A cover letter is essentially a hand shake—your chance to introduce yourself.
The cover letter should be written specifically for each position because it is critical that the information be tailored to the job you are applying for. In three or four paragraphs, you will state the position you are applying for and how you heard about it, tell what skills you have and how those will benefit the company and declare your desire for a job interview.
When creating your cover letter, here are some guidelines to follow:
Employers expect a resume. There’s no way to get around it. You should get started now so that you have a strong resume when opportunity knocks.
The purpose of the resume is to interest an employer enough that they will interview you. A resume should highlight your skills and achievements, while making clear what contributions you can make to the company. Everything included in your application materials, including the resume, should be focused on the employer and what you can do for them. Don’t expect the employer to “read between the lines” or take the time to decipher what you’re trying to say. Be clear and concise.
Get started by documenting your experience, skills and accomplishments. Use data sheets to begin the process. Write down everything you remember about a job. It will be useful when constructing your resume.
After writing down absolutely everything you can think of, start sorting through the information. Think about the skills and techniques you used to accomplish tasks. Which of those skills, techniques and accomplishments are most appropriate for the position? Get a copy of the appropriate job description and customize your resume.
Once you have an idea about the skills, techniques and accomplishments you want to include, start formulating some bullet points. Bullet points should begin with action verbs and speak to your skills, responsibilities and accomplishments that you have to offer the employer. They should not be complete sentences. In fact, there should not be any complete sentences on your resume.
The format of your resume is important as it needs to be easy to follow and flow well as you don’t want the reader (employer) to struggle. When formatting, look at it through the eyes of an employer. Utilize bullet points so information is easy to find.
In addition, try to keep your resume to one page if possible. If you have a lot of relevant information, then it is okay to go onto a second page. Your resume should never be more than two pages long.
It is crucial that you have at least three people proofread your resume. Choose people who have strong spelling and grammar skills and that you can trust to be honest. Spelling and grammar errors on a resume can lead to it being thrown in the trash.
Your contact information should appear in exactly the same format at the top of each page in your application packet (cover letter, resume and references). Your contact information should include the following:
Guidelines for Your Contact Information:
The objective should be short and include the name of the position. An ideal objective tells the employer exactly what you are applying for.
Objective: Customer Service Representative at company XYZ.
The Summary of Qualifications section should include 5-8 bullet points of the most important information an employer should know about you. Speak to the specific skills and qualifications you have that make you the perfect candidate for the job. If you have previous experience in the field or specialized training in a certain aspect of the job, list it here. Again, use bullet points that begin with action verbs.
Your education information should include the following:
Guidelines for Your Education Information:
This section not only tells the reader where you worked, but gives you the chance to really sell your skills. Your experience information should include the following:
Guidelines for Your Experience Information:
Transferable skills are skills you have acquired during various activities and aspects in your life that are transferable and applicable to your job search. In other words, they are skills that you already have that you can use in your new field of work or in the job position you are applying for. Don’t forget the skills that you use at your current job as well. Just because it may be a different line of work than the position you are applying for doesn’t mean another employer will not benefit.
Even though you may not realize it, you have a plethora of skills that you use daily, such as time management, leadership, multi-tasking, and so on.
IDENTIFYING TRANSFERABLE SKILLS
This process begins by reflecting on all of your relevant experiences that may include work experience, academics, extracurricular activities, and life experiences. When identifying your transferable skills, consider these categories:
Many of these categories are used in jobs that you will be applying for. Therefore, it would be to your benefit to include the skills you possess in these categories in your cover letter and on your resume.
Use the transferable skills worksheet to help you identify the skills you have used in previous positions and choose the skills that you would use in the job you are applying for. Use these when creating your cover letter and resume to demonstrate you are qualified for the position. When preparing for an interview, practice giving examples of situations in which you used these skills.
There are several additional headings that can be included on your resume. You must consider your personal situation and determine if any of the additional headings are appropriate for you. Just remember to format these sections in the same way you do the rest of your resume.
Certain items should not be included on resume and could negatively impact your chances of securing a position. Items not to include are:
References are people who can attest to your qualifications as an employee as well as your character and personality traits as a person. References give an opportunity for employers to learn more about you as a person by what the reference does and does not say. People who serve as references are often very open with the information they share.
This is the best part – you get to pick your references. You need to find three to five people who will speak positive of you. It is very important that you ask people if they are willing to serve as a reference so that they have time to think and prepare what they will say. To help them best prepare, provide them with a copy of your resume, tell them where you are applying and let them know what kind of jobs you’re interested in.
You should have two sets of references, personal and professional. Each set should include three to five people. Family members should not be used as references.
Good personal references are long-time friends, coaches, team members, peer volunteers and members of organizations you are affiliated with. These people should know you well enough to provide good insight into your personality and overall character.
Good professional references are instructors, past and present employers/supervisors, select co-workers and internship supervisors. These people should be able to speak on your technical ability to perform the job duties, how quickly you learn new tasks, your attention to detail and the likelihood if they would hire you again if they had the chance.
References are listed on their own page – one page for professional references and one for personal references. It is customary to send references with your application packet, and you must send them whenever requested in a job posting.
Letters of recommendation are wonderful and should be kept as part of your portfolio. Copies of the letters can also be forwarded with your application material. However, they cannot stand alone. Even if you provide written recommendations you will still need to provide a list of references that a potential employer can contact on their own.
Career portfolios will allow you to present tangible items that display your capabilities and qualifications to employers. Building a career portfolio is a process; one that allows you to evaluate your personal and professional experiences as well as your future professional goals, discover your strengths and weaknesses, and gain confidence to be more prepared for interviews. All of which will ultimately land you a job!
A working portfolio is a collection of all of your work that you continue to add to and update over time. The following items are suggested for your working portfolio:
To create your working portfolio, start by gathering all possible items that demonstrate your abilities, achievements, assets, creativity, personality, and such. Organize these items in a logical order and make it easily accessible so that you can quickly pull documents from it when job opportunities arise.
An interview portfolio is a three ring binder with tabbed pages encompassing only the items pertinent to the job you are applying for. Just as resumes should be tailored to each position you apply for, so too should your portfolio. Customizing your portfolio will show a potential employer that you understand and possess the qualities needed to get the job done. Include three to four samples in each skill area you select to promote in your portfolio. Using your interview portfolio in an interview will present a visual picture of your qualifications and will help an employer remember who you are. The following items are suggested for your interview portfolio:
If items from your working portfolio become relevant to an interview, you will pull them from your working portfolio and place them into your interview portfolio.