What is a 'Cover Letter'
A cover letter is a written document submitted with a job application explaining the applicant's credentials and interest in the open position. Since a cover letter is often one of only two documents sent to a potential employer, a well- or poorly-written letter (or email) can impact whether the applicant will be called for an interview.
Breaking Down a Good 'Cover Letter'
A good cover letter complements a resume by expanding on resume items relevant to the job, and in essence, makes a sales pitch for why the applicant is the best person for the position. Career experts advise job seekers to spend time customizing each cover letter for the particular position, rather than using a generic missive. Although this requires extra effort, it can be very helpful in allowing an applicant to stand out above the competition.
Common Cover Letter Mistakes
A perfect resume is often sabotaged by a poorly thought-out or mistake-heavy cover letter. Whether you are including the letter as per required submission guidelines, or you simply want to emphasize your interest in the job, make sure that you avoid making these seven blunders. (For more, see 10 Resume Red Flags.)
- Getting Names Wrong
Although you are probably applying to a number of different jobs in your search, you obviously don't want to share this information with hiring managers; you want them to think their position is The One. But nothing screams "form letter" than to have the wrong company name or position on the cover letter, probably because you forgot to change it from the last job you applied for. This bit of carelessness is not only sloppy – it's probably the surest way to not get an interview.
- Restating Your Resume
The purpose of the cover letter is to identify your skills and explain how your previous experience is applicable to the desired position. Simply restating all of the facts on your resume, without going into an explanation of why your expertise and background are pertinent, defeats the purpose, and in fact makes it redundant. The cover letter has to build on the information presented on the resume, not just summarize it.
- Unreasonable Length
Keep your letter tight. Although you may have much useful information to offer, keep in mind that recruiters will often go through hundreds of applications. They simply do not have time to read through a three-page missive, even if you feel all of the information is important. The absolute maximum length for a cover letter, including the headings, should be one page. Typically, it should be shorter. (What changes when you're looking for a job online? Find out in 5 Tips For Finding Your Perfect Job Online.)
- Adding Unnecessary Information One trick to keeping the letter succinct: Focus on your relevant qualifications to the role. If applying for an accounting position, the fact that you have graphic-design skills should not be prime focal point. It's also best to leave off positive but personal things like your IQ – while undoubtedly important for any role, adding it to your cover letter is just plain weird. And recreational accomplishments, interests and hobbies are rarely worth mentioning, unless they relate in some way to the job or company: If applying to a sporting goods manufacturer, for example, saying that you're an avid golfer could add an interesting personal touch.
- Identifying Weaknesses
Speaking of unnecessary information: Talking about your shortcomings is not only complete waste of space, but also counterproductive. While "What are your greatest weaknesses?" is a common interview question, there's no reason to bring them up ahead of time. Your cover letter is all about identifying the strengths that make you so right for the role.
- Sounding Arrogant
Although you're trumpeting your strengths, try to ensure that your cover letter does not portray you as arrogant. Excessive overuse of the words "I", "me" or "my" can make you sound conceited (not to mention having a limited vocabulary and poor writing skills). Yes, the cover letter is ultimately about you and your accomplishments, but you have to find a way of saying "I'm the best" without actually saying it. (For more, see Top 8 Ways To Get Your Resume Thrown Out.)
- Spelling and Grammar Mistakes Typos and grammatical errors are a key issue, signaling you didn't even bother to proofread your own letter. And no, you can't rely on your computer's spelling and grammar checks – because it won't catch words that are correctly spelled, but incorrectly used (like "it's" and "its"). Also unprofessional-looking: typographical inconsistencies, like conveying a dash with "--" in one place and with "—" in another. This lack of attention to detail is frowned on, no matter what your field.
How to Write a Great Cover Letter
Your cover letter provides information to a prospective employer on who you are professionally. This includes your job interests, professional goals, knowledge and skills gained over the years, career goals, and achievements. The cover letter should be a one-page document that provides clear and concise details as to why you want the job. To create a great cover letter that will grab the reader’s attention, be sure to follow the following rules:
- Personalize Letter for Each Role
For each role that you apply to, whether within the same company or with different companies, personalize your letter to the advertised role. Your cover letter should not be generic. Not only include your strengths and skills, but also explain why you’re the perfect candidate for the job position. This means that for each job that you apply to, you have to write a new cover letter. The company wants to believe that you took the time to read about and understand the role. It may be tedious and time consuming to write multiple letters, but it will be worth it in the end.
