Saturday, August 31, 2013

How to Write a Cover Letter - 8 Steps to Writing an Effective Letter that Moves the Action Forward

Resumes may be the marketing tool that open the door, but cover letters get you invited in.  While a resume shows what you've done, a cover letter allows you to specifically tell what you could do, and how, for a future employer.  

Format of a cover letter
First, note that your cover letter is not a dissertation.   It should be fairly short, rarely over one page or 1 ½ pages maximum, which requires you to be quite strategic as you select what to write and how to write it!  Use your letter to succinctly but convincingly illustrate your value. Within that page, or 1 ½ pages, follow these steps to an effective cover letter:

Step 1:  Brand it.
At the top of the page, brand your cover letter with the same header that crosses the top of your resume.  In fact, all your marketing materials should show the same header or "brand."

Incorrect spelling costs jobs!

Step 2: List the name and contact information of the recipient. 
In a formal cover letter, it is standard to include the recipient’s: name, title, company name, and address.   
You may also choose to include their e-mail or phone below the contact information. 

Important to note: Check and double the spelling of the recipient's name and the company name.  Incorrect spelling has gotten letters tossed aside, along with the candidate's chances.

Step 3: Include a salutation.
Personalize the letter with the salutation:  Dear Mr. Jones, Dear Ms. Smith.  No “To Whom It May Concern”s!
Always, if at all possible, send your letter to a person.  It increases your chance of not only having it read but accomplishing its purpose of moving you to the next step  --  an interview.

Step 4: Introduce yourself.
State your purpose in writing.  You may be writing (1) to apply for an advertised position, (2) to market yourself to a company in which you're interested even if there is no openly advertised position, or (3) in response to a referral from a colleague. 
  1. Advertised position:  State the title of position and how you heard of it, i.e., name your source of information such as the newspaper, website, job bank, etc.
  2. Marketing yourself to a targeted firm:  State an "intriguing" reason you are contacting them, i.e., firm's reputation for stellar performance, you are aware of a challenge they face that you can solve, etc. 
  3. Response to a referral from a colleague:  Name the colleague who referred you in the first sentence of your letter, and then state your reason / request for contacting the referral.     
Step 5: Sell yourself.  This is the Opportunity Step!
In 1-2 paragraphs (3 max),
(a) relate how the work you have done,
(b) meets the requirements of the job you are applying for and thereby 

(c) prove yourself to be a qualified candidate worth interviewing.

For an advertised or open job: 
State the requirements of the job, and show how you meet each, or at least each primary, requirement.  Use examples of your work accomplishments.

Use a paragraph or list to discuss your work:
You can write this in paragraph form, or list accomplishments preceded by bullet points or dashes as shown below:
        ●    Example/Accomplishment  (Note:  State requirement + action you took and outcome
        ●    Example/Accomplishment

For a firm of interest with no known open position: 
State, or discuss, the work the firm does, and how your skills and experience could fit in and provide benefit.  Caution:  Do your homework.  Your research should be accurate about the nature of the firm’s work and needs.  The danger of misstating a type of work being done can damage your credibility and lessen your chances of gaining a meeting or interview. 
Use a paragraph or list to discuss your work: 
Again, you can write this in paragraph form, or list examples of your work.
        ●    Example/Accomplishment  (Note:  State requirement + action you took and outcome
        ●    Example/Accomplishment

Step 6: Close the sale.

In the case of a cover letter, the sale to close is to get an interview or meeting.
  1. Conclude that as you provided benefit to previous employers, you could do the same for them.
  2. Request the next step.  Ask for a meeting, interview, opportunity to meet and discuss how your competencies could benefit their firm.   
  3. Option:  Include your contact information: phone number and e-mail address.*

Step 7: Closing or Sign off formally.
Sign off with a term that you’re comfortable with and is acceptable in business correspondence.
  • Two of the most common are:  Best regards, and Sincerely.
  • Type your full name, leaving a space directly above your typed name for a written signature.
  • Option:  Include your contact information:  phone number and e-mail address.*

Step 8: Enclosing anything?
If your letter contains a resume, or any additional marketing information, note the type of enclosures at the bottom of the page. 

  • Enclosure:  Resume, Annotated Reference List, etc.

  •  ENC:   Resume, Bio, etc.

* Exercise this Option in either Step 6 or Step 7. 
Including your contact information in a highly visible spot makes it easy for the recruiter or hiring manager to pick up the phone or send an e-mail.  Make it easy for employers to reach you.

