Tag Archive | "Cover Letter"

Job Application Cover Letter

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If you think no one really reads cover letters, think again. First impressions count, and your cover letter is usually your introduction to a company. If your cover letter is not written well, chances are you will not get a second chance to make a good impression.

Cover letters can tell a prospective employer a lot about a person. The cover letter reveals:

  • Your communication skills
  • A brief overview of your experience and qualifications
  • Some indication of your personality
  • Your attention to detail (i.e., are there errors or typos?)

Before you can make a good first impression, you need to be clear on your ultimate goal. The goal of writing an effective cover letter is to help you stand out from the crowd. Simply put, you want your resume to be among the four or five plucked from the stack of resumes on the hiring manager’s desk. The following tips should help make this happen.

Starting a cover letter with “Dear Sir” is like sending a letter that starts with “Dear Occupant.”

Make the Letter Personal
“The likelihood that the reader will get past the salutation is very slim, particularly if ‘he’ is a she,” says Pam Hoey, human resource manager for Cambridge, MA-based Product Genesis. Hoey placed this one at the top of her list of cover letter “no-no’s.” Women make up a significant part of the workforce. They don’t want to be discounted.

If you are unable to find out the name of the hiring manager, then keep your salutation generic. Try starting off with “Dear Sir or Madam.” This way you will have covered all of your bases.

Keep It Brief and to the Point
Megan Caradonna, regional human resource manager for ATC Associates Inc., headquartered in Woburn, MA, has seen a lot of cover letters in her day. Her advice to job seekers is to keep the cover letter brief and to the point. Caradonna recalls receiving a three-page cover letter. “I don’t have time to read someone’s life story,” says Caradonna. Guess in which pile that person’s resume landed?

Avoid turning your cover letter into your resume. Because space is limited, don’t try to respond to every item on the employer’s wish list. Caradonna suggests that job seekers use the cover letter to clarify any discrepancies they may have between experience and the job requirements.

It’s About the Company’s Goals
Emphasize what you can do for the company, not what it can do for you. Cite successful projects that you have worked on that parallel those listed in the posting. Your goal and objective are to show how you can help the company meet its goals and objectives.

Ego Versus Confidence
Don’t be modest. Actively sell yourself and your accomplishments. Tell the company why you are the best candidate for the position. Don’t worry about being too egotistical – just convey yourself as confident and capable.

Avoid the Pitfalls Up Front
You want your cover letter to stand out – but not because of a mistake. Be sure to avoid these common errors:

  • Get the company name right. Hoey recently received a cover letter with the company name spelled wrong and didn’t read “past the first sentence on that one.”
  • Proofread your work. Spelling errors guarantee your letter gets tossed aside. “In this day and age there should be no typos in your cover letter and resume,” says Caradonna.
  • Check the grammar. Grammatical errors are another sure way to wind up in the wrong pile. If necessary, have a friend review your letter.
  • Keep the letter length reasonable. A very short “Hi there, here’s my resume” will indicate that you are lazy. Conversely, a painfully long letter will never be read. Neither type of letter conveys the appropriate impression.
  • Don’t tell the reader you will be stopping by next week. Show some respect for people’s time. Don’t come in without a scheduled appointment.

A strong cover letter does make a difference for your job application , so be sure to take this part of your job search seriously. A strong cover letter will help you get interviews. Interviews will help you land a job that you are interested in. And that is the ultimate goal of any job search.

How to Overcome Recruiting Calamities

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The outfit’s perfect. The cover letter rocks. The pitch is smooth and witty and well rehearsed. If everything goes like it did in the mock interview, that job offer is in the bag. And yet, a bad break–traffic, head cold, sadistically difficult questions–can derail the best-laid plans and turn even a flawless candidate into an also-ran. Unless, of course, said candidate can turn disaster into opportunity. Fourteen knotty problems and their slick solutions:

The interviewer poses a specific question. You have no idea what the answer is.

