Cover Letters: Do They Matter?

Your resume is amazing (you’ve crossed your “t”s and dotted your “i”s; no spelling errors to speak of; and it’s professional). You’re ready to send your amazing resume out to potential employers, but what about the cover letter? The cover letter is sometimes an enigma to job seekers. What is it? What’s its purpose? Why do I need one if I have an amazing resume?

What It Is and Its Purpose

The cover letter is a letter of introduction. It allows potential employers to get a feel for who you are while also getting to know you a bit. Yes, many cover letters regurgitate some of the information found on the resume, but it’s much more than putting your resume into paragraph form: it’s selling yourself.

Think of it this way: The resume is the formal outline of why you’re great; the cover letter lets your personality shine a bit so that employers can see the you behind the words. It’s a great way to let your voice be heard if even on paper.

Like the resume, your cover letter needs to be short and sweet and to the point. However, you get to expand a bit on your skills and qualifications while injecting a bit of your personality into the text.

Also like the resume, it’s important to be factual in the body of your cover letter. It’s great if you have amazing skills and qualifications, but don’t mislead the potential employer into thinking you’re something you’re not. Represent yourself truthfully and you’ll get to skip some of the problems that come with misleading an employer.

Tips and Tricks

Be specific in your cover letter. Don’t say “your company,” say the company’s name.

Expand on your skills by telling the short stories about how you got them/used them.

Explain how your skills and experience will help the position.

Ask for the interview.

Be bold and truthful.

Conclusion

The cover letter may remain slightly mysterious to you, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important. A well-executed cover letter could very well mean the difference between getting an interview and being overlooked by a potential employer. Allow yourself to be seen through your words in the text of the letter while portraying a level of professionalism that screams to potential employers that you’ve got what it takes to take this position into the future.

Sprucing Up Your “Skills” Section

Your resume has several sections, all of which offer sneak peeks into what you’re going to offer as an employee. The “Skills” section on your resume displays any number of skills that you possess that will help you in different areas of the position you’re after. But what are the skills you should have?

There are innumerable skills that interviewers and hiring managers will see on resumes. Your job is to make sure that you have the skills they’re after, and they may not be what you think. The first key is reading through the job description thoroughly and looking for any skills they list as “required” or “preferred.” After that, consider sprucing up on the following skills, which are in demand for a number of the top jobs in the nation.

  • Foreign Language

    • Large companies are always seeking qualified individuals who are also fluent in a second language. It opens the door to increased communications with professionals in other countries.

      • Mandarin is particularly in demand; other languages, however, could also be beneficial to your potential employer.

    • Cities with a high population of non-English-speaking residents need employees who can effectively communicate the benefits and services of a company.

  • Problem Solving

    • Complex problem solving involves analyzing related information to develop the best possible solution to a complex problem.

  • Web Development

    • You don’t have to be a master at web development, but learning the ins and outs of the basics (Java, HTML, etc) can boost your resume. A number of free resources can be found on the web to give you the basic understanding you need to stand out.

  • Online Marketing

    • This is something that is pivotal for nearly every business today, and having the skills to perform some intermediate online marketing tasks can make your resume shine among the hundreds of others.

      • Take the time to learn the ins and outs of Google Analytics; polish up your online social media accounts, and learn the basics of social media for business.

  • Excel

    • Excel is good to know, and many employers are looking for a candidate who can work a spreadsheet effectively. The benefits Excel offers go far beyond a typical spreadsheet, however, including analyzing a large amount of information in a succinct and efficient way.

Fortunately, you can learn many of these skills for free or for a relatively low cost. Some universities even offer free courses online pertaining to important job skills. Being able to put any of these on a resume can help you stand out among the other candidates.

Boosting Your Resume While Unemployed

If you’ve been unemployed for any length of time, you may be wondering why your resume isn’t making the impact you feel it should. Even if you have the work experience, skills and education required by the positions you’re applying for, you may be getting overlooked. The job market is competitive; these are hard times and a large percentage of the population is unemployed and looking for work, or currently employed and looking to further their careers. Even if you’re the ideal candidate for the job on paper in your eyes, chances are there is a large number of people out there that share the same experience, education and skills that you have on your resume.

It’s time to boost your resume by taking advantage of some of your free time. While you may be having a hard time figuring out what you can do to improve your resume, rest assured there are many activities you can take part in to boost your resume.

Volunteering

Volunteering always looks good on a resume — and for a number of reasons. Firstly, reaching out and helping a great cause shows initiative and a can-do attitude. Secondly, it shows potential employers that you are able to make the most of your time and are a get-up-and-go person. It shows them you don’t like to stay idle and you are continually looking for ways to keep busy while helping your community.

Another benefit of volunteering is you can often do pretty much anything for a cause you believe in. Are you an expert web designer? If so, check out some of you favorite non-profits and see if they need any help in that area. Administrative skills your strong suit? Many non-profits need help with day-to-day administrative tasks.

