market. Be sure you are up to date by staying involved in your appropriate professional associations, continuing education credits, and industry news groups.

Target Growing, Industries That Are in High Demand: If you have 20 years invested in a dying industry, it may be time to consider a career change, or transition to another industry altogether. It’s difficult but necessary in certain circumstances. You may even have to take a few classes to learn the new field, but if you sell your transferable skills and make an effort to network in the field where you want to work, you can make headway into a new industry.

You Applied for the Job…Now What?

By Andrea Santiago

Some of the most common job search questions often involve how job seekers should follow up with a potential employer or hiring manager after submitting a resume for consideration.

Many career experts, including Lindsay Olson from US News & World Report’s Money/Careers blog, agree that how you follow up depends upon a number of variables, and you need to approach each situation individually.

However, there are several common denominators that apply to most circumstances, and these guidelines will help you navigate the next step after you have submitted your resume.

The best resume follow-up strategy is to submit such a fantastic resume that you don’t have to follow up. If your resume is spot-on for the position, the hiring authority may contact you first, before you even have to follow up on anything.

So how do you impress hiring managers with your resume?

Customize your resume – Pay close attention to the language used in the job ad and job description. Incorporate the potential employer’s words and key phrases into your own resume where applicable (while being true to your qualifications of course!).

Research Resume Samples – There are numerous websites that now provide resume samples and resume builders for a variety of industries. Check out ResumeHUB in particular to see tons of samples as you walk through the resume creation wizard to craft a professional resume that stands out and showcases your experience.

What if I haven’t heard back?

But even the best resumes will sometimes still require you to proactively reach out to the hiring authority to get feedback regarding your application and status. If your resume does not stop the hiring manager in her or his tracks to invite you to an interview, it doesn’t mean that you are not qualified. The hiring manager may simply be overwhelmed with many good applicants. You can draw additional attention to your resume and help yourself stand out if you are able to follow up effectively and professionally.

How you proceed depends upon the method of your application. Did you apply online, through a friend, via a job fair, or the old fashioned way with a snail-mailed hard copy? Use the same method when possible: ask your friend to ask around for you, send an email, or leave a voicemail. If you know someone in the organization, it may be acceptable to contact that person directly. You should be careful not to contact the wrong person or follow up too frequently.

Here are a few basic resume follow-up tips:

  • Be courteous and respectful of the person’s time.
  • Don’t stalk the hiring manager or over-communicate. You could come across as desperate or just annoy the hiring manager so much that they could rule you out based on your communication style. A good rule to abide by is no more than once a week, for 2-3 weeks.
  • Don’t go above or around the hiring manager or contact listed on the job ad. Some career experts recommend it, but in my experience as a recruiter and a hiring manager, that tactic usually does more harm than good.
  • Your follow up should be brief, well-written, (or well-spoken if you’re leaving a voicemail), and free of errors, typos, or grammar mistakes.
  • Email is less intrusive and generally more accepted than phone calls.

If you follow those basic guidelines when following up on your resume or job application, you will convey a high level of interest, tenacity, and professionalism that employers want from their prospective employees.

Recent Grads: 4 Steps to Master Your Job Search Skills

by Heather R. Huhman

Most recent graduates embark on the world of job searching without much formal knowledge of how to land an entry-level job–but mastering job search skills doesn’t have to be as difficult as it is sometimes made out to be.

Here are four steps recent grads should take to launch their job hunt:

Step #1: Evaluate yourself. Much of your job search success will depend on how well you know yourself—your interests, skills, personality, values, goals, etc. This helps you determine what exactly you want in a job and how you might fit in to different company cultures, which are crucial to the process of guiding you to the right type of job.

How? Think back to things your parents, teachers, and professors said you were good at—what are your strengths? What do you truly enjoy doing? What skills make you unique? How do those skills relate to a potential position? Write these down and closely compare job opportunities with your strengths and values.

Step #2: Get networking. Most recent grads have no problems using social networking tools, but there’s more to networking than making connections online. Networking in real life—at events, meetups, and conferences—is something you can master with time and practice. Plus, in-person connections are often stronger and more beneficial to your career.