For additional information on marketing yourself and your capabilities, please refer to the many articles found under the Articles tabs of the AJC–Career Strategy website.
 ____________________________________________________________________________                 AJC - for Your Career Path
  Linked In:        
Twitter:  @AfterJobClub

A Resume Without a Cover Letter is a Job Only Half Done

I’ve written my resume and I think it’s pretty good.  It tells everything I’ve done – and even shows some accomplishments.  So why do I need a cover letter?  Isn’t a resume enough?

     Unfortunately, the answer is No.  It is not enough.

A well-crafted cover letter gives you another opportunity to make the sale for you as a potential employee and a skilled professional who can get the job done!

Cover letters are necessary.  Most employers request, require, or expect them to be included along with a candidate's resume.  So, ALWAYS include a cover letter, along with your resume, unless an ad states not to - which is rare.

Cover letters fulfill a specific purpose.  While a resume shows what a candidate has done for previous employers, and what skills he or she brings to the job, a well-crafted cover letter connects the dots!  Think of cover letters as allowing a little more literary license to discuss and describe accomplishments and and relate them to the needs of a prospective employer.

Why send a cover letter
(1)  Cover letters provide you with another way to show the employer just how you can provide value, benefit them, and solve problems.

(2)  They also allow you to demonstrate a desirable and valuable trait:  Responsiveness.  When written with attention to directly addressing each, or at least the prime, requirements for the position, the cover letter shows you to be responsive and attentive.  A recruiter or hiring manager, reading your letter, may think that “If you can do that in a letter, well . . . . . you may do that on the job too.  Here’s a candidate worth interviewing.”  In other words, you can gain a lot of mileage from a well written and thorough cover letter.

A cover letter is not a resume
It is not just a regurgitation of information that appears on your resume.  Your cover letter may draw information from your resume, but it will use that information to sell you as the best solution for the employer’s needs.  It allows you to address key points that you may want to highlight or amplify in order to make your case that you are particularly well qualified to meet the requirements of the position.  In other words, it allows you more literary license than the factual information provided by your resume.

A cover letter is an opportunity . . . . .
A cover letter is a written correspondence that allows you more freedom or license to make an argument why you should be considered for the position, or better yet, why you are the best candidate for the job!  It allows you to draw conclusions and project what you could do for a future employer  --  something you can't do in a resume. 

In your letter, you can discuss how the work you've done made a difference for your former companies, departments, bosses, colleagues, or customers.  You can list improvements resulting, benefits derived, and problems solved from your actions and input. 

The big difference
The big difference between your cover letter and resume is the literary license it allows for you to draw the conclusion, overtly or subtly - depending on your and the company's style--, that if you benefitted your previous employers,  you can do the same for future employers.  In other words, the cover letter allows you to sell yourself as a solution to their problem. 

So, don't sell yourself short.  Take advantage of the opportunity cover letters afford you.  Resumes may be the marketing tool that opens the door, but cover letters get you invited in.
For additional information on marketing yourself and your capabilities, please refer to the many articles found under the Articles tabs of the AJC–Career Strategy website.
 ____________________________________________________________________________                 AJC - for Your Career Path
  Linked In:        
Twitter:  @AfterJobClub

Monday, August 26, 2013

Types of Letters for Your Job Search

Writing letters is an integral part of a successful job search - more than you might think.

Job seekers find themselves producing lots of letters.  Those who run a really active search find themselves writing . . . .
   -  letters to accompany their resumes,
     -  letters to request assistance,
       -   letters to thank colleagues for assisting,
         -  letters to introduce themselves to a colleague or company,
            - letters to search firms,
               - letters to refer a colleague or be referred, . . . . .and so it goes.

Job seekers are often surprised by the sheer number of letters they find themselves writing.  It can seem overwhelming.  But it needn’t be.  Understanding the types, and what comprises them, will greatly simplify the task.

Top 2 Types:  Cover letters and Thank You letters
The task is further simplified when you realize that the majority of the letters you will be writing are primarily are of two types:  Cover letters and Thank You letters.  Let’s take a look at the letters you’ll find yourself writing if you are running a really active job search.

Types of Letters - Primary types
  Cover Letters  – Cover letters accompany resumes you send.
    A cover letter should ALWAYS accompany any resume you send, unless the advertisement for the position specifically states not to.  A cover should use a formal format.  The majority of cover letters fall into 3 types:
        1.  Cover letters sent along with your resume for advertised positions.
        2.  Cover letters sent with your resume to companies or organizations you have targeted as firms that are of interest even if there are no openly advertised positions.
        3.  Cover letters sent with a resume to executive search firms and employment agencies.