Some candidates stare at the ceiling and say, “I have to be honest. I have no idea.” Others drift farther up the creek by trying to pull off a poker-faced bluff. You should do neither. If you can’t demonstrate your knowledge, says Jeff Bloch, a consultant who trains big-name executives to handle the media, then dazzle the interviewers with your intelligence. If you’re asked, for instance, “What’s the essence of the Modigliani-Miller valuation model?” an appropriate response might be: “I don’t know enough about that particular model to discuss it in detail, but I can walk you through another valuation method that I think is extremely effective.

“Then explain why that method is close to your heart. “So many people get into trouble by filling the silence after a question with something that’s wrong or that digs them deeper into a hole,” explains Bloch. “No one expects you to be an encyclopedia. They do expect you to think on your feet, acknowledge mistakes, and demonstrate creativity.”

The recruiter concludes the interview by saying, “You’re staying at the Marquis Hotel, right? They’ve got a great bar. Fantastic margaritas. How about we finish our discussion there this evening?”

If you call the recruiter on this unethical, offensive behavior, you might win the moral high ground but lose the job. On the other hand, appearing to appreciate the flirtation–which some people wind up doing out of uneasiness rather than actual interest–might help you land the position but will lead to bad voodoo if you wind up getting the job. The best strategy is to dodge the advance while letting everyone save face. Judith Re, an etiquette expert and the author of Social Savvy, suggests using body language as the first line of defense. Give off a firm, controlled air, she advises: “Turn to the interviewer, maintain direct eye contact, and keep your arms on the chair.” (Resting them by your sides signals that you’re open to the conversation, she says, while crossed arms are a sign of nervous defensiveness.) “Then say, “I do have more questions, but I’m sure we can cover everything now.” This gets the message across but also clears a path for both of you to move on.” You get the result you want without creating ill will. You can save that for later.

Thirty minutes into the interview, the recruiter calls you by the wrong name.

“All right, Elizabeth, so tell me what you think the biggest external threat to the company is,” says the VP of sales. The trouble is, your name’s Leslie. “An immediate correction is the best course of action,” says Rebecca Butler, an MBA recruiter at UBS Warburg. Politely say “It’s Leslie” and move on. If it happens again? “You have to set the record straight immediately. Otherwise, the recruiter may not connect your interview with your name. It’s about not getting lost in the shuffle.” Butler suggests this clever response: “I know you see a lot of people, so I’d like to make sure you have the correct resume in front of you. Leslie McIntosh, Michigan State, right?”

Your cell phone rings.

“Grab it and turn it off immediately,” says Frank Luntz, a communications consultant and news analyst for MSNBC. Apologize and tuck it away. “Do not look to see who called. Make it clear that nothing could be more important than the interview,” says Luntz. Next time: Turn it off beforehand.

You arrive late to the interview.

There’s really no such thing as a “good” excuse–not traffic, not a broken alarm clock, not Ebola. And besides, banking on one misses the point. Everyone makes mistakes, and you can use the opportunity to show how you’d handle adversity as an employee. In short: Notify, own up, and move on. “Call as soon as you know you’re going to be late, even if it’s only by five minutes,” says Dick McCracken, director of graduate career services for Indiana University’s Kelley School. Briefly explain your situation, apologize, and then offer to reschedule. Say something like: “I realize I’ve thrown off your day, and I’m happy to return at a more convenient time.” You’ve acknowledged your responsibility (as opposed to passing the buck) and demonstrated that you’re willing to be flexible. Be contrite but not dramatic (“I’m sorry” is good; “I’m so, so sorry. I can’t believe I did this, this never happens to me” is bad). And don’t give up hope. Says UBS Warburg’s Butler: “Recruiters have seen a lot. If you make the effort, we may let it pass.”

The interviewer says something you know is incorrect.

