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A Good Cover Letter Can Help You Stand Out

By Amy Nielsen

When your skills can fit the job descriptions of multiple industries, your resume will look disjointed at best, and unreliable at worst. This is where the art of the cover letter comes into play.  

My particular superpower is logistics. I can organize cats to march out of a paper bag in nice neat lines, in any industry, as long as I know what or who needs to go where and when. To that end I have worked in industries as disparate as a theater, a water treatment lab and a school kitchen.

What ties all of my work experience together is the ability to logically and quickly see the bigger picture or pattern and identify the flow, where it is ebbing and where it is hitting rapids. Then I smooth out those kinks so everything ends up where it is supposed to be, when it is scheduled to be there.

Applying online is the norm now. But, that online application is rarely going to get you the job. We are in a world that may seem based in our technology, but when push comes to shove, you get the job when your personality, and abilities, are noticed. A well-constructed cover letter can be the foot in the door that moves your resume from the ‘never in a million years pile’ to the ‘how soon can we get her started?’ pile.

How to say enough without oversharing in that letter is the issue. Human resource personnel don’t have time, and won’t the take the time, to read pages and pages of your most beautifully written life story. Save that for your memoirs. What you do need to convey is how your experience can benefit their business.

In order to be clear and concise in the cover letter, first learn as much as you can about the company. First and foremost, learn the name of the direct supervisor or reporting manager you would be working under. Address the letter to them, not to the HR staff, as this person will be hiring you or working with you on a daily basis. All it takes is a quick web search or call to the company.

In my own cover letter, I have a varied job history that spans multiple duty stations and careers. To describe my abilities, I chose to use one paragraph per year to describe the salient points pertaining to the job from that year.

Also, I have several years of unemployment on my resume. I was a stay-at-home mom raising my two girls. I was not sitting on my tush eating bon bons. However, it behooves me to explain that during those years I was very active in our Compass Team, an international peer to peer mentoring organization for Navy Spouses. Volunteer work is just as important and often says a lot more about you as a person than your specific work history.

Work history listed on your resume only tells the hiring company so much. Every industry uses similar terms for hierarchy, but those positions can have vastly different responsibilities. Listing your title as “manager” tells me that you were responsible for something, but not who, what or how you were responsible. A good cover letter can drill down into the how of the jobs you have held and allows you to briefly explain your successes as a manager. It becomes a spring board for later conversations at the interview process. It sets you apart.

So when applying for a new job, stretch your wings in your cover letter. It’s the place to shine and show your personality. It needs to be professional, concise, and grammatically correct. There is nothing worse than bad grammar or spelling in a cover letter. So make sure someone else reads it over, out loud. Then send it off.

Always follow up with a phone call to make sure it was received and ask if they need any information to complete your file. This gives them the chance to ask for references or letters of recommendation. I do not send these with the cover letter and resume, I wait for the HR staff to ask me for them, but I always offer to send them in, both in the cover letter and again when I call.

If you’ve been out of the workplace or are changing careers or even looking for something new in your current field, write out a cover letter to complement your resume, not to compliment your potential new employer. It will help set you apart from the hordes of applicants who are not as shiny as you.

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