●  Thank You Letters  – Send thank you letters to everyone who assists you in your search.
     I repeat . . . . EVERYONE!  Thank you letters should ALWAYS be sent following any helpful interaction.  Use a formal format, if you are sending a typed standard letter, or a less formal format for an e-mail or a hand-written note-card.
Send thank you letters to:
        1.  Interviewers - Send a separate and slightly different letter to each individual interviewer.
        2.  Network contacts - Thank your network for any advice, tips, leads, introductions, and information they offer to you.  Following a networking meeting ( in which, of course, you bought, or at least offered to buy, the coffee) send a more detailed thank you stating appreciation for the meeting, for the advice and suggestions offered, and anything else you found particularly helpful.  
        3.  Referrals – Thank any person to whom you are referred, following any interaction you have with them from a helpful e-mail to phone conversation to in-person meeting.
        4.  Rejections - Follow-up a rejection with a thank you letter.  This does more than show you to be a good sport!  It allows you to re-state both your interest in the firm that selected another candidate for the position, as well as your qualifications.  Why?  In case the candidate who was hired doesn't work out, you have made yourself visible as a candidate who can fill the position and is ready to go!
    In short, send a Thank You to anyone who helps you in your effort to find a new position!

Additional Types of Job Search letters
While cover letters and thank you are the types of letters you will find yourself writing most frequently, there are other types of job search letters you should be aware of.  Although written less frequently, understanding these types, and what goes into them, will also simplify the task.

●   Introductory and Request Letters  – Send letters to introduce yourself and your qualifications, and request assistance from a referral, a network contact, or a person you would like to meet to garner information that could be helpful to your search.  An example would be to gain an informational interview to learn about a topic integral to your search or profession.

●  Information Letters  – You may have come across some information which will be helpful to a network contact, employer, team member of a  professional association committee.  Passing it along is a good way to be helpful and stay visible.

●  Referral Letters  – Job seekers don't just get referrals; they make them too!  Job seekers, who run a really active campaign or search, find themselves interacting with, and learning about the needs, of  lots of people.  Referrals letters can be used to refer members of your network, such as fellow job seeker, association members, current employees, to a colleague in need of their skill or expertise.  Again, it is a way to give back to those helping you, as well as simultaneously staying visible and relevant in their eyes!

Writing letters is part and parcel of the process of finding a job.  However, knowing ahead of time the types of letters to write, and when to write them, will simplify the process and make your letters on point!
For additional information on marketing yourself and your capabilities, please refer to the many articles found under the Articles tabs of the AJC–Career Strategy website.
 ____________________________________________________________________________                 AJC - for Your Career Path
  Linked In:        
Twitter:  @AfterJobClub

Use Letters to Show and Sell

Writing letters is part and parcel of the process of finding a job.  While composing letters may seem uncomfortable if you're not much of a letter-writer, keep in mind that letters provide you with another opportunity:
       (1) to show what you can do, and
       (2) sell a prospective employer on the benefits of hiring you!

While writing letters may seem complicated or overwhelming, keeping a couple of guidelines in mind will simplify the task.

Guideline 1:  Move the action forward
 Letters that are part of your job search really have only one purpose:  To move the action forward.  That's it!  It's simple!  In other words, every correspondence you send should be crafted to move you to the next step on the path to your next position.

Here's how:
A part of each written communication, generally near the end, should ask for what you want, i.e. the next logical step in the process. In sales jargon, this is called "asking for the order" or "closing the sale."  And this is in keeping with the nature of the job search process which is, in fact, a sales process  --  pure and simple!

Guideline 2:  Each letter = a sales letter
Each written communication is really a sales letter.  Selling yourself is the common thread running through all the letters you write during your job search (Looking for a Job - You're In Sales).  You should be selling yourself as you write letters to thank a contact who provided a lead to a potential opportunity, thank the members of an interview panel, introduce yourself to an unknown professional to whom you’ve been referred, request assistance from a contact in your network, or accompany your resume or application for a position . . . . Remember, the core of the letter is in its ability to sell.  When you sell, it moves the action forward.

Here's how:
(1)  Overtly, state your purpose in writing.  You may be requesting an introduction, submitting your resume, thanking your network contact who took time from their day to meet and share information with you, etc.

(2)  More subtly, sell yourself.  Infuse your letter with information that sells you and your capabilities, and gains the reader's attention.  Information about your qualifications, accomplishments, problems tackled, state-of-the-art technical skills and knowledge, aptitudes, attitudes, and interesting people in your network can gain the reader's attention and interest.  Showing readers how you have benefited previous employers, and how you could do the same for future employers, sells them on you!