How? Keep a lookout for conferences and events related to your industry. Attend as many professional networking opportunities as possible. Step outside of your comfort zone in order to make personal connections and follow up with people you meet.

Step #3: Sharpen your writing skills. Knowing how to write is a crucial skill for a number of reasons. First of all, your resume and cover letter are often the first impression you will make on an employer; yout writing determines how you come across on these initial documents. Your job search will also require you to rewrite these documents a number of times for different purposes. Stellar written communication skills are necessary for a majority of fields—from marketing and education to engineering and public relations. It’s particularly important in today’s job market since a lot of companies are turning to virtual and remote workers today to cut costs.

How? Practice, practice, practice. Start a blog and write on topics of interest relating to your industry. Tailor every resume and cover letter to the job opening until it becomes second nature.

Step #4: Practice interviewing. Interviewing effectively is something every job seeker must master. As a recent grad, you must take every interview opportunity to become more comfortable speaking about yourself.

How? The career services center at your alma mater can provide the opportunity to mock interview, but you can also set up informational interviews with professionals in your field to develop your skills and get real feedback.

What other steps should recent graduates take to master their job search skills?

How to Evaluate a Job Offer

By Alison Green

In this economy, it’s easy to feel like you should jump at any job offer that comes along—but doing that could land you in a job that would make you miserable and could even harm you professionally. So in your excitement over receiving a job offer, don’t forget to evaluate whether this is really the right opportunity for you. Here are crucial factors to consider before you say yes.

  • Evaluate the salary. You likely have a salary range in mind, one that’s based on market rates and that you’re willing to accept. If the offer is below this range, now is the time to try to negotiate a higher salary.
  • Evaluate the benefits. A generous benefits package can make up for a lower salary, especially if you’re saving money on health care, permitted to work a flexible schedule, or getting more vacation time than you’d anticipated.
  • Evaluate the culture. If the workplace is formal and you prefer a relaxed environment, or if it’s an aggressive, competitive culture and you’re more low-key and reserved, this might not be a comfortable fit for you. You’ll spend a large portion of your waking life at this job, so make sure you’ll be happy there.
  • Evaluate the manager. Remember the old saying that “people leave bosses, not jobs.” No matter how much the work appeals to you, a terrible manager can make coming to work incredibly unpleasant. Make sure the manager is someone you’ll be glad (or at least willing) to work with.
  • Evaluate the job itself. Be honest with yourself about whether the work is something you’ll excel in. Stretching yourself is good, but you don’t want to bluff your way into a job you’re not actually qualified for. If the work doesn’t play to your strengths, you’ll struggle and could end up harming your reputation or even getting fired.
  • Look at the big picture. How will this job fit in with your overall career path? Will it move you forward in the right direction, or take you on a detour you’d rather avoid? Even if it’s not the path you expected to take, could this job become a stepping stone to a position that excites you? What will be your next logical step when it’s time to move on?
  • Ask any outstanding questions. Do you have a good grasp on the manager’s style, the culture, and exactly what you’ll be expected to achieve? Do you know what the typical hours are and whether much travel will be involved? If not, now is the time to ask.
  • Listen to your gut. Unless your instincts often steer you wrong, you should pay attention if your gut is setting off alarm bells. If something doesn’t feel right, whether it’s your interactions with your prospective boss or the details about your daily responsibilities, pay attention.

And remember to always get every detail of a job offer in writing. Otherwise, you won’t have much recourse if you start the job and notice that the insurance premium you thought would be covered actually isn’t, or that the relocation stipend you were promised suddenly shrinks. Getting these details in writing covers you in case there’s a misunderstanding later, and it guarantees the agreement will stick even if the person you’re dealing with leaves the company and her replacement doesn’t know anything about the special deal you negotiated.

Are You Ready To Return to the Workforce?

By Lisa Chenofsky Singer

What motivates you to enter or return to the workforce? Is it a need for compensation, mental stimulation, or social engagement? Is it a transition after completing studying? Or is it some combination of the above?  Choosing to enter or return to the workforce is a very personal choice.

The emotions you feel when contemplating such a move may include excitement from applying your education toward earning a salary, anxiety about an unknown environment, and possibly fear of the transitional changes and their impact on your habits and lifestyle.

