Cover Letters, Resumes, and Applications
Looking for a job can be a very stressful task. No one likes rejection and many times rejection is part of the job-seeking process. The best time to look for a job is when you are currently employed. This way a rejection letter from a prospective employer may not “sting” as much since you are currently working. However, most of us are not that fortunate to be able to search for a new job while we are currently employed. Many times we are forced into a situation where we are looking for work because we have been laid-off, or the business has closed, or perhaps we are looking for a career change. No matter what the reasons are requiring us to search for new employment, a cover letter, resume, and interview will play an important role in helping us land that ideal job. Taking time to prepare a thoughtful cover letter and a complete resume are extremely valuable tools in presenting your skills and experience to employers. With the help of the Internet, there is really no reason to not have a well-written cover letter and resume. Below are just a couple of the resources you can find online to assist you with the development of cover letter and resume.
- About.com Job Searching
- Yale Undergraduate Career Service
What is a Cover Letter and why is it so important? Is a cover letter needed when submitting a resume and applying for a job? What constitutes a good cover letter? Is there a difference between a “good” cover letter and a “great” cover letter?
Many times people overlook the importance of a cover letter. Much time is spent on crafting and developing a complete resume; oftentimes, the cover letter is an afterthought. According to www.careerbuilder.com, neglecting a cover letter is a “big mistake.” A cover letter is your first shot at introducing yourself to a prospective employer and making a good or even great first impression can be the difference between landing an interview and receiving the dreaded, “thank you for your interest, but we have selected another candidate.” Cover letters provide you the opportunity to cover everything that cannot be expressed in a resume and begin the “selling” process of your abilities. They also provide the opportunity to address a specific person within an organization making your application for a job more personable. It is advised to find the name of the person you are sending your cover letter and resume to and address it to them specifically. Doing a little research in the organization you are applying with can go a long way. To the person reviewing and filtering applicants it looks better to see their name on the cover letter as opposed to “To whom it may concern.” What makes a cover letter? In general, cover letter should be well written, concise, to the point, and specific to the job you are seeking.
- Well written – No one likes to read a cover letter filled with spelling and grammar mistakes. Sometimes simple words like “form” and “from” can be accidentally used because they are both spelled correctly and are just out of context. Long run-on sentences, too many paragraphs, and improperly used punctuation can make a cover letter a struggle to read and can be the difference between landing an interview or having your resume passed over. Make sure you proofread it multiple times. Sometimes reading out loud can help identify mistakes. It also doesn’t hurt to have a friend, co-worker, or family member review it for you. Sometimes a second or third set of eyes can pick up things that you might miss.
- Concise – Being concise means writing clearly and efficiently. Do not add a bunch of words just to fill space. Identify what you want to say and draft an outline of the key points. Many times you will be applying for a job with dozens of other candidates and the person receiving and reading cover letters may not have the time to read through paragraphs of writing. Typically a well-written cover letter should contain:
- An introduction of who you are and why you are writing the company. A few sentences identifying yourself and why you are applying for this specific job.
- A paragraph summarizing your qualifications and experience, without rewriting your resume in the cover letter. Sometimes a few bullet points listing your strong points works or a short paragraph of your highest level abilities and experiences.
- A concluding paragraph of why you would be a good fit for the organization. Do some research on the organization and try and figure out the culture of the company. Each business has a unique culture. Being able to identify the culture and describing how you will fit in this culture can go a long way. Finishing off with a sentence such as, “I look forward to speaking with you in person to discuss my qualifications and experience” is a nice closing.
There is a fine line between being concise and not providing enough information to peek the interest of the organization. There are plenty of sample cover letters on the Internet. Be sure to do your research on crafting and writing a cover letter and also on the company you are applying with.
- Specific to the job you are applying for – A generic cover letter and resume indicate a sign of laziness. Much of your cover letter can be “generic.” It can have the same heading and components of the introduction and closing can be similar. However, tailoring your cover letter to the specific job you are applying for shows the organization that you have at least put some thought into this application process. Here is an example of a cover letter introduction:
Please accept this cover letter and resume as serious interest in the position available with your company. I think I will be a good fit.
