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A cover letter serves three purposes: it accompanies your resume, introduces you, and generates employer interest in interviewing you.
The cover letter is as much of a marketing tool as the resume itself.
- It must have a good layout and design, be neat, concise, well organized, and follow an acceptable business letter format.
- It should consist of three paragraphs. It should be geared to solving a prospective employer’s problems.
- It should be accomplishment-based and contain new information that is not covered in the resume.
A well written resume is an effective marketing tool positioning you above your competition. Its primary function is to get you an interview. It needs to highlight your special skills and accomplishments, while being concise and visually appealing. It should be set up to catch the reader’s attention immediately as most resumes are given an average of 8-30 seconds on the first reading. It has to present enough information to convince the reader that you merit an interview and to give direction to the interview.
The Write Stuff
By Sally McIntosh.
Years ago no one needed a resume. All anyone had to do was fill out an application. The system worked. Right? Wrong. Employers started asking for one-page resumes to find out more about the prospective employee. That was enough. Right? Wrong.
Why didn’t the system work? Employers were not getting enough information with applications and, in many cases, with one-page resumes. Without enough of the right kind of information employers were not calling the right people to interview. They were hiring the wrong people. Hiring the right person for a job is costly to a company. There is much down time when a company has to advertise, interview, hire, and train a new employee. It takes some time for a new hire to get up to speed in the job. Then, if a company hires the wrong person the down time is compounded.
Today employers are looking for a lot of information in a resume. Of course, they want to know who you have worked for and for how long. But what else are they looking for?
Summary of Qualifications. Why are you qualified to do a particular job? What makes you unique? Why should you be hired over someone else? What skills do you have for the position?
Job Description. Don’t tell them what they already know. If you are a forklift driver they know that you can drive a forklift. Did you train others? How well did you drive that forklift? Did you contribute positively to the company safety standards? Were you able to keep up with the production or packing lines? Were you able to store the product in the right places? The list of possible information is endless.
Education. Did you graduate from high school or college? Do you have an advanced degree or certification? Do you have any additional training or continuing education? Are you computer literate? Can you speak or read a foreign language? There are lots of things that can go under education.
Do you belong to any professional associations or are you involved in your community? Do you hold any positions in those organizations? Do you coach Little League? Do you volunteer at the Women’s Crisis Center? This is the “write stuff” to include in your resume. A prospective employer is much more likely to interview the person he knows the most about. With this type of information in your resume, you are most likely the one who will be contacted for an interview.
I have the expertise to prepare scannable and e-mail resumes as well as those for Internet database use. I can give you an effective resume to assist you in gaining the success you deserve. It takes two to write a resume – one with the expertise and the other with the information that needs to be effectively presented.
Does everyone need a reference page? No. Then why have one? Because it makes you look professional, organized, and serious about your job search.
Envision this. You are finishing up an interview and it seems to be going well. The interviewer says to you, “Do you have some references we could contact?” You say, “Sure. Do you have a piece of paper? My friend said I could use him.” You start writing and then you say, “Uh, do you have a phone book? I can’t remember John’s address.”
Or try this. You are finishing up an interview and it seems to be going well. The interviewer says to you, “Do you have some references we could contact?” You say, “Sure. Let me get it out of my briefcase.” You hand the interviewer a typed list of all of your references. Cool huh? VERY professional.
What goes on a reference page? You need to include three to five business references. Who should serve as your references? Anyone you were employed by who can honestly attest to your work habits. This eliminates your neighbor, your minister, and your brother-in-law. If you are with a company that does not permit supervisors to serve as references, try to find a coworker or a former supervisor who has left the company. Make sure that whomever you use, he will say only nice things about you. If you are in doubt, do not use him.
How should I list them? You need to provide their title and all contact information – addresses as well as phone numbers. Most companies will telephone your references. It is quicker than using the mail and, normally, they can get more information about you. Put your best reference first. There has to be a direct correlation between the references and the jobs listed on the resume. If someone was your supervisor at ABC Company and is no longer there you need to tell the reader: John Smith, Foreman, DEF Company (formerly Supervisor, ABC Company). You need to show the direct link.
Be sure that you get a copy of your resume to all of your references. It makes them better and more targeted if they can see what you put on the resume for the job they are attesting to. It may have been a few years ago and they do not remember everything that you did. This way you have refreshed their memories and they are not going to say something contrary to what is in the résumé. Make your references count.
You have to add up your total compensation package of cash and extras. There is a difference between take home pay and a total compensation package. Put your salary in its best light.
Take your base pay + estimated bonus + next raise (if soon) + the value of your extras (company auto plus mileage per year + matching contribution to company sponsored retirement plan + life and health insurance + any other company compensation or benefits) = Your Compensation Package.
Give your salary history on a separate sheet of paper or in your cover letter, but never in the resume. Use the same heading as your cover letter and/or resume. No matter what an employer asks for, you can always give him less. Some people give information only on their last job or the last ten years. Normally salary tables give each employer’s name, followed by your title, dates of employment, and ending salary:
XYZ Company, Denver, Colorado, 1990-1998 Store Manager Salary: $47,000 plus incentives and bonus
Another way of handling it is to say something in your cover letter:
“Base salary was in the mid 40s, plus a good benefits package and bonus – amounting to considerably more.”