Try to remember that the job itself is just one element of your career. The other elements include the planning of your career—identifying your goals and knowing where you want to be now and in the future. Understanding your long term vision will help you achieve your goals. Think of your career as an evolving process with a plan to follow so you can reach your goals.

During transitions, people begin to think of their career development, when in reality, you should be planning and managing your career throughout your life. Think about how you can maintain and develop new skills either on the job, through volunteering, and/or with education, possibly gaining certifications as appropriate for your field. You need to understand where your field is headed and what may be required of you down the road. Remember, this is a challenging job market and you need to plan for your future.

Whether you are re-entering or entering for the first time, how you prioritize your job search will determine where you put your energy. Organize your time by creating a strategy and create a plan for yourself. This plan should have set time periods for your weekly goals.  It is important to track your progress. It is easy to get distracted or delay following up without deadlines. Internet research and job board searching may be done after business hours when you are unable to make your networking calls.


For some, returning to work is driven more by the desire for mental stimulation and satisfaction than by the compensation, and some are willing to take a lower-paying position if it allows them to balance work and personal demands. If your lifestyle is not dependent upon extra income and you have obligations such as young children, volunteer work, or elderly care, consider half- or part-time jobs in your search.

Typically when people lose their jobs, their immediate reaction is to search for the same or similar role at another company. This tactic may be fruitful, but being creative and thinking out of the box may be even more advantageous in a limited job market. Reflect on the skills you have, how they are transferable, and how you can upgrade them if needed. One way to open your job options is to search job boards by key words (skill-based words in the advanced job-search option) rather than on job titles. This approach will help you identify new jobs based on transferable skill sets.

Entering for the first time

Most college graduates are struggling to find work in today’s economy. A willingness to gain experience by volunteering or stringing together part-time positions can be helpful in networking and showing what value you bring to the marketplace.

While most college graduates lead with their education, a recent grad may consider creating a “summary section” that states recent education, core skills, and a career objective.  Highlighting current volunteer work, part-time jobs, internships, and summer employment can serve to demonstrate your skills on the resume or online. Activities such as tutoring, coaching sports, volunteering, and babysitting are all jobs that require interpersonal skills and trust. A receptionist, cashier, or customer service position requires an ability to interact with the public. Computer support roles stress technical competencies and awareness.  Most employers look for strong verbal and written communication skills, honesty, integrity, how you relate to others, motivation, and initiative. A strong work ethic with analytical abilities, technical knowledge, and being adaptable to the ever changing business environment is critical for potential when being considering for many positions.  

How to Format a Cover Letter

By Miriam Salpeter

Once job seekers compose a strong, targeted resume, the next important step is to write a cover letter to help enhance their chances to land an interview. Sometimes, it’s difficult to know exactly what to include in the cover letter, or if it should be excessively formal or focus on connecting personally with the reader. The best tips: be sure the cover letter addresses the hiring manager’s needs (as detailed in the job description) and doesn’t include any mistakes to cause the reader to question your ability to do the job—for example, if you say you are detail oriented, but have misspellings in your letter.

It’s important to craft a well-written note, but never rely on the cover letter alone to tell your story. Be sure to include all pertinent information in the resume, including why you are well-qualified, and any discrepancies, including short job stints, job hopping, etc. The cover letter supports your resume, but the resume needs to do all of the heavy lifting, since many hiring managers will only look at you cover letter if they believe your resume makes the cut.

Quint Careers reports, “Studies over the past several years suggest that somewhere between a third and half of hiring decision-makers do not read the letters.” Despite this statistic, hiring managers who expect a cover letter will penalize you for not including it, so your best bet is to write a strong letter to accompany your resume.

What should you include in your cover letter? It’s important to be clear about the job of interest, but it’s boring and a little old-fashioned to start a letter, “I’m writing to apply for the XYZ job, as advertised on ABC.” Start your letter with a “hook” to show a little personality and enthusiasm for the job. This could include a sentence or two to help demonstrate a connection between the organization and you. For example, if applying to Home Depot, “Every weekend when I was growing up, my dad and I donned orange aprons and planned out our Home Depot runs to get materials for our home improvement projects. As a life-long customer, it’s exciting to think about using my finance and accounting skills to work at Home Depot as a Finance Analyst.”

