Cover Letter or Cover Email


Anita,

Can you settle a question for me? If applying for a job via email, is the email itself the cover letter or do I have to think up something else to say in a separate cover letter that I attach?

Email_Resume_300Dear, Covering Your Bases,

If you are applying for an open position you found through Craigslist, a company website or some other avenue that requests that you apply to an email address, your email IS your cover letter. There is no need to reinvent the wheel and create a separate cover letter attachment (just remember to attach your résumé!).

If you are applying through a job board such as CareerBuilder.com, Monster.com or Indeed.com, you may have the option to apply with your résumé only without a cover letter. DO NOT SKIP THE COVER LETTER! (Can you hear me shouting?) You may not feel you are good with words, but if you don’t include a cover letter, you’ll appear apathetic to the hiring professional.

Man Applying for a Job on the InternetNo matter whether you email or attach the cover letter, spend a bit of time tailoring it for the specific job. A generic “In response to your ad for yada yada yada” is more likely to produce a yawn than an interview. Customize each cover letter/email using the following advice:

  • Inject some personality and enthusiasm.
  • Address a person by name, if possible, rather than “Dear Hiring Manager” or the outdated “To Whom It May Concern.” It’s often a snap (or a couple of clicks) to find the name of the person hiring by searching LinkedIn or the company’s website.
  • Mention the specific employment opportunity for which you are applying. Companies may be hiring for several open positions.
  • Keep it short. Don’t include your life story, and don’t rehash irrelevant experience.
  • Outline how you match the qualifications using keywords from the job listing. Bullet points make it easy for busy hiring managers to skim.
  • Highlight the ways you can help the company. Review the Pain Points Letter.
  • Close with a proactive request for an interview.

The cover letter is to the résumé what the back cover synopsis is to the book – an enticement to delve in and read more.

Readers: What’s your best opening line for your cover letter?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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Sharing the Pain

Dear Anita,

My job is the biggest royal pain. Can you help me get a better one?

Woman in painDear, Complaint Queen,

According to research conducted by SERMO, yours truly actually has one of the top 10 most painful jobs. Yes, that’s right. Writers and journalists rank up there with construction workers, truck drivers, and those on the production line. (Mechanics, gardeners/landscapers, athletes, firefighters, lawyers, and IT professionals round out the top 10.)

But instead of focusing on our pain on the job, try targeting a hiring manager’s daily discomforts – and how you, above all others, can help relieve his or her troubles. A few years ago, Liz Ryan, CEO of Human Workplace, trademarked the idea of a Pain Letter. This is the opposite of the generic cover letter (no more “Dear HR, I saw your ad and am applying for the open position. Blah, blah, blah.”).

The first step in writing a Pain Letter is to research the company. Use LinkedIn to find the hiring manager’s name.

Secondly, congratulate the manager and/or the company for a recent accomplishment (which may also be gleaned from LinkedIn or Google research). Ryan calls this the “Hook.”

Next, determine what keeps this manager up at night, and outline the “Pain Hypothesis.” Ryan gave this example for an imaginary Payroll Specialist in Forbes:

I can imagine that hiring as many people as you are, keeping tabs on payroll issues might be a constant challenge. With regulations constantly changing, it’s not easy to keep everyone paid correctly and well-informed in a growing company.

Then, include your “Dragon-Slaying Story,” describing specifically how you handled similar pain in your current or previous position.

When I ran the payroll system at Angry Chocolates, I kept the payroll accurate and in compliance and answered dozens of employee questions every day while we grew from 15 to 650 staff members.

Keep the letter brief, closing simply:

If payroll accuracy and advice to your team is on your radar screen, I’d love to chat when it’s convenient. All the best, Nancy Drew

Readers: How do you focus on alleviating the hiring manager’s business pains in your cover letter?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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Mr., Mrs., Ms.? How about Mx.?

Dear Miss/Mrs./Ms. Anita,

I never know which salutation to use on my cover letter. “To whom it may concern” seems so old school. Sometimes when an email is provided for résumé submission, the first name is not given, only an initial. So I don’t know whether to use Dear Mr. X or Dear Ms. X. What’s the best solution?

Dear, How Do You Do… the Greeting?

