The most common answer to the question, “What is a resume?” is — a document that aptly summarizes your experience and qualifications for a particular job. True. But a resume is much more. Similar to a quick-hitting advertisement, a resume is a demonstration of your organization skills, your preparedness, and your ability to market yourself. It is an example of your value as an employee and
your ability to solve problems. All of that in about ten seconds — the average length of time each resume is looked at. And a dirty little secret that companies may not want you to know; the resume is a weed-out tool. How? Simple, ask yourself why you are submitting a resume. To help an employer get a sense of whether or not they want to interview you for a full-time position.
You know how boring it can be putting together your own resume. So imagine what it must be like to read hundreds of resumes from people you don't even know. Sifting through resumes is rarely the top choice of how a human resources manager would like to spend her day. The key ingredients in a resume that gets noticed are wording that is kept to a minimum and making sure each carefully chosen
fact produces a lasting impression on an employer. Your tacit goal should be to make the most out of the least.
If you were a professional baseball player, your resume would be your baseball card. Your employment history and accomplishments would be touted in your career statistics. As a relative new comer to the big leagues — or the job market — there would be a few sentences encapsulating your background in the farm system — or the university — and what you did there. There might be a few fun facts or
some hobbies to round you out as a person. The one difference is that a baseball card can't hide the ugly truth that while you may have been a great power hitter, your overall batting average was lousy. On a resume, you can control which successes you want to talk up. And you should. The resume is the place to boast about all those achievements. In other words, a C in 20th Century British Literature should not and will not
necessarily put you out of the running for a banking job.
The cover letter is one of the most important documents you will ever write. Take a second to recall the college application process. The cover letter is the equivalent of the personal statement. It is the two-dimensional embodiment of who you are. It is the primary tool you will use to sell yourself. It is the place to highlight your strengths, proclaim your creativity, and show your
organizational skills. And it can be the key to improving or seriously impeding your job hunt. A cover letter serves three basic purposes:
1. Accompanies your resume.
2. Introduces you and your employment qualifications.
3. Generates interest in an employer to interview you.
When you write your cover letter, remember to write it from the perspective of your potential employer. She is, of course, the one who will be hiring you so put yourself in her head. What would she want to know about you? What do you have that is particularly appealing? Why do you fit the position you are applying for better than every other candidate? The answers to these questions are very
important as they save the employer the time and the hassle of trying to figure out if you have the necessary qualifications. The cover letter should provoke an employer to say, “Now here is someone we absolutely must find out more about.”
The cover letter is a reflection of you. If it is sloppy and disorganized, it will suggest that you are… sloppy and disorganized (shocking!). It may also suggest that you lack focus or that you don't care about the personal impression you leave on other people. On the flip side, a neat, well-written cover letter implies that you are thoughtful, focused, organized — all of the positive
attributes employers thirst for.
If you include good answers to her questions and coherently showcase relevant information about the company and the position you are applying for, there is a significant likelihood that you will reach the next rung in the job ladder: the interview.
A good cover letter is like a good research paper: Despite what you may think, it is not written overnight. Remember the papers you researched and wrote the night before it was due? How ill conceived and poorly organized they were? One thought here, one thought there, lame sentences all over. Now remember the papers (fine, maybe it was just one) that were written over a few weeks, a few
drafts. Not only how much better they were but also how much better you felt after writing them. Creating a cover letter is a very similar process.
Your job is going to be a significant part of your life after graduation so it pays to look into where you want to be and what you want to be doing. This process starts with researching your cover letter. Recall from the "What is a Cover Letter?" section that a good letter is written with a potential employer in mind. And you, as a potential employee, have a responsibility to know all you can
about each employer from which you want a job. What are the strategic goals of each employer? Whom do they hire? Is there a new CEO at the helm? You certainly don't want to flub a job interview because you didn't know the big boss in charge. Be sure to also know something about the industry of each employer. Visit the library or your handy internet browser and find out how your potential employer and its competitors are
doing. Have there been industry-wide layoffs recently? Are companies looking to grow their infrastructure overseas?
By finding out more about a company and an industry you can focus your cover letter on areas that are of important interest to the person reading it. Plus, you'll highlight your specific knowledge. The key is to find an edge, something that shows off your intelligence and attention to detail, something that no one else will include in their cover letter. No matter how well organized and
grammatically perfect a letter is, unless it relates directly to what an employer is looking for, the odds of landing an interview are slim.
Is My Cover Letter Any Good?
Good cover letters are more than perfect grammar and unblemished spelling. They are essentially written sales pitches of no more than a single page. In order to increase the odds of banking a sale, you need to carefully craft your language so that it includes the following:
1. an introduction that establishes your interest
2. a paragraph or two that sums up your strengths
3. a paragraph that highlights your experience and education
4. a sentence or two that establishes follow-up action
Making a Connection
Good introductions grab the reader and ensure that the rest of your letter will be read. You don't have to automatically be cute either. In fact, a far more effective way of being noticed is to simply personalize the letter. Potential employers can spot a mass-mailed cover letter before reading the second sentence. Include a key fact about the company you are applying to. Better yet, if you
met the company's recruiter at your school's job fair be sure to note it. For example, the sentence, “Donald Watkins, your Supervisor of Information Technology, mentioned that you are looking for a web page designer. Perhaps my expertise and experience can be of help.”, shows an employer that you took some time and energy to find out about the firm and its open positions. Personal connections are one of the best ways to
generate an employers interest in you.
