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Archive for the ‘Cover Letters’ Category

What Makes a Good Cover Letter?

Friday, May 4th, 2012

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.

Cover Letters for Recent College Graduates

Monday, August 22nd, 2011

By Louise Kursmark, Master Resume Writer

Writing cover letters can be a daunting task for new college graduates. Should you include a cover letter with each of your job applications? What should you say in your letter to capture the hiring manager’s attention? How can you distinguish yourself from other job seekers? These tips will help. 

1. Always include a cover letter. Your cover letter explains why you are sending a resume and gives you the opportunity to highlight precisely what you offer that matches the employer’s needs. It allows you to showcase your writing skills and tell a compelling story about yourself and your career.

Pros and cons of sending cover letters:             
http://career-advice.monster.com/resumes-cover-letters/cover-letter-tips/cover-letter-point-counterpoint/article.aspx

2. Use a business letter format. Whether you’re printing your letter or sending it by email, use a standard letter format or e-letter format. In your email include a complete signature line (phone number and email address) to make it easy for employers to contact you.

Guidelines for printed and emailed cover letters:
http://www.career.vt.edu/JobSearchGuide/CoverLetterSamples.html

It’s ideal to customize each letter to each opportunity, but you’ll find that you can re-use the structure and much of the content of your letters for many different opportunities. There’s no need to start from scratch every time. Just take a few minutes to think about what will be of most interest to the person you’re writing to, and adapt your letter accordingly.

3. Get to the point. Always keep in mind that recruiters and employers are extremely busy and are likely reviewing lots of resumes and cover letters. While you want to make your letter interesting and unique, be sure that you quickly and clearly communicate your reason for writing.

If it’s  for a specific opportunity, reference the job title and posting number. If you were referred, mention that person’s name in the first sentence. If you’re making general inquiries, let your reader know the kinds of positions you’re looking for.

 Example:

You are looking for a Customer Service Associate for your Denver location. Having worked in front-line customer service roles for 4 years, I realize that I am the voice and face of the company to our customers. I know how to solve customer problems and make them feel good about our interaction. I’d like to bring my skills and customer-focused approach to your company.

4. Make a case for yourself. Your letter should not be a generic, vague communication. Think about the value you offer this company in this particular position. Can you help them solve problems, make money, or satisfy customers? In your letter provide specific examples of how you have done that in the past.

You can write these examples in paragraph format or in bullets. In either case, be brief. And don’t make the mistake of copying information verbatim from your resume. That’s a major no-no and implies that you are lazy or lack imagination.

Example:

As the receptionist for the admissions office at State U, I was the first person to greet prospective students and their families. I answered their questions about where to park, where to eat, how to find things on campus, and what to expect from the campus tour. I did my best to put them at ease and give them a great perception of our university. I’m proud to say that the admissions greeting process consistently received the highest scores (9 or 10 on a 10-point scale) on the post-visit survey.

5. Give a brief overview of your qualifications. You don’t need to state your entire career or educational history, and you certainly don’t want to reiterate your resume in your cover letter. A short paragraph describing your qualifications – as related to the job at hand – will give employers what they need. Be sure to express your sincere interest and enthusiasm about the job and the company.

6. Close with confidence. Ask for the interview! You’re qualified, you’re eager, and you’re available.

Sample cover letter closings:
http://workbloom.com/cover-letter/sample-cover-letter-closing-statements.aspx

7. Spell-check and proofread. Careless errors are just as harmful in your letters as in your resume. Give prospective employers a great impression of who you are and how you can help them. That’s the essence of a great cover letter.

Resume and careers expert Louise Kursmark is the author of Best Resumes for College Students and New Grads and 20 additional books on resumes, cover letters, and other career topics. The first person worldwide to earn the prestigious Master Resume Writer credential, she is also Director of the Resume Writing Academy (www.resumewritingacademy.com), the first comprehensive training organization for resume professionals.

The Truth About Resumes and Job Applications

Monday, April 4th, 2011

By Louise Kursmark

Do you have to include every job you’ve ever held on your resume? The short answer is no.