Please accept this cover letter and resume as serious interest in the position of Water Quality Specialist with XYZ Water District. I believe my qualifications and education will set me apart from others applying for this position.
Identifying the position and the agency shows that you have taken time to write the cover letter.
Lastly we will look at formatting. Organizing and formatting your cover letter is also very important. Take your time writing contact information on the top of your cover letter and resume. It should include your name, address, phone number, and email address. It shouldn’t be too fancy but it should also stand out so that it is recognizable at a glance. Here is an example:
1234 Water Way, Spring Town, USA
It doesn’t have to be fancy, it just needs to stand out and be easy for the agency to identify whose resume and cover letter they are looking at. You should provide a phone number that you typically answer or check regularly. You should also use an appropriate email address. Many times people have what they consider to be funny or clever email addresses. If you are one of these people, then create an email account specifically for looking for a job. A prospective employer is not interested in contacting “email@example.com” or “firstname.lastname@example.org” for an interview. A simple first initial, last name or first name, last initial is an appropriate email address to list on all your contact information when searching for employment. Lastly regarding format, make your cover letter look clean and professional and be sure to personally sign it. If you are submitting your information through email or online, print the document, sign it, scan it, and then submit it.
Your resume should contain a summary of your work and education experiences. It should list each employer that you have worked for and the position you held with that organization. It should list your educational background and any related research work you may have participated in. There are various types of resumes and there is a ton of reference information that can be found online. Do your research and find the type of resume that fits best and enables you to express your experiences and education. In this section we will focus on three main resume types: Chronological, Functional, and Targeted (www.jobsearch.about.com).
Don’t worry if you do not have any work experience. Everyone has to have a “first” job. In situations where you do not have any work experience state this in your cover letter. Write a couple short sentences as to why you do not have any work experience and something like, “I am eager to start a career and gain on the job experiences.”
Sometimes applicants have work experience, but not directly related to the job they are applying. Perhaps you have experience in aerospace or computers or something completely different. In these instances, be creative.
There are a couple of general rules regarding resume content. Typically you should include the following information:
- Objective – a one to two sentence statement about your goal. What is it that you seek to accomplish? “I am seeking a career in the water industry to further my knowledge in water technology and to increase my commitment to serving the public by helping to provide a vital resource.”
- Summary of Qualifications – a summary of qualifications is not always necessary in a resume, especially if you provide this type of summary in your cover letter. However, if you have some specific skills that are required by the job you are applying for, it can’t hurt.
- Work Experience – listing your prior work experience is very important. It shows your prospective employer that you are employable and that you have a track record of good standing.
This type of resume shows your work experience and educational experience in chronological order, starting with your most recent experience. This is probably the most common type of resume and is often preferred by employers. It is an easy way for an employer to see what you have done and the various times you have done it. This type of resume can be problematic if you have large gaps in employment. Large gaps in employment can be a red flag for employers. Sometimes there are perfectly acceptable reasons for gaps in employment but you don’t want to alarm a prospective employer before you have the chance to explain. If you do have gaps in employment and you have specific reasons for the gaps, it might be a good idea to discuss those briefly in your cover letter. For example, if you decided to stop working to go back to school or maybe you stopped working to have children. These are understandable reasons for having some gaps in employment. Regardless of the reason, you want to be able to explain it during an interview and you do not want your resume to be passed over without having the ability to explain yourself. There are various thoughts on what you should list first, your work experiences or your educational experiences. The best answer is probably to lead with whatever is stronger. For example, you might be a recent college graduate with very little work experience. In this situation, you may want to list your education first.
This type of resume focuses on skills and experience. When there are be gaps in your employment history, it is sometimes better to focus on the specific skills and experiences you might have for the job you are applying for. This type of resume is very common for people who are changing careers. For example, you may have been an auto mechanic for 15 years and decided to change career paths. You took some time off to study the industry of water systems technology. Several years have passed without any employment history and you are now applying for a maintenance mechanic position with a water agency. Instead of listing your employment history with a gap while you were in school, focus on your experiences as a mechanic and relate those to the position of maintenance mechanic. During the interview, if you are asked about the gap in employment you can explain that at the time it was your desire to change careers and go back to school.
