Cover Letter Casualties - No Room For Excuses In The Cover Letter
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No Room for Excuses in the Cover Letter
Job Seeker's Story
George was 42, had suffered a mild heart attack, retired early from his high-stress career, and spent two years finishing his bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering. He had his old résumé that focused on his former career and really did not know how to play up his new engineering skills in the document. So, he knew he really needed to make the most of his cover letter to get in the door. To do so, he decided it was best to explain his situation in the cover letter so that they would understand when they looked at his résumé and saw he had no experience, and had been out of work for two years.
In his concise letter he addressed his gaps by talking about the high stress of his last job and the impact on his health leading to his decision to go back to school and pursue a new career. He explained that, although he didn't have any experience, he had a degree, and would work hard and be a dedicated employee. He went on to list all his courses as well as a few skills and what he saw as his strengths for engineering. George felt he had represented his value well despite the fact that his résumé was out-of-date.
George applied for many positions but did not successfully generate any interviews. He was frustrated that his time and money invested in his education appeared to be a waste.
Job Seeker's Stumble
Addressing negatives of any kind in a cover letter is a mistake. George thought he was doing the right thing by explaining his past problems but, instead, he was just drawing attention to them. When he applied for a position he might have been one of thousands of applicants, and this would not have helped him to stand out as a well-matched candidate. It would not have marketed his value, but rather focused on his negatives.
Further, George thought that just reserving details of his degree for the letter, and not updating his résumé with them, would be enough. He did not realize that sometimes the letter does not get read and it is the résumé's job ultimately to present the required details to be a match to the targeted positions.
Job Seeker's New Strategy
The best cover letters are written to take into account that applying for a job is a competition among candidates. The letter must grab the busy reviewer's attention with an enticing start followed by a positive focus on relevant experience, strengths, and achievements. Therefore, take the following steps to create a winning letter:
- • Seek to Capture Attention in a Positive Manner: Start the letter with an attention-getter, such as an:
- – Engaging Question: “Are you seeking a talented and dedicated professional with a solid grounding in Mechanical Engineering?”
- – Interesting Fact or Statistic: “According to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers there are X million mechanical engineers in the US today. So what makes me different?”
- – Informative Piece About the Company: “When I read about the pioneering efforts that Alteron Chemicals has made in ____, I knew that my experience in mechanical engineering would allow me to make a positive and sustainable contribution.”
- – Applicable Contact or Referral to the Company: “Thomas Mulhaney, VP of Marketing, suggested that I contact you….”
- – Inspiring Quotation from a Former Boss or Professor: “George has proven himself to be a highly discerning professional with a keen ability to solve complex mechanical design and fabrication problems. He has been an asset to fellow students and professors, and has been tapped for complex projects that would otherwise be considered above his level….”
- – Sell Your Strengths: Once you have captured the reviewer's attention, it is time to demonstrate your expertise through a strong results-driven paragraph or series of bullets. Never use this section, or any part of the cover letter, to talk about problems or weaknesses. For instance, a career changer would not focus on trying to overcome a lack of experience. He would emphasize what he possessed, such as “In conjunction with completing my BS in Mechanical Engineering, I had the opportunity to collaborate on a number of projects relevant to your company's needs. For instance, when you review my enclosed resume you will find that I collaborated with students and staff at Florida Tech on the design and fabrication of a hydrocarbon fuel pretreater apparatus for their Microelectronics Lab.”
Always remember that your cover letter is a sales tool: Be honest, upbeat, and professional, and emphasize your strengths to show how you are a match for the company and the job.
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