What Do You Do Well?
Once you have the employer's interest, the rest is gravy right? Sadly, no. But at least the rest is easier because it's about something you know — you. After proving that you are no stranger to who a company is, the next part of the cover letter is about explaining why hiring you will be a valuable asset for the company's future. What do you have that they want? You have a record of
accomplishments, but don't organize these paragraphs like a laundry list. Be selective in your choices. You have to prove how specific contributions you've made elsewhere in the past mean you can make similar contributions at this company in the future.
One fatal flaw of many student job seekers is to pick out the accomplishments they are most proud of. Bad move. You may love the pottery bowl that won first prize in the art department's end-of-year awards because you think it shows your improvisational talents. Unfortunately, a management consulting firm doesn't care. Be sure to keep in mind that you are trying to tailor your letter to the
exact needs of an employer, who may care more about a group project in your statistics class. Just as successful sales people focus on their customers needs, successful job hunters focus on what different companies want.
There is no need to overload this section with a laundry list of majors, minors, courses, and extracurriculars. Instead, briefly summarize the relevant portions of your background. You have plenty of space on your resume to list four years worth of courses.
I'll Be Back
The final paragraph of your cover letter should either urge the employer to contact you or indicate that she'll be hearing from you soon. Include your home phone number and say what hours of the day are best to reach you, or say you will call her office on a certain date to determine if there is any interest.
The Format of a Cover Letter
In order to leave a good impression with your cover letter, use your head. You are writing to a boss, not your best friend. Letters must be free of grammatical and spelling errors, well-spaced, well-organized and have a clean design that properly showcases your qualifications. The three most commonly used formats are:
Full Block, Block, and Modified Block. We are including an example of one letter in all three formats.
The most formal letter is the full block; it is also the most commonly used. The casual style is the modified block; it is the least commonly used. As a general rule of thumb, the better you know the person you are writing, the more casual you can afford to be with the format of your letter. Unless you've actually met the person to whom you are writing, stick with either the full block or
Some other general rules to keep in mind when writing the perfect cover letter:
1. Each Word in the Address Line Begins With a Capital Letter.
2. The date is positioned on the very next line below the address and can be written in the following two ways: August 21, 1980 or 21 August 1980.
3. The name of the individual to whom you are addressing the cover letter should be preceded by a courtesy title (Dr., Mr., Ms., Mrs., etc.). Male attorney names should be superseded by Esq. and all medical doctors by M.D.
4. Use “Dear” in the opening of your letter.
5. The most common closing is “Sincerely” followed by “Sincerely Yours”.
6. Two lines below the signature block (see one of the sample letters) flush with the left margin include initials of your name, in lower case. If your name is David Maldov Carnegie, write “dmc.” Known as the typist identification, it is not required but including it is a signal to employers that you have mastered the art of cover letter formats.
7. The chances are that your cover letter will include a resume. In the line directly below the typist identification write the word “Enclosure.” If you are enclosing more than one document put the number you are including in parentheses immediately after the “Enclosure.” So for four documents, you would write “Enclosure (4)”.
Uh Oh, my Cover Letter Has Problems
You've finished your cover letter and everything seems perfect. Not so fast. Even Ernest Hemingway never got it right on a first draft. The most basic problems with a cover letter are poor organization, bad spelling, and grammatical errors. Frequently students try to pack their cover letter with as much information as the can. Often they shrink the margins or delete spaces in between
paragraphs. Unless you proofread your draft, you're likely to miss little typographical and spelling errors. These may seem like minor points but they are the quickest way of ending your job hopes. The impression they give is one of carelessness, sloppiness, and lack of education. Most employers won't even bother reading to the end of a letter with these mistakes.
There are other blunders to watch for as you go over your cover letter. Are you rambling? Maybe you've just rehashed your entire four years at school without explaining why you want to work at this particular company. Make sure to keep your letter focused on a few key points.
Are you focusing the letter on yourself too much? As we noted in previous advice columns, the key to landing a job is satisfying the needs of your employer not yourself.
Does your letter come across as too aggressive, or even worse, as if you are bragging? Do you look like a self-absorbed grumbler who is likely to irritate her co-workers? Employers are turned off quickly by a candidate who over-inflates her skills and unnecessarily embellishes her past experience. There is a fine line between being assertive and being an obnoxious show-off.
Is your writing style boring and tedious? Cover letters are more than a place to summarize your credentials. They should be a window into your creativity and resourcefulness. They should give someone a taste of the work - and the spirit - you plan to bring to a new firm.