As the name implies, a combination resume includes both experience and employment history. You can focus on the specific skills and experiences related to the job you are applying for and list the employment history as a reference for the employer. This is a very common approach when applicants have a combination of experience and work history but neither one is strong enough on its own merit.
There are many examples of the various types of resumes online. It is strongly recommended that you research the type and style that would fit best.
It may seem fairly straight forward how and why you should complete an application but many times the application is the crucial document that will either bring you to the next level or result in the dreaded, “Thank you for your interest in employment with ABC Water Company but you have not met the minimum requirements for the position.” Quite often, especially when there are hundreds of applicants, there is an application screening process and the simplest of errors on the application can result in being disqualified. Or, sometimes in smaller agencies, your application can be put on the bottom of the list based on sloppiness, misspellings, missing information, etc. Completeness and neatness are two key elements to a successful application.
Many job descriptions will state minimum requirements to help filter out what can at times be hundreds of applicants. Maybe a certain certification level is required or perhaps a specific degree? Depending on the agency you are applying for employment with, you may not need ALL the minimum requirements at the time of applying. While others will disqualify your application if you do not meet everything stated in the description. Below are a couple job description requirements and what is recommended for an acceptable application submission:
Meter Reader - Minimum Requirements
Associate of Science Degree from a two-year college is required. One year general work experience and Water Distribution Operator Grade D1 certificate from Division of Drinking Water preferred.
Let’s say that you will receive your AS in one month and you meet the minimum “general work experience” requirement. Remember, the D1 is not a requirement. Some agencies may look at your application and accept the fact that your official graduation date is in one month and allow your application to be processed for an interview. Other agencies may disqualify you because you will not be in possession of the degree at the time the application is due.
While looking at this job requirement scenario, the questions below may have come to mind:
What if you don’t have an AS degree but you have a D1 certificate?
What if you have both an AS degree and a D1 certificate?
They are excellent questions and cannot be fully answered because each water utility will have different requirements and standards for their application review process. However, your chances of progressing through the application process are probably better if you meet the minimum and preferred requirements.
Water Quality Specialist - Minimum Requirements
This position requires a 2-year degree in Biology, Chemistry or related field and 2 years experience in a water laboratory environment. A Water Treatment Operator T2 certificate is required.
The requirements for this job are a little more stringent and most agencies would probably disqualify you if you did not meet them. However, if you have completed and passed the T2 exam and you are just waiting for your certificate, you might be allowed to progress through the application process.
Regardless of your skills, experience, education, and background, you should not be discouraged from applying for jobs even if you think you are not qualified. Each agency is different and there are variety of circumstances. Just make sure you are well prepared and provide neat and complete cover letters, resumes, and applications before you apply. Something not discussed in this chapter or text is the interviewing process. Interviewing is as much a skill as an art. The following are simple tips to help you prepare for an interview. However, the best preparation is practice. Try video recording yourself or practice in a mirror. You can also ask a friend or family member to ask you specific questions in a mock interview.
- Dress for Success but don’t over dress for the job. First impressions mean a lot. If you walk into an interview wearing jeans and a t-shirt, the first impression might disqualify you before you even say a word. Likewise, if you are applying for a construction related position, it might not make sense to show up at the interview in a suit. Nice slacks and a button down shirt or blouse should be acceptable for most field related water positions. You can add a jacket or blazer if you wish. It is important to not seem too overdressed for a field position but you don't want to seem underdressed either. Slacks and a button down shirt or blouse is a good compromise for a field position. And, of course, your clothes should be clean and unwrinkled.
- Improve you interview technique. Practice is the best way to improve. Getting caught off guard with a certain question might be the difference between you and the next person. However, you should also not be afraid to say you don’t know or ask if they could repeat the question. Try to be relaxed and take time to think before answering.
- Take time to say thank you. Always be polite and thank the interviewers. It is also recommended to write a thank you letter after the interview.
- Networking is always helpful. Knowing someone in the organization or if you know common acquaintances can always help your chances to separate you from the next person.
- Research the company. Researching the company is not only helpful with preparation of your cover letter and resume, it also helps during the interview process.