Salary data is considered by many to be exclusionary. That means it will be used to eliminate you from consideration – unless you are underpaid and applying to a new employer who wants to underpay you. If you make too much, then he will think that you would be unhappy with his company. If you make too little he will undervalue your claimed experience and skills. If you used to make more than you do now, he will think you are a poor risk. If you are comfortable providing salary information then give it but if you are not, you are not alone.
You should avoid providing any salary information before an interview; then let them bring up the topic first. Respond to any questions about your salary requirements with a question about their salary. “What range did you have in mind for this position?” Always negotiate salaries in person and whenever possible delay the negotiations until they have made you a solid job offer.
An offer is just that. It isn’t necessarily written in stone and can more often than not be negotiated. If the salary is a bit too low, perhaps they’ll consider an early salary review or a raise after six months. If benefits start after three months of employment, perhaps they might waive the three months or maybe pay for your private benefit plans until you go on theirs. As for vacation, this is usually a fixed policy, but not as fixed as it may seem. Many times (especially at the management level) the waiting period for the third or fourth week is waived. Also find out how much vacation you’re entitled to in the first year. That may also be negotiable.
Always submit a letter of resignation.
Deliver it the same day that you verbally inform your boss that you will be leaving. It will document the fact that you are leaving and verify that you did, in fact, notify your employer well ahead of time. Date the letter of resignation and give the exact date of your last day at work there. Say nice things about the company and thank them for the opportunities you received there. This is not the time to vent anger and hostility. You may need them as a reference in the future. Send it directly to your boss but also send a copy to your Personnel Department.
I can assist in drafting your resignation letter so you will leave on a high note.
Sometimes people are more than willing to write a letter of recommendation for you but do not know what to put in it. You can help them and yourself by reading on.
The letter should consist of three paragraphs written on company stationary. The writer of the letter of recommendation needs to demonstrate his credentials. How was her position relative to you? How long did he have direct contact with you? How closely did he supervise or observe you? The writer should then address your job responsibilities, skills, judgment, work habits, productivity, and business knowledge. It can end with a suggestion to telephone for more information.
When should I use a letter of recommendation? You can take copies of them with you to an interview. You can put them in a binder in plastic sheet protectors to show to an interviewer.
How much weight do they carry? Let’s face it, the only letters of recommendation that you will show to anyone are good ones. Interviewers know this. They still prefer to contact your references personally. However, in the event that you have lost track of supervisors from a long time ago, it is a good idea to obtain letters of reference throughout your working career.
If an ad reads as follows, do I need to supply everything?
WANTED. Full-time customer service rep. Must be proficient in Word and Excel and possess excellent communication skills. Submit résumé, references, salary history, and salary requirements.
You need to submit a résumé. A cover letter would help. It is one more opportunity to promote yourself for the position. To submit references at this time is counterproductive. You do not want to deal with a prospective employer who would call your references prior to interviewing you. To submit salary requirements now is meaningless. How do you know what your salary requirements are if you have not had the opportunity to talk with the prospective employer about the job requirements? A better idea is to say, in your cover letter, that you will provide this information when you have found out more about the job, or at interview.
Now salary history is another topic unto itself. To willingly give your salary history is akin to shooting yourself in the foot. If you have a strong enough résumé you do not ever need to submit your salary history. Maybe you are grossly underpaid now and are looking for a new position to better your pay. You definitely do not want to let them know what you are currently making or what you have made in the past unless you want to be underpaid again. On the other hand, maybe you are currently making far more than this position pays but like the sound of the company or like the location and are willing to take less in compensation. Either way, you do not want to divulge your salary history. Companies that ask for salary history are asking for it to eliminate you from consideration. Unless you know exactly what they are going pay you will come in either too high or too low. Employers rarely get everything they ask for.
Some recruiters deliberately ask for references, salary history, and salary requirements just to see how job savvy the candidates are.
Cringe. An interview. Ugh! Guess what? Most interviewers feel the same way. Very few people who actually do interviewing have little, if any, training or background in it.
So now what do you do? You take the lead or the initiative. It is up to you to get enough information on the table so that you will be the person who is hired. It is up to you to keep the interview targeted on what you need to tell them so they can make a good hiring decision. A bad hiring decision does not benefit anyone. It is not to the company’s advantage to make the wrong decision. Remember you need to develop topics that are of interest to the company. They do not care what you want.
They do care what you can do for them. You need to figure out what information you want them to hear. It does not matter if you are an hourly line worker or the president of a company. Once you come up with six or eight questions you need to develop a two to three minute sound bite on each of them and include an accomplishment for each topic. For example, maybe you want them to know that you have contributed to the company’s safety record. You would tell them that in seven years you have never had an accident. This is an accomplishment. You would then go on to tell them how you have avoided accidents in the workplace, that you served on the Safety Committee, and that you made thus and so recommendations to the company that were acted on. Now you have a nice, neat little package to present at the interview. Practice it over and over again until it sounds natural. Practice on friends and family. Remember, your next job is depending on your presentation.
Always arrive ten minutes before the scheduled time for the interview. Come prepared with at least five extra copies of your résumé to distribute at the interview. There is no guarantee that the interviewer will have your résumé in front of him or that he even read it. You never know how many people will be involved in the interview. Don’t forget to bring your list of references and maybe even a well done portfolio (scrapbook) of your noteworthy job activities.
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