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Tips for Writing a Stand Out Cover Letter

Dear Joan:

I would like your advice on the best strategy to use for a cover letter. I am concerned because I have a gap in my resume and have recently been laid off.

I went to school originally to become a chemist. After I had children, I became a stay-at-home mom. I became a stay-at-home mom because I had a child with special needs.

I thought that combining my technical background with additional teaching certifications would allow me to keep things running smoothly at home and yet have a stable career. This year there were only a handful of teaching positions that were open, so I am pursuing other positions in post- secondary education, as well as any other positions that I have the qualifications for. I have solid references and have a great skill set. I have not had one interview, so I am looking for ideas to catch the eye of an employer, so I can get to the next step of an interview.

I would appreciate any suggestions you have. Thank you so much! I appreciate your advice.

Answer:

The best technique for making your cover letter stand out is to treat it as a marketing letter. The content of the cover letter is very important, since it needs to be customized to the opening and the company. A good cover letter also differentiates you from the competition. It should make a compelling impact. For instance, start out with one of your best qualifications: “If you are looking for a dynamic, results-oriented educator, who has built a successful track record, please consider me for your XYZ position, listed in the…. ” Another example: “I was very interested to learn about the opening for a project specialist at ACME Chemical, because I have a strong, successful track record that appears to match your requirements exactly.”

Next, include three of your top results statements and set them off with bullet points, so they stand out. For example:

The next paragraph should tell the employer why you want to work for them. (Be sure and check out their web page first, for data you can use.)

“Your organization, The Learning Academy, has a strong reputation for interactive, multi-disciplinary education, which is extremely attractive to me. My experience in a multi-disciplinary environment has produced excellent results, and I’m eager to join a team with that philosophy.” Finally, wrap up with a summary of your work experience, leaving off dates and just hitting the high points of interest to the employer.

When you submit a cover letter and resume online, it’s best to put your cover letter in the body of the email and not make it an attachment.

If the advertised position requests that you submit your salary requirements on your cover letter, don’t just say, “Negotiable,” or you may not be considered. The employer is trying to determine if they can afford you. They don’t want to go through the time and energy of an interview, only to discover that you want more money than they can afford. On the other hand, you want to position yourself so you can negotiate for a high enough salary.

When an employer asks for a “salary history” they really don’t mean for you to list every salary you’ve ever earned. In fact, you don’t even have to tell them what you were making on your last job. For example, if you are a career changer moving from a lower paying field into a higher paying one, you risk looking too cheap and consequently, inexperienced, if you list your last salary. To counter this problem, simply state a general amount you are looking for. For instance, “I’m seeking a salary in the 40’s, but this depends on the total compensation package,” will give the employer an idea of what you want, while at the same time, giving you room to negotiate. Mentioning the total compensation package lets them know that you are willing to go up or down, if the mix of benefits and perks fits your needs.

Don’t worry too much about your gaps early in your career, or the fact that you’ve been laid off. So many people are in the same boat, the stigma is diminishing. If you use your cover letter as a marketing piece that matches your skills to their requirements, you should start getting calls for interviews.

But I’d be remiss if I didn’t also suggest that you step up your networking. The majority of jobs are still landed through who you know. If you are only relying on the Internet, you are at a serious disadvantage.

- Joan Lloyd

Joan Lloyd has a solid track record of excellent results. Her firm, Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding. This includes executive coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, customized leadership & presentation skills training, team assessment and teambuilding and retreat facilitation. Joan also provides consulting skills training for HR professionals. Clients report results such as: behavior change in leaders, improved team performance and a more committed workforce. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (800) 348-1944, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.joanlloyd.com

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