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Friday, March 20, 2009

7 Steps to Writing Effective Cover Letters

A cover letter can be the ultimate compliment to your resume. With an effective and well-written letter, you can impress future employers with details that cannot always be found in the resume. Also, a cover letter may just be the reason your resume is even read. Employers are likely to ignore resumes that are unaccompanied. A cover letter makes it stand out.

However, for a cover letter to work, it must follow certain rules and meet certain standards. Below, you will find tips to help you meet those standards. By following these suggestions, you can perfect the necessary art of writing a cover letter.

1. Take Your Time

A cover letter is essential to your job seeking process; however, many overlook it or, worse, devote all of the energy to their resume and then throw together the cover letter as an afterthought. This is not wise: Employers read the cover letter first. Do you want their first impression of you to be a messy and obviously strewn-together letter? Of course, not! You want it to be professional; so, take your time. Allow equal proportions of time to be spent on both the resume and cover letter; they are both important and deserve equal attention.

2. Be Concise

Potential employers want to read your cover letter; they do not, however, want to read a novel. You must keep your letter simple and to the point—within a one-page limit, you have little room to maneuver. Use your space wisely. Offer important and necessary details, things that cannot be found in the resume. You have to make an impression in a short amount of time so make it count. Brevity is best.

3. Find Your Style

Cover letters allow you to reveal your personality in a way that resumes cannot. While a resume is impersonal and factual, a cover letter can be laced with humor and style. When you write your letter, find a friendly, yet still-professional tone. Make the reader want to meet you. A cover letter is a first impression; make it an enticing one.

4. The Name Game

When possible, address your letter to the person who will be interviewing you. This will accomplish two things: 1. Give a sense of familiarity between you and the reader. 2. Show that you did your research on the company. Still, remember to keep it professional. Do not address the reader as “Sarah”; call her “Ms. Smith”. If it is not possible to determine who will be interviewing you, keep your titles more generic.

5. Turn The Focus On Them

Do not start all of your sentences with “I” or “My”. This creates a self-focused letter. Instead, try to begin your sentences with “You” or “Your”; this allows the employer to see that you are wanting to work for them, not yourself. With a little research to discover what the company is seeking for that position, you can focus on the needs of your employer. Explain what you can do for them; don’t ask what they can offer you.

6. Originality Counts

Show employers that you can step out of typical boundaries and create your own ideas. Try to keep away from standard formatting and see what best suits you. Include details that, while perhaps not always included in the usual letter, can showcase your strengths.

7. Proofread

The final step in writing a cover letter is to read and reread. Check for spelling errors and grammatical mistakes. While writing a cover letter gives you an advantage over those who do not, a poorly written one will make you seem worse by comparison.

These 7 steps may seem obvious, but many people ignore them; put yourself ahead of the competition. Follow these suggestions and create the perfect cover letter.


Thursday, March 05, 2009

10 Ways to Ruin a Job Interview

1. Complaining about the parking or directions.
Don't think it doesn't happen! As cordial and happy-go-lucky as your interviewers may seem, they don't want to hear a job-seeker complain that the place was hard to find or that the parking is inconvenient. The best (that is, the worst) example of this I ever experienced as an HR person came from the candidate who said, "Seven handicapped parking spaces next to the front door? What, are you having a wheelchair convention or something?"

2. Bad-mouthing your previous job, manager, or company.
If you've been laid off or suffered some other unpleasant experience at your last job, it's easy to launch into a litany of everything the old employer did wrong. Don't do it! The interviewer is bound to wonder "Will this person be bashing me behind my back on some future interview, too?" Zip it.

3. Digging into details off the bat.
The typical selection process allows plenty of time for you to learn everything you need to know about the company's dental plan, its tuition-reimbursement policy, and the size of your cubicle. Don't ask about any of these items on a first interview, when you should be focusing the conversation on the role and the organization.

4. Groveling.
Employers want to hire people who can do the jobs and who are enthusiastic about the work. What's not so appealing is the candidate whose every word and gesture conveys the message, "Hire me, I beg you!" Joblessness is no fun, but you don't help your chances of getting the nod by presenting yourself as a candidate whose most notable attribute is desperation.

5. Answering a question before you understand it.
The absolute worst answer to any interview question is the response that shows you weren't really listening. When an interviewer asks a question that requires thought, like, "Tell me about a time when you had to convince a team of people to change gears," you don't want to blurt out, "Oh, I've done that a million times!" Any "tell me about a time when" question is a question that the interviewer has chosen to elicit a specific problem/solution story from you. Take the time to think through the question and compose a thoughtful answer. A few minutes of silence in the room won't kill anybody.

6. Spacing out.
Any interviewer worth her salt will be able tell when you've zoned out. If you're wondering whether the 5:40 train will get you home in time to watch the playoff game, the interviewer will spot it in your eyes. If you're really out of it, he may throw you a curve ball like, "So, who would you say was the most effective member of Teddy Roosevelt's cabinet, and why?" Stay in the room, with your eyes either meeting the interviewer's or looking thoughtfully at the ceiling. Or your shoes.

7. Slouching.
We'll throw in tipping the chair back off its front legs, resting your head on your hand, and lacing your fingers together behind your head.

8. Cursing.
Interviewers love to put job candidates at ease. When you reach the state of ease that lets an "f-bomb" escape your lips, you've gone too far.

9. "Opening the kimono."
It's tempting to share with a sympathetic interviewer the news that this job search has been really hard, that you're not getting callbacks, and that you've already sent out 150 resumes. Don't do it. Smart job candidates put out a vibe that says, "I'm glad to be here with you and this job might be fun, but I'm a capable person who's aware of his value on the job market."

10. Doing anything disgusting.
The long list of personal gross factors includes picking one's teeth or nose, spitting, and other unmentionables that are best left to the imagination. Any of these is a sure-fire interview-killer (and can we really blame the employer for that?). One candidate asked me for a cup of water, took a sip, swished it around in his mouth, and spat into a potted plant. Niiiiiice!