The more thoughtful response is that you want to include information that positions you appropriately for the jobs you’re seeking, showcases your valuable skills and experiences, and doesn’t raise red flags in the employer’s mind. If you need tips and templates for creating the ideal resume to represent you, check out Job and Career Accelerator’s Resume Builder for a pain-free introduction to the basics or to polish up your latest draft.

So it’s perfectly OK to omit a 3-month summer job if it doesn’t add value to your resume. It’s fine to leave off unrelated positions even if they were full-time and of lengthy duration. But whatever you do, make sure you’re prepared to discuss any gaps or omissions during a job interview without sounding defensive or evasive and without dwelling on irrelevant experiences.

A job application, however, is not the same as a resume. Job applications are legal documents and usually state that the application is a complete record of your employment. So you do need to include all of your jobs and other experiences that you might have chosen to omit from your resume.

In a nutshell, your job application = the whole truth. Your resume = the truth. Just remember these simple guidelines and be prepared to discuss any part of your past with a potential employer.

Cover Letters for Recent College Graduates

Monday, March 28th, 2011

Recent college graduates are often anxious and confused about what to write in the cover letters that accompany their job applications. As a result, they tend to make two major mistakes: they either don’t send much of a cover letter at all, or they use the letter to simply summarize the information that’s on their resume.

These are crucial mistakes. A cover letter can be one of the most effective ways to make an application stand out, particularly for recent grads, who generally are at a disadvantage when it comes to experience.

The reason a cover letter can make such a difference is 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 simply what kind of person you are. A good cover letter effectively conveys those qualities.

Here are some keys to a great cover letter. Using these tips, in conjunction with Job & Career Accelerator’s Cover Letter Builder, can really help move a candidate to the “call for an interview” pile.

  • The cover letter should be written in a conversational, engaging tone. Recent grads sometimes feel that business writing means being stiff or overly formal; the best cover letters are more conversational (without being overly casual, of course).
  • The letter should show personal interest in working for this particular organization and in this particular job, and it should be specific about why. Doing this makes it clear that this isn’t not the same form letter that the candidate is sending to every other job she’s applying for.  Employers want applicants who are interested in this job, not a job.
  • The letter should not simply summarize the resume that follows. With such limited initial contact, applicants are doing themselves a disservice if they squander a whole page of the application on repeating the contents of the other pages!
  • Instead, a great cover letter should provide information about the candidate that will never be available from a resume, like personal traits and work habits. For instance, if a candidate is applying for an assistant job that requires top-notch organizational skills, and the candidate is so organized that she alphabetizes her spices and color-codes her bills every month, most hiring managers would love to know that! And that’s not something that would ever belong in a resume, but the cover letter is a perfect place for it.
  • One tip for a great letter: Read the ad and deduce what traits are needed to excel in the position, and then write straightforwardly about those. For instance, a job-seeker might write, “Reading over your ad, I suspect you’re looking for someone detail-oriented and organized, and that’s why I’m responding.”  Or, if the ad specifically listed those qualities (and thus no deducing was necessary), the candidate could write, “Your ad called for someone detail-oriented and organized, and I’m continually lauded for those qualities.”
  • (Of course, candidates need to be smart and genuine about this. Writing “Your ad called for someone with an English degree and I’m continually lauded for mine” won’t pass a straight-face test. People are rarely lauded for their degrees by anyone other than their parents.)
  • A great letter avoids sounding overly salesy. Recent grads tend to be especially prone to hyperbole in their cover letters, perhaps because they’re not sure what else to say and they’ve been told to sell themselves. The best letters avoid statements like  “You won’t find a candidate better qualified than me” or “I’m the best candidate for the job”; these sorts of statements come across as overly cocky, naive bluster (especially from a candidate without significant experience). Instead, they’re simply straightforward and explain why the candidate is a strong match.
  • A great letter gets the details right. I can’t tell you how many cover letters I receive from candidates who get the title of the job they’re applying for wrong, or who ignore specific instructions that were in the ad.  It’s important that grads realize that little things really do matter.

Approaching cover letters this way will help grads stand out from their competition, the vast majority of whom aren’t tailoring their letters this way.