When responding to a job posting, do a little research. If the email is in a firstinitial.lastname@companyname.com format, search Avatars of silhouettes with different hairstyles.LinkedIn or Google for the surname + company name to sleuth out the first name and hopefully gender of the hiring manager. If no photo is available and the name is a gender-ambiguous – Terry or Riley or some such – “Dear Terry Smith” or “Dear Riley Jones” will keep you from offending your potential employer. If the email is a vague HR@businessname.com and your research doesn’t let you narrow down the one person to whom you are submitting your application, or if you are uploading your cover letter to an impersonal online application, use “Dear Hiring Manager,” to avoid gender mistakes.

Dictionary.com just added some new words to its lexicon, among them the gender-neutral prefix Mx.

Mx.: a title of respect prefixed to a person’s surname; unlike Mr., Mrs., or Ms., it does not indicate gender and may be used by a person with any or no specific gender identity.

I haven’t seen this used often yet, so Mx. could be construed as a typo by the reader. You may want to include a hyperlink to the definition to help educate and encourage usage of the new label.

If the Mx. salutation gets you to the interview stage, be sure you are looking fleek (another new slang term meaning “flawlessly styled and groomed”).

Readers: Have you seen or personally used the new Mx. title used in a salutation?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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The Dreaded Salary Requirement Conundrum

Anita,

Why don’t employers put the pay rate or salary in their job postings? It would sure save everyone on both sides a lot of time. I never know what to put when the ad says to include your salary requirements. I don’t want to ask for way too much and blow my chance to even get an interview. But if they pay more than I am used to, I don’t want to cheat myself either. What do you suggest?

Dear, Waging War,

Many employers choose not to list salary ranges. Candidates will almost always negotiate for the high end of the range and if they don’t get the max, they may end up with lingering resentment. Another consideration for large employers hiring nationwide is the wide discrepancy in costs of living. A yearly salary of $50K in San Francisco won’t provide much buying power, but the same salary in a Detroit suburb may provide a middle class lifestyle.

If salary requirements are requested in a job posting, be sure to comply or risk looking like an applicant who can’t follow instructions or does not pay attention to detail. But, just like you shouldn’t bring up salary at the beginning of the interview process, wait until after you sell yourself in the cover letter. Then, include a salary range instead of just one number. Remember, this is a negotiation, not a demand. If you really won’t accept less than say $40,000, state your salary range is between $41,000-$46,000. (I prefer non-rounded numbers; it sounds like you really figured out what you’re worth and what you need to cover your expenses. And you did research comparable positions on Salary.com, Payscale.com, or Glassdoor, right?)

You may be able to avoid giving a number with a phrase such as, “My salary requirements are negotiable based on the position and the total compensation offered, including benefits.” Remember when negotiating that perks such as holidays/vacation time/PTO, flex-time, company-paid professional development opportunities or even bringing your dog to work can make a job offer more attractive than salary alone.

The salary discussion is always fraught with tension, but look at it this way: If you really need a certain wage, why waste time interviewing for a position that won’t even pay the bills?

Readers: Do you have a strategy for the salary requirement question on a job application or during an interview?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

Subscribe to receive weekly emails with career tips and advice for job seekers, employed people, and managers and supervisors.

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Show Your “Soft” Side on Your Résumé

Dear, Anita,

I recently heard the term “adaptive skills” and that I should add these to my résumé. What are they, exactly?

Dear, Mad Skillz,

In human resources jargon, an adaptive skill is a general skill necessary to succeed at any job. More commonly referred to as “soft skills,” these are subjective personal qualities and abilities that are more difficult to quantify than “hard skills” or such job-specific occupational skills as typing speed, forklift certification, or event management, to give a random sampling. Sometimes there is a third category – transferable skills, which are abilities you can perform in different environments. Think of it this way:
– Soft Skills are “I AM” skills such as reliability, cooperation,  positive attitude, and friendliness.
– Hard Skills are “I KNOW” skills such as web design, foreign languages, or accounting practices.
– Transferable Skills are “I CAN” skills such as researching, teaching, or budgeting.
To pinpoint adaptive abilities you can boast about, check out this expansive list of soft skills at About Careers.

Soft skills concept on whiteMany soft skills are more visible in the interview process, but you have to actually land that interview to show off your enthusiasm, verbal communication skills, or artistic flair. A cover letter may be the best place to highlight those nebulous adaptive skills. Some companies don’t read cover letters though.  While you definitely want to hit the hard skills the employer is looking for when you tailor your résumé, be sure to include soft skills here too. Whenever possible, back up soft skills with hard facts. Quantify your accomplishments using time frames, number of people, and/or dollar amounts.  If you are highly persuasive person applying for a sales job, tell the story with some statistics about how many signatures you got on a recent community petition. Work well under pressure? Outline some specific project deadlines that you met or exceeded.  Did your attention to detail uncover an invoicing discrepancy that saved your company thousands of dollars? Boast about it on paper!