“Our profits are greater than those of our three competitors combined,” intones the senior associate. But you, diligent interviewee that you are, have done your homework: You know that he’s referring to the company’s market share, not its profits. Should you correct the person who holds your future in his hands? Damn straight. “For one thing, the interviewer might be testing you,” says Jim Cameron, a former NBC news anchor who now coaches Fortune 500 executives on media relations. “If it’s a factual error that you can contradict with solid data, then do it–confidently and politely.” Begin your correction with “and” rather than “but”–as in “and so is your market share.” The secret is to be right without showing the interviewer to be wrong. If after you’ve made the correction, the interviewer launches into an argument, drop it. “You don’t want to come off as being rude,” says Charley Buck, president of Charles Buck & Associates, a New York search firm. Battling the future boss will not win you points.

You make a gaffe. Something that is truly stupid.

When asked to name his favorite Disney character during a group interview with, yes, Disney, one MBA candidate offered, “Daffy Duck.” “That’s great,” responded the Disney executive leading the discussion. “Warner Bros. is across the street.” The student mumbled his apology while his fellow candidates snickered. Telling the Merrill Lynch recruiter during a final interview that you’ve always wanted to work at Goldman presents an equally thorny problem. The best course of action in this situation: Correct yourself quickly and make clear your commitment to Disney or Merrill or anybody by sprinkling details about the firm into the conversation. “The best move is to draw no further attention to your slip,” says Seth Feit, an AOL talent scout. “It’s the vision of the candidate trying to get himself out of the situation that the recruiter’s going to remember.” One more thing: Do not opt for the knee-jerk reaction and say you have an interview at Goldman tomorrow–even if you do. One candidate mentioned the wrong company name to American Management Association human resources director Manny Avramidis. “Then he compounded the problem by telling me about another interview he had with a competitor,” says Avramidis. “I couldn’t believe it.”

You write a witty thank-you letter to a recruiter, sign it, drop it into the mailbox–then realize you put it into the wrong envelope.

Now what? Call the recruiter’s secretary and explain what you’ve done and ask her to toss it, advises Dorothea Johnson, of the Protocol School of Washington, which provides etiquette seminars for executives and diplomats. “Even if the assistant does mention it to her boss,” says Johnson, “it’s less embarrassing than not having pointed out your error at all.” Then let her know that you’ve already put the correct letter in the mail. Here’s the trick: You increase your chances of success if you can restrain yourself and not call immediately. Instead, wait a day or two–by then the letter’s arrival will be imminent. You don’t want to risk the assistant’s forgetting something like this.

You sneeze during an interview. And there’s no Kleenex in sight.

“Cover your nose with your left hand,” says Dana May Casperson, author of Power Etiquette: What You Don’t Know Can Kill Your Career. “If you cover it with your right hand, the interviewer won’t want to shake your hand at the end of the meeting. And covering with both hands or sneezing into your sleeve is just plain rude.” The smart job candidate knows that he’s better off excusing himself to go to the rest room for two minutes than being uncomfortable and self-conscious for the duration of the interview.

You’re asked an illegal question.

You and the interviewer are really hitting it off, swapping stories about your recent weddings. “So, are you guys planning to have kids?” he asks. In some cases it’s innocent banter. In others the recruiter might be trying to gauge whether you’ll be willing to put in 80-hour weeks or whether he might lose you to the demands of an infant. Either way, a recruiter can’t legally ask about your race, your age, your religion, any disabilities you may have, or your plans to have children. But, in this case, should you point that out? Not directly, says Sally Haver, a vice president at the Ayers Group, a New York recruiting firm. She recommends speaking to the interviewer’s intent with a response like “My record makes clear that my personal obligations have never interfered with my work. One of my strengths is my ability to separate my professional and personal lives.” By addressing the interviewer’s concerns, explains Haver, “you make it clear that you understand his question and that it’s inappropriate to ask.” That said, if you feel a recruiter has asked an illegal or offensive question, you’re well within your rights to end the interview right then and there.

You spill coffee on your lap.