Your letter’s content should not simply repeat the information in your resume; use this as an opportunity to briefly share details an employer might want to know about you. Quint Careers’s research includes an employer “wish list” for cover letters. They want to know (succinctly):

  • How did you find this position? Did someone refer you (always include this information), or did you meet the hiring manager at an event?
  • Why are you applying? Why are you qualified?
  • What do you know about the company? If you’ve done research about the company or organization, demonstrate it in the cover letter.

Other important aspects to incorporate:

  • Strong writing skills; your cover letter is a de facto writing sample.
  • Easy-to-read formatting, including bullet points and white space, and keep it to one page. When you apply by email, your cover letter is the body of the email with your resume attached.
  • Details from the job description; make a direct connection between your skills and their needs.
  • Tailored content; make sure the letter does not seem generic or as if it was written for any audience.

Format your cover letter with the following information:

  • An introduction, including the “hook” or story mentioned above and the name of the job you’re applying for.
  • Several paragraphs outlining your qualifications. Consider pulling out three main points (umbrella topics) from the job description and use each one as the basis of a paragraph describing your qualifications. Make a point to indicate anything unique or special about you that would help make you most qualified for the job.
  • A concluding paragraph indicating when you plan to follow up and suggesting your availability. For example, if you are an out-of-town candidate, you may add, “I will be in the Boston area early next month, and hope to have an opportunity to meet you then. I will be in touch the week of ___________ to follow up if I don’t hear from you sooner.”

A strong cover letter may make the difference. Don’t underestimate this important job-search step.

What Makes a Good Cover Letter?

By Alison Green

At a time when most job seekers are wondering how to stand out in a crowded field of applicants, too many are overlooking one of the most effective ways to grab an employer’s attention: the cover letter.

Cover letters customized for the job are a powerful opportunity to make a compelling case for yourself as a candidate, totally aside from what’s in your resume. That because for most jobs, picking the best candidate is rarely solely about skills and experience. Those obviously take center stage, but if that’s all that mattered, there would be no point in interviews; employers would make a hire based off of resumes alone. But in the real world, other factors matter too—people skills, intellect, communication abilities, enthusiasm for the job, and your personality. A good cover letter effectively conveys those qualities.

A good cover letter also does the following:

  • It shows personal interest in working for a particular organization and in a particular job, which makes it both more believable and more compelling. People respond when they feel a personal interest from you.
  • It engages the reader in a conversational tone; it’s not stiff or overly formal.
  • Perhaps most importantly, it provides information about the writer that will never be available from a resume—personal traits and work habits.

What a good cover letter doesn’t do is simply summarize the resume that follows. After all, with such limited initial contact, you’re doing yourself a disservice if you squander a whole page of your application on repeating the contents of the other pages. Instead, a great cover letter will provide a whole different type of information. For instance, if you’re applying for a secretarial job that requires top-notch organizational skills, and you’re so neurotically organized that you alphabetize your spices and color-code your bills every month, most hiring managers would love to know that about you. And that’s not something you’d ever put in your resume, but the cover letter is a perfect place for it.

Approaching your cover letter in this way practically guarantees that you’ll stand out from your competition because only a tiny fraction of candidates tailor their cover letters like this. After all, imagine screening resumes and having 200 basically qualified candidates, with little to differentiate them from one another. Wouldn’t you give an extra look at the one person who expressed a genuine enthusiasm for your company and didn’t just send you a generic form letter?

This approach does take longer than sending out the same form letter over and over, but a well-written cover letter that’s individualized to a specific opening is going to open doors when your resume alone might not have. These account for such a tiny fraction of applications that you’ll stand out and immediately go to the top of many hiring managers’ piles. Because of that, it’s likely you’ll find that five truly personalized, well-tailored applications will get you better results than 30 generic applications.

Now, there are certainly some hiring managers out there who will tell you that they don’t care that much about cover letters. But there are so many who do, so it’s well worth your effort to stand out in a crowded field.