Whether it’s a lengthy letter or a short e-mail, the correspondence should show you to be a competent professional whose abilities and experience will benefit a future employer by providing a solution for their needs.
For additional information on marketing yourself and your capabilities, please refer to the many articles found under the Articles tabs of the AJC–Career Strategy website.
 ____________________________________________________________________________                 AJC - for Your Career Path
  Linked In:        
Twitter:  @AfterJobClub

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Select, Prepare, and Protect Your References

Identifying a few folks who will speak on your behalf, and then listing their names on a sheet of paper seems like a simple enough task.  When your list is complete, voila', you have a reference list to be given out to prospective employers.
     Right? . . . . .  Wrong!
Compiling your reference list, called an Annotated Reference List, is anything but simple.  Just like any other of your important marketing tools, it should be strategically thought-through and carefully done, early in the game.
      Why? . . . . 
     A well-selected and well-prepared reference's recommendation of you could be just the resource to move you from candidate to employee.

Follow the steps listed below to
 SELECT, PREPARE, and PROTECT your references to ensure that they are, and continue to be, your best supporters as you pursue your dream job! 

As you begin your search, prepare your Annotated Reference List.  This marketing tool, just like your resume or marketing plan, should be produced at the beginning of your search.

Here's how:
1.  Identify 6-10 of your colleagues who can speak knowledgeably to prospective employers about you and your abilities.  Have a large enough selected set so that you are not always submitting the same names over and over and over.  This ensures that one person is not called, and bothered, too often.
  -  If you are pursuing 1 type of work, such as accounting, sales, or information technology, fewer will do.  6 or 7 solid references will suffice.
  -  If you are pursuing a couple of career directions, such as engineering and program management,  you will need more references.  You will need references who can speak about your capabilities as an engineer; you will need different references who can speak about your program management abilities and experience.  Have 6 - 7 solid references per each line of work sought.

2.  Contact each reference.  Ask their permission to use them as a reference.  This is best done in person or in a phone call.
You have to set the stage for your reference, describing the type of work you have been doing, and that you want to do.  An e-mail, no matter how detailed, generally falls short in accomplishing your goal of adequately preparing your reference.    
Provide your reference with the following information:
  -  Recent work history:  Share the type of work you have been doing, for whom, and in what industry.
  -  Position sought:  Offer a description of the type of work and role you would like.
  -  Update:  Describe your job search progress to date, or state that you are just beginning your search.
  -  Resume:  Give your reference a copy of your resume. Note:  Provide updated copies throughout your search if / when you make "significant" changes to your resume (an occasional word change doesn't warrant sending another copy).
  -  Description about the Reference that you wrote on your Annotated Reference List:  Reference's name, contact info, description of professional relationship, competencies and abilities the reference can discuss.  Ask them to check it and provide corrections.

3.  Assure your reference that you will let them know when you use them as reference.

4.  Keep your reference updated on your search progress.  Send short e-mails every 3-4 weeks on how it's going, always stating your appreciation for their support.

5.  Send a Thank You to your reference immediately after your phone or in-person meeting, expressing your appreciation for their support.

When you give out the name of a reference, immediately inform your reference that you have done so, and prepare your reference for a positive experience with the company representative who will be calling.

Here’s how:
1.  Alert your reference that you have provided their name and contact information to a firm you are considering working for.  State your level of interest in the opportunity -- Is this your dream job?

2.  Provide the name of the firm, the name of the person who will be calling (if you know it), the title/type of position you are interviewing for, and a brief explanation of the nature of the work of the firm

3.  Tell your reference where you are in the process of interacting with the firm:  application submitted, phone screen, in-person interview, multiple interviews, final selection stage, etc.

4. Send your reference a copy of the resume you submitted to the hiring firm (Do this as a courtesy, even if it is identical to the same resume you provided earlier.).

5.  Ask your reference to let you know when he/she is called by the hiring company.

Maintain your reference’s high regard for and willingness to help you by being selective about when, and to whom, you give their name and number.

Here’s how:
1.  Be selective.  Give out your annotated list of references to a hiring manager, recruiter, or company reference checker only when you are sure you are really interested in the company with which you are interviewing, and you have also gotten to a point in the interview process that you are certain that the company is really interested in you.
2.  Secure multiple references.  This eliminates the danger that any one person is called too frequently. 

A lot of work?  

Worth it?  

           A well-chosen and well-prepared reference can be the resource that moves your candidacy for a position from "under consideration" in the eyes of the hiring firm to "Welcome aboard!" 
 ____________________________________________________________________________                 AJC - for Your Career Path
  Linked In:        
Twitter:  @AfterJobClub