How to write your cover letter

Cover Letter

A cover letter is a brief introduction of yourself and often gives you the opportunity to express your interest in the position. Not all companies require or even allow a cover letter to be included with your resume. Be sure to check before attaching one to your email application or send it along by postal mail.

One common problem occurs when people write cover letters – they construct it as if it were a mini-resume. It is not. Think of a cover letter as an advertisement and the resume as the product connected to the ad. An advertisement tells you the advantages of buying the product, but only discusses the actual product a little.

There is no format to follow when constructing a cover letter. Some books and web sites will show sample cover letters that have been successful, but for our purposes following another person’s success formula is advised against. The reason? Our approach is that you are your own product, so you cannot be duplicated, nor can your cover letter.

However, there are some guidelines you should follow so it is connected to the resume in the mind of the reader. Like the resume, you should include the following information:

  • Your formal name, current address, city, state, and zip code
  • A contact telephone number
  • Adding the date you write the cover letter is optional, but recommended.

In writing the content of the cover letter, you should keep it short. Two, perhaps three, short paragraphs at the most. The employer wants to know why you are interested in the position and what you believe are your greatest strengths that you have to offer the company.

There are other reasons an employer may require a cover letter. One of the most common and less considered by the applicant is the employer is looking for the level of the applicant’s writing skills. For you, this means that you must carefully read, write, edit, rewrite, and review each sentence and paragraph of the cover letter before sending it. Positions that require writing reports, secretarial positions, and even some management positions will need to be especially careful of the language and grammar used in the cover letter.

Formal writing and language is essential in the cover letter content. Avoid slang phrases and colloquialisms, but write plainly and simply. Your ability to communicate in writing will also be evaluated, so be sure to say precisely what you mean to say.

As with providing false information on the resume, it is advised against having a friend or other person write your cover letter. Yes, there are resume writing agencies but the language contents of a resume are different from the cover letter. Should you get an interview, the interviewers will know quickly whether the language in the cover letter is yours or was written by someone else. If they believe there is a significant difference, they may continue the interview, but it is likely you have dropped out of serious consideration for the job.

How to write your resume

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In the first part we discussed filling out an application as the beginning of applying for a job. But most companies will expect you to have a resume that you can attach to an e-mail (or rarely, send by postal mail) that they can review before inviting you in for an interview.

A question a lot of job sites do not answer is just exactly what is a resume? The simplest way to look at a resume is a summary of your education and work experience that briefly tells a potential employer about what you know and what you can do. Remember from part one that finding a job is about your marketable skills. The resume is where you can list both your formal education and work experience.

The standard resume has a basic format. That format is written in a specific order.

  • Your formal name, current address, city, state, zip code
  • A contact telephone number
  • Formal education, the most recent school attended listed first
  • Verifiable work experience, the most recent job listed first

The only preparation you have to do before writing a standard resume is to be sure your dates of employment are correct and you confirm any graduation dates with the school. Usually the month and year format is enough, meaning you do not have to have the exact date you started and ended your jobs. You will have to be prepared to explain any gaps in your work history, such as being unable to work due to illness or deciding to go to school to acquire more skills.

When you list your formal education, be sure to include the name of the school, your major course of study, and the date you graduated. If you are still in school, leave out the graduation date and instead put the date you began your studies and the phrase “to current.” Including your grade point average (G.P.A.) is something not everyone agrees on. Unless you graduated with honors, the G.P.A. should not be included. Do not put any clubs or activities you were involved with in this section.

Your work experience, or employment history, is the last section of the standard resume. Here you will list the name of the company, your title (mail clerk, secretary, etc.), a brief job description, and the beginning and end dates of your employment. The job description should highlight the major responsibilities of your position. The specifics and details of your job duties will be discussed during the interview.

The total length of your resume will depend on how much education and work experience you have acquired. Do not decide on a fixed number of pages the resume should be. The more resumes you write, the more you will become comfortable with what is the right length for you.

The issue of putting false information on a resume needs to be mentioned. Choosing to make such a decision usually has a huge downside to it, mainly because most people cannot afford to lose a good paying job. More than 85 percent of all employers do some type of background check on potential hires, so there is a good chance the deception will be uncovered.

How to look for and win a job

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So you are wondering what new can be said about jobs, job searching, and the rest of it. The first thing I would like you to think about is how many different web sites you have to go to in order to find everything you need to know. You can also go the library, but you will probably find the same story. Here, we hope to tell you what you need to know – all in one place.

We will start out with the obvious – how to look for a job. It dies not matter whether you have a college degree or not, looking for a job is basically the same process.

Step one is to find out what your marketable skills are. Marketable is important here since your ability to repair retro 8-track players does not have much of a demand. So conduct an inventory and find out what you have that other people need. It might be mechanical skills or organizational skills, or teaching skills. Your skill set is what is marketable, coupled with a verifiable amount of experience.

The next step is to find out who is hiring and where. You can start with local employment agencies where you will fill out an application and probably some other paperwork. Some say you should start searching on the Internet, but that is true if you already have some experience with searching for a job. Stopping by a local employment agency will give you the chance to learn the basics and ask all the questions you want without feeling you should know more about the process.

The search process can then move to the Internet. That is where you can get your feet wet in the privacy of your own home and learn as you go. The fastest way to start is to take your favorite search engine and enter in a two part phrase – the type of job you are looking for and the city and state where you are looking. For example, “mail clerk, Los Angeles CA.” You can start clicking and reading the various job openings and descriptions in your area.

Once you find several jobs that are in your area, that you basically qualify for, and you are interested in, create a plan. You probably will not want to apply to all the jobs in the same day. One reason is that most companies do not allow you to just walk in and apply – an appointment is required. The second reason is that you will find out that finding work may be more tiring than the job itself. This is especially true if you are not having much success at getting hired immediately. One final note on planning is to make sure you know exactly where the company is located. Getting lost can be avoided simply by making a phone call to the company to verify their location. Ask for directions if you need to.

We will end this first section on interviewing for a job. The truth is, an entire book can be written on job interviewing, but as we said earlier, we will cover the basics.

The first basic is dress. Dress professionally but appropriately. If you wear a suit to apply at McDonalds, they may think you will leave for a higher paying job without warning. If you wear flip-flops to a secretarial position, you will very likely significantly hurt your chances of being hired.

When you are ready to leave the house, be sure you allow yourself enough time to get to the interview 15 – 20 minutes before the scheduled time. The reason is that you will have to fill out paperwork, such as an application and personal data form, which usually take between 15 and 20 minutes to complete. Even if you finish early, it will give you time to relax.

If this is your first job, you will probably interview with only one, maybe two people. If you have experience you may find yourself interviewing with many people, possibly with everyone in a room at the same time. Interviewing is really a natural process, so while most people tend to get nervous, simply and honestly answering the questions you are asked will be considered a successful interview.