Of course, this approach does take longer, so job-seekers may argue that they have no time for this kind of personalization when they’re applying for 50 different jobs. But if they narrow it down and focus on fewer jobs and take the time to write a truly compelling cover letter tailored to each specific job, it’s likely they’ll find that 10 truly personalized, well-tailored applications get better results than 50 generic applications.

Paying Your Dues

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

By Job & Career Accelerator Admin

In most industries, employees who are new to the workforce are expected to spend a few years paying their dues. What that means varies from one company to the next, but it usually boils down to taking on jobs that more experienced workers wouldn’t do for salaries they wouldn’t accept. Yes, it’s unfair. But if you’re able to prove your value to your employers during this period of drudgery, then promotions, higher salaries, and increased job satisfaction should follow.

Although you’ll probably have to go through a minor hazing period wherever you land, being on the low rung of the ladder doesn’t have to mean eating ramen noodles for dinner every night. A report by Forbes.com found that there are industries that pay their entry-level workers a decent living wage. According to the report, the top 10 highest-paid entry-level positions are:

10. Warehouse and Logistics Management – $39,600

9. Business and Finance – $40,200

8. Government, Military, and Civil Service – $40,300

7. Insurance – $40,800

6. Manufacturing – $42,700

5. Biotechnology and Pharmaceuticals – $43,900

4. Information Technology and Telecommunications – $46,000

3. Energy, Oil, and Gas – $50,900

2. Construction, Trades, and Labor – $51,100

1. Engineering – $53,400

Unsurprisingly, most of these jobs are math- and science-based; that liberal arts degree may take a bit longer to pay off. Also, note that the listed starting salaries are median figures, and that some of these jobs can actually pay much higher. Some investment banking firms, for example, can pay as much as $150,000 for entry-level positions. If you’re lucky enough to score one of these coveted positions, you won’t pay your dues so much as the dues will pay you.

How to Find and Land a Perfect Job

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

By Miriam Salpeter

Finding and landing the perfect job depends on a number of factors. There is no “silver bullet” method that works for every job seeker, but there are a number of undeniably important aspects that, when done well, can make a difference for struggling job seekers. This article includes tips, information, and resources about an array of key topics for job search success, including how to conduct relevant self-assessments, how to research the market to determine promising job paths and industries, innovative methods to expand career networks, tips to effectively prepare for an interview, and advice about how to vet people serving as job references.

Self-Assessment

Many job seekers overlook self-assessment. Without fully exploring interest inventories and skill suits, many flounder and apply for inappropriate positions. If career coaching is not an option, consider suggesting that patrons investigate free online tools to help identify what they may want to do next. These assessments may trigger ideas and help get some job seekers out of a rut.

Job & Career Accelerator’s Occupation Matcher

Patrons of any library subscribed to Job & Career Accelerator can explore a wide variety of occupations and discover new opportunities by using the Occupation Matcher. The Occupation Matcher walks users through 180 questions that reveal occupations that best match their backgrounds and goals. Each user also gets a list of occupations based on his or her interest score and employment preparation level.

MAAP – Motivational Appraisal of Personal Potential

http://www.assessment.com offers a partial report and five matches for free, and offers more comprehensive assessments for a fee. The free report may help encourage a job seeker to research a previously unexplored field.

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

This assessment provides a four-letter composite about a person’s personality. It assesses people as either introverted or extroverted, intuitive or sensing, thinking or feeling, and judging or perceiving. Many believe these indicators can help steer job seekers into positions best suited to their tendencies. Candidates may try a free, shortened assessment here: http://www.humanmetrics.com/cgi-win/JTypes2.asp and learn about a few potential career directions.

Research the Market

Understanding the current job market is important, and many traditional reference tools, such as the Occupational Outlook Handbook, may help job seekers decide on appropriate next steps. Another terrific resource to help people learn about up-and-coming fields is U.S. News & World Report’s annual “Best Careers” article. Using “best company” lists, such as Forbes’ list of best places to work,  may be useful. Glassdoor.com is an online site where people share information about where they work; it offers an insider’s look at companies that may interest job seekers.