While the hard skills may be the first criteria an HR manager will evaluate, backing up specific job proficiencies with your soft skills may give you an edge in the hiring game.

Readers: How do you best highlight your soft skills on your résumé? Paste your best résumé blurb in the “Leave a Reply” area below.

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

Subscribe to receive weekly emails with career tips and advice for job seekers, employed people, and managers and supervisors.

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Landing a Job Long Distance

Two readers asked related questions…

Dear, Anita,

I’m considering relocating to a new city.  I’m worried that a hiring manager may not look at my résumé because I’m not located in the area of the job.  Do you have any tips on how I should address relocating in my cover letter, to be sure that hiring managers will look at my résumé?

Dear, Anita,

 I want to move to California or Washington from Ohio state because of cold weather. I’m still working in Ohio. Can you tell me please the starting pay rate over there?

Dear, Going the Distance,

Both of you are facing exciting new starts. I don’t want to be a wet blanket, but be sure to do extensive research before any big move.  Hiring managers may be afraid you’ll bail and run “home” with your tail between your legs at the first sign of regret in your new job /city/state.  Don’t confirm their fears by being uninformed.

Businesswoman fishing

If you are in a specialized vocation, make sure that there are job opportunities for you in the new city. For a broad overview of average state wages, you may find the Bureau of Labor Statistics website helpful, though the data is from May 2012.  Click on the state you wish to research, then narrow your search by occupational field to view median wages.  Some states may have more recent data, such as California’s Employment Development Department. You can enter a job title, and even narrow your search by county.

Once you’ve settled on one or two target areas, search for those geographic regions on the online job boards, such as CareerBuilder, Indeed, SimplyHired, and Monster.com. Be sure to Google for regional resources as well. While local newspaper “help wanted” ads may be going the way of the dinosaur, Craigslist, for instance, is popular with employers and job seekers in some areas of the country, but not in others.  Check any of your LinkedIn contacts as well as your friends and acquaintances at clubs, church, or the gym, to see if you can find a connection with anyone in the area to which you’ll be moving.  It’s always helpful to use an introduction to get your foot in the door.

As a general rule, entry-level jobs can be filled with locals, so your chances for landing a long-distance interview for those types of jobs are slim. For higher-level positions, most employers will consider a non-local if they have the specific skill set they need. For specific tips on crafting your cover letter and résumé for your out-of-town job search, check out one of my past blog posts, Job Search Out of State. In addition to mentioning your moving timetable and the fact that you are relocating on your own dime in your cover letter, offer to make yourself available for a first interview via phone or Skype.  Be prepared to foot the bill for a pricey, last-minute plane ticket if they request a second interview.

Consider applying with a temporary staffing company in your future city, such as The Select Family of Staffing Companies. You may be able to sample different local companies, get to know the area, and network until you find a permanent position.

Readers: Have you ever applied for – and landed – a job across the state or across the country? Share your success story!

Do you have a question for Anita Clew? Visit http://anitaclew.com/ask-anita/.

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Résumé Failures and Faux Pas

Good Morning, Readers!

Ever wonder if your résumé is up to the tough challenges of the current job market? With a large amount of top talent, like you, on the hunt for a new career, people are beginning to get a little creative with their résumés and cover letters to spark excitement.

While some spunk may grab the attention of the hiring manager, others are a downright no-go. Today, I couldn’t resist sharing a very interesting and rather baffling CareerBuilder survey I found called “Common and Not-So-Common Resume Mistakes That Can Cost You the Job.” Here are the unforgiveable blunders they discovered:iStock_000018568936Large

  • Résumé was submitted from a person the company just fired
  • Résumé’s “Skills” section was spelled “Skelze”
  • Résumé listed the candidate’s objective as “To work for someone who is not an alcoholic with three DUIs like my current employer”
  • Résumé included language typically seen in text messages (e.g., no capitalization and use of shortcuts like “u”)
  • Résumé consisted of one (run-on) sentence: “Hire me, I’m awesome”
  • Résumé listed the candidate’s online video gaming experience leading warrior “clans,” suggesting this passed for leadership experience
  • Résumé included pictures of the candidate from baby photos to adulthood
  • Résumé was written in Klingon language from Star Trek
  • Résumé was a music video
  • Résumé didn’t include the candidate’s name
  • On the job application, where it asks for your job title with a previous employer, the applicant wrote “Mr.”
  • Résumé included time spent in jail for assaulting a former boss

Do your résumés have any of these formidable faux pas? If so, time to do a serious round of editing to get it up to snuff! Take a look at my post, Reasons for No Résumé Responses, for more helpful hints.