Teaching a Class

Do you have a skill that could benefit other people, or that other people are wanting to learn? This could be anything from woodcarving to pottery; painting to knitting; website design to online marketing. If you have a skill, contact your local community’s Parks and Recreation Department and see if they offer community classes. Many cities offer these types of classes and people just like you instruct the class. And while you may not think your special skill applies to the jobs you’re after, instructing a class on any subject can help boost your resume and give you a little edge over your competitors.

Taking a Class

Stemming from the above, you can also take classes. Check out your local YMCA, Parks & Recreation Department, local university extension or your community’s website. Your local unemployment office may also offer classes or have a list of those in your community. In many cases, the classes are very reasonably priced and you can learn a whole new set of skills — or polish up the ones in your repertoire.

Conclusion

Make the most of your time while you’re off the clock by expanding your resume. Every little bit can help, and keeping busy can help keep your mind off of the negatives associated with unemployment.

 

Outlining and Creating the Backbone for Your Resume

Whether you’re new to the job search game or you’ve been in it for so long you could be considered a professional job seeker, chances are you’ve seen dozens of resume templates, guidelines, things to avoid and things to add. You may not need to tweak your resume, but it may be the thing holding you back from landing an interview for that huge career change you’re so desperately wanting.

Before you write out your resume, or rewrite it, outline what information you need to put on there so that you don’t miss anything. The outline will serve as the backbone for your resume. It will help you lay everything out correctly while giving you a structure and template to work from. Write out which sections you want on your resume. Contact information, experience, education, relevant skills, awards and certifications are common resume sections worth mentioning, but only if you have relevant information to put in each. For example, if you never attended college, don’t put an education section on your resume.

After you’ve written out which sections you want on your resume, start writing down the information, gathering the dates for the information and selecting what you want or don’t want your potential interviewer to see (Tip: Never lie about anything on your resume. If there’s something you want to withhold from your first contact at the company, choose wisely what you leave off of your resume).

Once you have everything written out, it’s time to situate the information in a professional, concise manner. Headline your sections with appropriate section titles and create your resume so that it looks great and is easily readable. Your contact information should be somewhere at the top, either center or offset depending on the overall look of your resume. After that, your sections don’t necessarily have a firm order, order them to your liking and highlight the strongest sections.

While creating an outline may seem like a pointless step, it can help you sort out which details you want on your resume and what to leave out. The outline can also help you decide which way to organize your resume. If your resume has been falling flat, it may be worth a shot to create a new outline and rewrite your resume.

Ready for Success: Tips for Acing Your Interview

You meticulously checked your resume for spelling and grammatical errors, you detailed the skills and experiences that directly pertain to the position you’re after and you’ve sent it in and, after waiting patiently, received the notification that you scored an interview. Great! You made the short list and now it’s time to showcase your personality, drive and skills that give you an edge over the other candidates. Interviewing is an art, and only the best artists will win. Make sure you’re ready for an interview.

Research is Key

You should have researched the company while tweaking your resume and writing your cover letter, but now is the time to really research the company you’re interviewing with — and they’re competitors.

You’re selling yourself during the interview, particularly your skills and what you bring to the table. Know the company’s history, their strengths and weaknesses and what their competitors’ strengths and weaknesses are. Be prepared to offer up which of your skills and experiences are going to strengthen the company’s weaknesses and solidify their strengths even more.

What to Expect

Certain questions are standard during the interview process, whether it’s for a bartending position or an executive sales position.

  • Tell me about yourself.

○      Keep it job-related, at least in some fashion. Your answer should be personal, but only to a limited extent. This is your opportunity to bring real-life skills or experiences to the table.

  • What do you know about this company?

○      Your research will pay off here and it’s a prime opportunity to relay your dedicated research to the interviewer.

  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?

○      Be honest, but put a positive spin on your weaknesses by offering what you do to try and correct them. As for your strengths, offer those that are relevant in the form of skills.

  • Why did you leave your last job?

○      Again, be honest, but don’t offer negativity. Your interviewer does not want to hear that you didn’t get along with your last supervisor or that you didn’t like the hours.

  • Why are you a good fit for our company?

○      Again, offer your skills as an answer and be positive. Your skills, experience and personality should all come into play in your answer: You want this job and you can improve the company through your work and dedication.

Presentation

How you present yourself is pivotal during an interview. Dress professionally and spend that extra few minutes while getting ready. Greet your interviewer with a handshake and smile, and make frequent eye contact throughout the interview. To prepare yourself for the interview, practice interviewing, research and practice the answers to questions you anticipate, and remember that the interviewer is a human, too, albeit an important one at the moment. You don’t want to appear nervous, so if you’re prone to nervous energy, try and calm your nerves before the interview.

During your presentation, you should appear focused on the task at hand. Turn your phone off prior to the interview, toss the gum you’ve been chewing and relax.

In Closing

Always offer your interviewer a handshake, thank them for their time and ask for a business card. Politeness goes a long way in any personal contact; your interviewer is no different. Follow up your interview by sending a small thank you note to the interviewers. Thank them for their time and remind them that you are interested in the position and what skills you bring to the table. A handwritten note can be much more personal, however, if your penmanship isn’t amazing, type the note and sign the letter with your signature.