Expand Networks

The most effective way to land an interview is via a referral. The more people who know a candidate, the more likely he or she is to benefit from a referral that results in an opportunity.  Social networking provides opportunities to significantly increase the number of people who know about a job seeker. These are some of the best online tools to use to expand a network:

LinkedIn. The number one professional, online place for job seekers, this is a must-have social network. After completing a profile, job seekers should visit Groups to identify active online communities who share their interests. Alumni organizations, professional associations, and personal interest groups may all be good launching points to meet new people.

Twitter. While not always considered a professional network, Twitter is diverse and offers a wonderful tool to meet and expand a network of people with shared interests. One useful Twitter tool is “Twitter Chats.” Twitter chats occur when people who share goals or interests come online to share information and resources via Twitter. Leaders name chats using hashtags (#) to make them easy to search. One chat for job seekers is #JobHuntChat, Monday nights at 10-11 eastern time. Job seekers may find chat topics covering an array of interests here.  Anyone is welcome to join chats to ask questions, meet people, and grow their networks.

Interview Skills

None of these other tips matter if job seekers are not properly prepared for resulting interviews. The best advice for jobseekers: research the company. Use obvious tools, such as company websites, their YouTube channels, Twitter feeds, and LinkedIn Company profiles. Additional resources to learn about companies include:

Answering questions well is key to interviewing well. Job seekers should not try to memorize answers to lists of interview questions. Instead, suggest they prepare several stories to illustrate past successes, describe interpersonal relationships with colleagues and supervisors, and detail one or two negative situations they managed to salvage. Usually, having strong stories covering these topics will help them address most typical interview questions. They should be sure to follow an outline for the stories that includes the problem, the action they took, and the result (PAR).

References

Unfortunately, an unprepared reference may signal the end of a successful job search path. Job seekers should fully prepare and vet the people who will serve as their references.

They should ask permission to provide someone’s name as a reference ahead of time, and provide their recommenders with updated job search materials and information about the position. Be sure to tell the person about the interview, and suggest specifics the employer may want to know.

Follow-through, Follow-through, Follow-through: One Click Access to Managing a Search

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

By Alison Green

Once a job candidate sends off a job application, the next step isn’t just sitting back and waiting – there’s plenty they can do meanwhile to increase their chances of getting an interview. But following up and following through in the right manner is crucial, because follow-up done poorly can be an application killer.

Here are some do’s and don’ts for following up on a job application:

1. Be Thorough. In addition to sending an application to the email address specified (usually an HR address or generic jobs email address), job-seekers can also track down the email address of the hiring manager and send an application to him or her as well. If an Internet search doesn’t reveal who the hiring manager, a simple phone call to the company’s main switchboard often will.

2. Maximize LinkedIn. Following up is where LinkedIn really shines: Job-seekers can see if anyone in their network is connected to someone who works at the company they’re applying to – or if anyone is even a few degrees away from someone who is. Depending on the connections, a job-seeker could do any of the following: ask for background information on the job, ask for a proactive referral or introduction, or ask directly for an interview.

3. Explore the Internet. Job-seekers can search online for blogs written by people who work at the company they’re targeting to. If they find one, this can be a great in. Let job-seekers know they should read some of the posts, then contact the blogger with complimentary feedback on his or her work. Once a rapport is established, job-seekers can then mention they’re applying at the company and ask what it’s like to work there. In some cases, this can lead to an introduction to someone involved in the hiring.

4. Follow up appropriately. A few days or a week after applying, job-seekers can follow up with the hiring manager to reiterate their interest in the job. It’s important to do this well, however. Note that many hiring managers despise the common job-search advice to call “to schedule an interview,” which can come across as overly aggressive and even presumptuous. A good-follow call or email might sound something like this: “I submitted my application for your __ position last week, and I just wanted to make sure my materials were received. I also want to reiterate my interest in the position; I think it might be a great match, and I’d love to talk with you about it when you’re ready to begin scheduling interviews.”

5. Enthusiasm, not desperation. It doesn’t look desperate to express interest in the job or check in to ask about the timeline. But enthusiasm does cross the line if a candidate is calling regularly, sounding eager to take any job as opposed to this one in particular, or appearing as if this is the only option they have.

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She’s also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Leader’s Guide to Getting Results and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.