Have a question you would like to ask? Visit http://anitaclew.com/ask-anita/.

Warm Wishes,

Anita

TextSpeak Tip-Off

Hi Anita!!!!

I wanna ask u for advice cuz i’m not getting any job intvws after 4 mo. of sending my resume to lots of biz and I don’t know Y. Lemme know what 2 do. Ur the best!!!

Dear, Texter Extraordinaire,

texting

Your cover letter could be the difference between getting a phone call for the interview and your résumé going in the “no” pile. While abbreviated answers work well on your cell phone, as a job seeker, you’ll want to be sure to use proper sentences in business correspondence. Below are a few important items to include in your cover letter, whether you attach it as a Word document or include it in the body of an email.

  • Include the job title you are applying for and where you saw the position advertised.
  • Outline how your qualifications make you a good fit for the job, briefly but not in shorthand.
  • Reiterate your contact information, even though it appears on your résumé or job application.

Re-read all correspondence before sending. Incorrect spelling, faulty grammar, and improper punctuation may raise a red flag with your potential new boss. Don’t trust your Smartphone’s auto-correct or the telltale red lines under misspelled words in Microsoft Word. Your computer’s grammar check can help with homophones such as “their,” “there,” or “they’re,” but there is no substitute for proofreading your work.

txting_cartoon

I’d like to offer one final admonition about overusing exclamation points. Here’s my rule of thumb: use one exclamation mark per sentence and one exclamatory sentence per paragraph. There are better ways to add excitement to your writing than exclamation point overindulgence. As we told my grandson when he was younger, “Use your words.”

Bottom line – you may not be getting any interviews because you’re not making a great first impression with your communications skills. Clean up your presentation of your résumé and cover letter, and I bet you’ll “clean up” on the number of interviews you get invited to as well.

Best of luck!

Anita

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Reasons for No Résumé Responses

A reader writes…

Anita,

I am desperately seeking a job and I feel as though I am sending out résumés left and right with no response. I have experience in a variety of fields and have been stretching the boundaries just to find some type of employment. What am I doing wrong?

Hi, Craving Call-backs,

Thanks for the question. I have a feeling many of you out there are experiencing this problem in your job search. With the lagging economy, fewer employers are actively hiring large numbers of people and the competition for those jobs is much steeper.Keyboard Bite

I have come up with a list of 8 reasons why you may not be getting the “we must hire them” response. Check them out below.

1. Applying for a job you are not qualified for. Many of you are looking to find any job available and have tried applying to jobs for which you do not meet the minimum requirements. It seems like it is worth a shot, right? Wrong. Unbeknownst to the masses, job descriptions do serve a higher purpose than just putting some text out hoping to hook a few applicants. They clearly spell out the necessary skills, training, education, duties, and responsibilities of the job. If a company is looking for a person with 5-7 years’ experience in the automotive sales industry and you have 2 years of sales experience and love cars, odds are you won’t get the call-back. It’s better not to waste your time or theirs by submitting your résumé. See my advice on when to go for it and when to forgo it in my blog  Applying for a Job When Not 100% Qualified.

2. Generic cover letter and résumés. Employers are well aware of job seekers that work on autopilot, distributing the same résumé whenever they feel even the slightest pulse. Before you send out a résumé or cover letter, take the time to tailor it to the job you are applying for. For a full list of tips on how to do this visit my post How to Tailor Your Résumé. As for cover letters, do your research and include the hiring manager’s name, company name, and business address, even when it is an email. If you need more pointers, see my other post called Covering the Cover Letter. Remember, it is the little things that get you noticed.

3. Generic job title. As we have seen in the previous section, generic is not the way to go. It can come off as lazy or disinterested. If the job description says they are looking for the Director of First Impressions (or receptionist, in layman’s terms), by all means put that as the job you are striving to obtain!

