You have an impressive resume, you know how to present yourself well in an interview, you know what kind of position you are best suited for. . .now all you need is a chance to get your foot in the right door. Just what can you do to make that happen?
Make sure you write a knockout cover letter, advise career planning specialists. "A cover letter is your chance to explain to an employer why he or she should consider you for the job," says Jennie Z. Rothschild, Ph.D., executive director of Jewish Vocational Service on Reisterstown Road in Pikesville. "The best cover letters are specific and give examples that directly relate to the job you are trying to get.""Your cover letter is a targeted sales tool which should be tailored to the specific position you are seeking," adds Ann Harrell of the Johns Hopkins University Career and Life Planning Center on Alexander Bell Drive in Columbia.
The cover letter is also a good opportunity to show potential employers your writing skills, says Jennie Rothschild, and for those job-seekers whose native language is not English, a chance to show that you are comfortable with the language. Whatever your writing and language skills are, though, make sure that your letter has no mistakes. "Proofread! Proofread! Proofread!" emphasizes Ann Harrell. A cover letter, like most business correspondence, says Ms. Rothschild, has three basic parts: *Paragraph 1, in which you state: who you are; how you heard of the position or the company; why you are writing. "Your goal in this paragraph," says Ann Harrell, "is to convince the reader why you are the only candidate to interview." *Paragraph 2, in which you discuss: why you are interested in the position and/or company; how your qualifications fit the specific skills needed for the job; some specific examples of how your past experience has prepared you to do the job for which you are applying; any other relevant skills, qualities, achievements, and experiences that make you the best candidate for the job. "The second paragraph is your chance to shine," says Ms. Harrell. "Discuss your experiences and skills that match the criteria for the position. If you met your contact through networking, refer to your meeting notes. Use the company information you found if this is a cover letter for a direct mailing." *Paragraph 3, in which you: repeat that you are hoping to be considered for the job; give specific information about your plans to follow up; thank the employer for his or her consideration. "And then be sure to follow through," says Ms. Harrell. When closing, "Sincerely" or "Sincerely Yours" with your typed name and signature will be appropriate.
Jennie Rothschild suggests these additional DOs and DON'Ts:
- In the first paragraph, name the title of the job for which you are applying and be specific about how you heard about the position or company.
- Try to find out the name and title of the person who will be able to hire you and use the name, instead of writing "Dear Sir" or "Dear Madam."
- Write the letter based on exactly what the ad or job listing says the employer is looking for; try to give an example from your experience for every qualification listed in the ad.
- Type the letter and use paper and font that is the same or looks similar to your resume. Don't forget to sign your name.
- Reread the letter carefully and check for spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors. It's a good idea to have someone else proofread the letter as well.
- Keep the letter brief--under 1 page. Keep the paragraphs to 2-4 sentences each.
- Say that you are enclosing a resume.
- Include your phone number in the last paragraph.
- Make sure the envelope is clearly and properly addressed.
- Send a resume without a cover letter.
- Discuss salary unless the ad or job listing requires it.
- Repeat information that appears on the resume, except in the briefest, introductory manner.
- Generalize about personal qualities or past job titles. Instead, give specifics about your skills and experience.
- Talk about what the job will do for you.
- Give unnecessary personal information.
- Include anything that you will not be able to explain in an interview.
- Send Xerox copies.
- Say you will follow up without having a specific plan to do so.
- Staple or paper clip items.