- Include Contact Information
Ensure that your cover letter has the name of the individual hiring a candidate for the role. It could be a department manager or the HR lead. In any case, make sure you have information on who the hiring manager is by either checking the company’s website or calling in. This way, you can open the letter with a proper greeting. Be sure to add your contact information on your cover letter, even though it may already be included in your resume.
- Use Simple Words
You want to clearly communicate your worth and why you should be considered for the job position that you’re applying to. Using complex words and sentences would most certainly fail to convey your intentions with the company. If the manager or HR representative reading the letter cannot decipher your ‘big’ words, s/he will probably not bother with the rest of your application.
- Quantify Accomplishments
Remember that the cover letter should not rehash your resume, rather it should provide more information on areas on your resume that are relevant to the job that you are applying for. For these areas, be sure to quantify your accomplishments. For example, while your resume may state that you used a marketing analytics tool to drive more clients to sign up for your employer’s services, a cover letter will expatiate on this by adding that your strategy brought in an additional 200 clients monthly and increased revenue to $10,000. This way you can set yourself apart from the other job candidates with vague accomplishments.
After you’ve written the letter, proofread it multiple times to ensure that there are no typos or grammatical errors. Also, ask a trustworthy person to proofread as well and recommend any areas that should be added or excluded from the letter.
For other uses, see Résumé (disambiguation).
A résumé,[a] also spelled resume, is a document used by a person to present their backgrounds and skills. Résumés can be used for a variety of reasons, but most often they are used to secure new employment.
A typical résumé contains a "summary" of relevant job experience and education, as its French origin implies. The résumé is usually one of the first items, along with a cover letter and sometimes an application for employment, which a potential employer sees regarding the job seeker and is typically used to screen applicants, often followed by an interview.
The curriculum vitae (CV) used for employment purposes in the UK (and in other European countries) is more akin to the résumé—a shorter, summary version of one's education and experience—than to the longer and more detailed CV that is expected in U.S. academic circles.
Generally, the résumé is substantially shorter than a CV in English Canada, the U.S. and Australia.
In South Asian countries such as India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, biodata is often used in place of a résumé.
As has been indicated above, the word résumé comes from the French word résumé meaning "summary".Leonardo da Vinci is credited with the first résumé though his "résumé" takes the form of a letter written about 1481–1482 to a potential employer, Ludovico Sforza. For the next roughly 450 years, the résumé continued to be a mere description of a person, and included their abilities and past employment. In the early 1900s, résumés listed things like weight, height, marital status, and religion. It was not until 1950 that the résumé evolved into something more than words written on scraps of paper. By then, résumés were considered very much mandatory, and started to include things like personal interests and hobbies. It was not until the 1970s, the beginning of the digital age, that résumés took on a more professional look in terms of presentation and content.
In many contexts, a résumé is typically limited to one or two pages of size A4 or letter-size, highlighting only those experiences and qualifications that the author considers most relevant to the desired position. Many résumés contain keywords or skills that potential employers are looking for via applicant tracking systems, make heavy use of active verbs, and display content in a flattering manner. Acronyms and credentials after the applicant's name should be spelled out fully in the appropriate section of the resume, greater chance of being found in a computerized keyword scan. Résumés can vary in style and length, but should always contain accurate contact information of the job seeker.
A résumé is a marketing tool in which the content should be adapted to suit each individual job application or applications aimed at a particular industry. The transmission of résumés directly to employers became increasingly popular as late as 2002. Job seekers were able to circumvent the job application process and reach employers through direct email contact and résumé blasting, a term meaning the mass distribution of résumés to increase personal visibility within the job market. However, the mass distribution of résumés to employers can often have a negative effect on the applicant's chances of securing employment as the résumés tend not to be tailored for the specific positions the applicant is applying for. It is usually, therefore, more sensible to optimize the résumé for each position applied for and its keywords. In order to keep track of all experiences, keeping a 'master résumé' document is recommended, providing job-seekers with the ability to customize a tailored résumé while making sure extraneous information is easily accessible for future use if needed.
The complexity or simplicity of various résumé formats tends to produce results varying from person to person, for the occupation, and to the industry. Résumés or CVs used by medical professionals, professors, artists and people in other specialized fields may be comparatively longer. For example, an artist's résumé, typically excluding any non-art-related employment, may include extensive lists of solo and group exhibitions.