4. You don’t live there. If you are looking for a job in a city other than where you reside, you will most likely be pushed to the wayside. Employers do not want to pay for relocation and do not want to interview a candidate they know Lost in the Pileis not in the area. If you have friends or family who live near the job location, use their address on your résumé. Check out my post Landing a Job Long Distance for more advice.

5. Keywords in job description not included. With the large influx of résumés coming in for advertised positions, many companies do not have the time to read them all. It is common practice now to feed résumés through software programs that pick up keywords that apply to that position. If you do not reach the set number of keywords necessary to move to the next round, your résumé will be discarded. A great way to lower your chances of this happening is to skim the job description and include as many keywords as you can without being grammatically incorrect or overly obvious. See ATS 101: Demystifying Applicant Tracking Systems.

6. Didn’t follow instructions. Be sure to read the job description very carefully. Some employers have very strict standards and procedures on how they accept applications, résumés, and other materials. If they request that you send your résumé in Word and you send them a PDF, right off the bat, you have shown you cannot follow directions. Who wants a person like that as an employee? If they require that you submit three references and you submit two, odds are that you will be rejected before you can say “hire me.” By the way, this includes salary requirements. I know it seems you’ll be pricing yourself too low or too high, but there are ways to give a number and then indicate you’re flexible.

7. Focused on duties, not accomplishments. Employers want to see what you have accomplished, not what you did on a daily basis. Accomplishments show drive, ambition, productivity, and more. List actions that you can take credit for. Try to use words like managed, implemented, developed, applied, created, etc.

8. Typos in résumés. Punctuation problems, misspelled words, and goofed-up grammar force many employers to slam on their brakes. With computers, spell-check, and (I know I will sound old here) plenty of dictionaries, there is almost no excuse for you to have grammatical errors and typos in your résumé. Do not always trust spell-check; go through the entire document from bottom to top and read every word. Proofread it over and over again and ask for feedback from professionals you trust. If you notice a typo after the fact, do not send a corrected version, but definitely fix your résumé before sending it out to the next opening.  Be sure to check for these common mistakes I find all the time:

  • Is the correct word there, their, or they’re? It’s or its? Where or wear? Figure it out, and be right!
  • Bulleted items should only end in a period if they are complete sentences.
  • Jobs, activities, and accomplishments you have had in the past are in past tense. Those that are current are in the present tense (manage vs. managed, raise vs. raised, negotiates vs. negotiated).

I hope with these tips you can begin to see the résumé response from employers you are looking for. It is also important to remember that recruiters and employers are swamped with job inquiries. Give it about 1-2 weeks before following up with that prospect or putting that position behind you. Keep your chin up and your attitude positive!

Readers, have you had trouble getting résumé responses from potential employers? What have you found to be the best trick to get the call-backs rolling in?

Have a question you would like to ask? Visit http://anitaclew.com/ask-anita/.

Happy Hunting,

Anita

Covering the Cover Letter

A reader writes…

Dear, Anita,

I have two questions that I hope you can address: What’s the secret to a good cover letter? And is a cover letter even necessary these days?

Dear, “C.L.,”

I have been asked to address the cover letter question by a few readers as I know it’s a hot topic when it comes to searching for a job. I can’t tell you how many cover letters I have seen over the years that look like a generic template and a game of plug-and-play (insert name here… insert date here…. etc.) I’ve even seen cover letters that have a different color font where the hiring manager’s name is supposed to go… a tell-tale sign that it is a standard form letter that has been forwarded or used countless times.

My advice is this…

  • If you’re writing a cover letter just because you think it’s the right “protocol”… Don’t bother.
  • If you plan to reiterate the content of your résumé in your cover letter… Don’t bother.
  • If your cover letter is not a quick, relevant read… Don’t bother.

I, personally, only think a cover letter is necessary if you’re changing careers or if you need to clarify certain things that your résumé can’t explain alone. A cover letter can also serve as a nice personal touch if you recently spoke to someone (say, a hiring manager) about a position. You can use the letter as a thank you for their time and consideration as well as to reiterate 4-5 key reasons why you would be a good fit.

I found the following article on CareerBuilder that I think “covers” the cover letter question very well. I encourage you to take a look: http://www.careerbuilder.com/Article/CB-2446-Resumes-Cover-Letters-Do-I-really-need-a-cover-letter-New-thoughts-on-an-old-standard/

Okay HR and Hiring Managers… we want to hear from you. Do YOU think cover letters are necessary? Do you even read them? Please post your comments here!

Anita

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Disclaimer

Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.
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