Turning to greet the managing director as she enters the conference room, you knock your coffee onto your new Armani suit. Saying “Well, so much for a good first impression. Did I get the job?” is a smart way of putting people at ease. Don’t wait for someone else to take care of the problem: Quickly ask where they keep the paper towels. This response shows self-sufficiency and a sense of responsibility, says Mary Tenopyr, former director of employee-candidate testing for AT&T. If an associate runs off to get towels, join him–you don’t want to be sitting around in a mess you created, waiting for someone else to take action. Continuing the conversation where it left off, Tenopyr says, “makes clear that the interview is more important to you than the coffee spill.” Do not, under any circumstances, remove your pants.

Killer Cover Letters

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In some respects, the cover letter can be more important than a resume. Its purpose is to communicate your knowledge of the field, your interest in the company and the value you can potentially contribute to the firm. The cover letter expands on your resume, attempting to illustrate a “match” between your previous experience and the qualifications an organization seeks in an ideal candidate.

Cover letters must be personalized and never mass-produced. The reader needs to feel that you are genuinely interested in the company and that you have done your homework, as evidenced by your keen interest in, and thorough knowledge of, the organization to which you are applying.

The resume alone cannot adequately convey your enthusiasm for a field or a particular organization. The resume is a credential stating that that you have the basic skills to do the job. The cover letter introduces the “fit” between your unique skill sets and the work that the company performs. To sum up, always send your resume out with a carefully crafted letter emphasizing the employer’s needs and how you can assist them.

Four Important Components of Cover Letters

  • Appearance: Address your letters to an individual. Avoid the appearance of mass-produced cover letters by making sure to personalize each one. Take the time to track down the name and title of the person with whom you wish to interview and include the name of the organization several times in the body of the letter. Your resume, cover letter and envelope should match; good quality bond paper is preferred.
  • Form: A potential employer will scan your letter quickly, spending less than a minute reviewing it. The letter should be short, concise and fit easily on one page. Standard business form (your address and the date in the upper left corner, addressee’s name and address at the left, above the salutation) is preferable.
  • Style: Your style is your own, and it reflects your individuality. However, remember that the letter is intended to communicate information with clarity and impact. Be simple and direct. Stress the value and skills that you will be able to offer an employer. Your cover letter should always be good enough to stand alone (without a resume), so be careful of repeating much information that is already covered in your resume.
  • Content: Remember that most jobs require excellent communication and writing skills. The cover letter is an opportunity to show your talents. Write four paragraphs of “personalized prose” (let your personality show through the letter so that the reader gets a good impression of who you really are). Your aim is to motivate the employer to want to talk with you in person. Avoid the overuse of “I” and “my.” It is better to use “you,” “your” and the name of the company, etc. Remember that you are not just talking about how great you are, but also trying to address the company’s needs and how you are a good match for them.

What Should I Say?

  • Paragraph No. 1: Mention the contact(s) who know the addressee and who suggested that you write or informed you of the opportunity. State your specific reason for writing (i.e., suggesting you have some expertise that could be of value to them).
  • Paragraph No. 2: Show that you are knowledgeable about the company and its products/services. You must illustrate that you have done your homework in researching the company.
  • Paragraph No. 3: Describe (list) your professional skills. State the exact nature of the “fit” in terms of your skills and how they could be utilized by the company.
  • Paragraph No. 4: Ask for an opportunity to meet in order to discuss their needs and the valuable contributions that you could make to the organization. Indicate that you will call within two weeks to follow up on your interest in meeting with them. Employers will not usually contact you. They are also interested in seeing your initiative.

Timing Is (Almost) Everything

Landing an interview, as well as a job, is frequently a function of being in the right place at the right time. Therefore, do not be surprised if you get rejected the first time around. If you really want to work for a particular company, maintain your contacts over months, and years if need be, thereby improving your chances that someday you will find yourself in the right place at the right time with that particular firm. Persistence and patience will pay off.