Résumés may be organized in different ways. The following are some of the more common résumé formats:
Reverse chronological résumé
A reverse chronological résumé lists a candidate's job experiences in chronological order, generally covering the previous 10 to 15 years. Positions are listed with starting and ending dates. Current positions on a résumé typically list the starting date to the present. The reverse chronological résumé format is most commonly used by those who are not professional résumé writers. In using this format, the main body of the document becomes the Professional Experience section, starting from the most recent experience and moving chronologically backwards through a succession of previous experience. The reverse chronological résumé works to build credibility through experience gained, while illustrating career growth over time and filling all gaps in a career trajectory. A chronological résumé is not recommended to job seekers with gaps in their career summaries. In the United Kingdom the chronological résumé tends to extend only as far back as the applicant's GCSE/Standard Grade qualifications.
A functional résumé lists work experience and skills sorted by skill area or job function.
The functional résumé is used to focus on skills that are specific to the type of position being sought. This format directly emphasizes specific professional capabilities and utilizes experience summaries as its primary means of communicating professional competency. In contrast, the chronological résumé format will briefly highlight these competencies prior to presenting a comprehensive timeline of career growth through reverse chronological listings, with the most recent experience listed first. The functional résumé works well for those making a career change, having a varied work history or with little work experience. A functional résumé is also preferred for applications to jobs that require very specific skills or clearly defined personality traits. A functional résumé is a good method for highlighting particular skills or experiences, especially when those particular skills or experiences may have derived from a role which was held some time ago. Rather than focus on the length of time that has passed, the functional résumé allows the reader to identify those skills quickly.
The hybrid résumé balances the functional and chronological approaches. A résumé organized this way typically leads with a functional list of job skills, followed by a chronological list of employers. The hybrid has a tendency to repeat itself and is, therefore, less widely used than the other two.
As the search for employment has become more electronic, it is common for employers to only accept résumés electronically, either out of practicality or preference. This has changed much about the manner in which résumés are written, read, and processed. Some career experts are pointing out that today a paper-based resume is an exception rather than the rule.
Many employers now find candidates' résumés through search engines, which makes it more important for candidates to use appropriate keywords when writing a résumé. Larger employers use Applicant Tracking Systems to search, filter, and manage high volumes of résumés. Job ads may direct applicants to email a résumé to a company or visit its website and submit a résumé in an electronic format.
Many employers, and recruitment agencies working on their behalf, insist on receiving résumés in a particular file format. Some require Microsoft Word documents, while others will only accept résumés formatted in HTML, PDF, or plain ASCII text.
Another consideration for electronic résumé documents is that they are parsed with natural language processors. Résumé parsers may correctly interpret some parts of the content of the résumé but not other parts. The best résumé parsers capture a high percentage of information regarding location, names, titles, but are less accurate with skills, industries and other less structured or rapidly changing data. Résumés written in a standard format are more likely to be correctly interpreted by résumé parsers, and thereby may make the candidate more findable.
One advantage for employers to online résumés is the significant cost saving compared to traditional hiring methods. Another is that potential employers no longer have to sort through massive stacks of paper.
Infographic, video and website résumés
As the Internet becomes more driven by multimedia, job-seekers have sought to take advantage of the trend by moving their résumés away from the traditional paper and email media.
Video, infographic, and even Vine résumés have gained popularity, though mainly in the creative and media industries.
This trend has attracted criticism from human resources management professionals, who warn that this may be a passing fad and point out that multimedia-based résumés may be overlooked by recruiters whose workflow is designed only to accommodate a traditional résumé format.
Many résumé development agencies offer résumé evaluation services wherein they evaluate the résumé and suggest any necessary changes. Candidates are free to either do those changes themselves or may take help of the agency itself. Some career fields include a special section listing the lifelong works of the author: for computer-related fields, the softography; for musicians and composers, the discography; for actors, a filmography.
Keeping résumés online has become increasingly common for people in professions that benefit from the multimedia and rich detail that are offered by an HTML résumé, such as actors, photographers, graphic designers, developers, dancers, etc. Job seekers are finding an ever-increasing demand to have an electronic version of their résumé available to employers and professionals who use Internet recruiting. Online résumé distribution services have emerged to allow job seekers to distribute their résumés to numerous employers of their choice through email.
Résumé as one part of a personal branding mix
In some sectors, particularly in the startup community, use of traditional résumé has seen a consistent decline. While standalone résumés are still used to apply for jobs, job-seekers may also view their résumés as one of a number of assets which form their personal brand and work together to strengthen their job application. In this scenario, résumés are generally used to provide a potential employer with factual information (e.g., achievements), while the social media platforms give insight into the job-seekers' motivations and personality.
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