Building the Perfect Cover Letter for your Resume

A resume is the tool that you use to sell yourself. A cover letter is the first contact you will have with a potential employer and can be used to ‘market’ your resume.  Cover letters are the headline that entices recruiters to read the rest of the ad – the window dressing that gets them in the store. If someone can’t sell himself or herself effectively, they won’t be able to represent a company to their clients, either.

It is important to address the letter to the correct person and to succinctly summarize – not simply reiterate – information on your resume.   Don’t duplicate what’s already in your resume.

The cover letters needs a ‘hook,’ nothing too over the top, but something that SHOWS not TELLS the recipient you really are must-see candidate. The cover letter should be brief and outline the position(s) you are interested in and key qualifications. The resume should contain a summary of key expertise and a detailed account of work experience and education.  Perform a line item-by-line item analysis of your experience and skills as they directly apply to the job description. For instance, if there are eight different sentences in the qualifications, attempt to treat each as a question and answer it accordingly.

Cover letter points:

  1. To get the attention of the employer – your cover letter is the place to let your enthusiasm for the position shine through. Don’t let the opportunity to communicate with your potential employer go to waste!  Contact human resources department of the company and get the name of a recruiter or hiring manager from the department you are interested in and addressing the letter directly to them. This shows you did some homework prior to simply “dropping off an application.”  Make sure the reader knows the position for which you are applying in the first two sentences.
  2. Where you heard about the position (for tracking purposes) – Tell the employer how you know about the position. Was it a referral by a friend or a current employee? Mention their name! If you found the position in the newspaper – refer to the ad.
  3. To introduce yourself and tell the employer why you are writing.  Note your skills other candidates may not have. It’s important that you STAND OUT. What makes you specifically stand out among other candidates? What unique achievement have you accomplished at work? What special degree or certificate have you earned? What project did you have a part or lead in completing? Include it in the cover letter if it is relevant to the job you are applying to.
  4. To highlight and ‘sell’ your skills and abilities to the employer. How can you contribute to the needs of the company? Give concrete examples of how your experience and past achievements could be a positive asset for the company. If you were the top seller in your previous place of employment, say so! If you have saved your current company money, highlight this in your cover letter.  Demonstrate in the cover letter AND resume where you have applied innovative thinking and initiative, these are two very important things considered in selection.
  5. To tell the employer specifically why you want to work for their company by proving you have done your homework. Tell the reader why you want to work for this company in particular. Yes, this takes some research on your part, but it will be worth it in the end. Don’t waste space telling them about their company’s background (e.g.: “I really want to work at ABC Company, because your company is the foremost supplier of….”).
  6. Conclude with an assurance of professional service, if selected.  Thank the reader and request a follow up via phone or an interview.  Demonstrate your initiative and confidence. Promise the reader that you will follow up on the position if you do not hear from him. Let him/her know the best place to reach you and state that you will call or e-mail to follow up by a certain date. Write that date on your calendar and be sure to call if you do not hear back after sending your cover letter and resume.  Ensure contact information, including home and cell phone, at least two different e-mail addresses, where you can be reached or where a message can be left. A manager is not likely to try a number again.

A cover letter is the introductory ‘hook’ to gain interest in your resume.  Many companies are no longer using cover letters in their electronic job board resume uploads, while some others may have an option to load a separate cover letter. It would still be conducive to ‘add’ the cover letter on the last page of your electronic resume before you upload it to their Internet based database.  This allows recruiters or hiring managers to see your writing style, read about your baseline information, and determine if the person is as interesting as the cover letter and resume.

It is equally important to spend the right type of time and energy on your cover letter as much as it is on your resume.  Metrics and statistics will grab the reader’s attention more than a simple listing of tasks and responsibilities.

Good luck!

Dawn Boyer is a doctoral student at Old Dominion University in the Darden College of Education, working on her PhD in Occupational Studies and Technology), as well as working as a (Doctoral) Graduate Teaching Assistant teaching computer science and technology to undergraduate students. Ms. Boyer has over 20 years of senior management experience in human resources, nine years in the defense-contracting arena. She also provides HR consulting services via D. Boyer Consulting to small businesses, including dynamically growing 8a set-aside defense companies, in the Hampton Roads, Virginia area. Her LinkedIn profile is: http://www.linkedin.com/in/DawnBoyer. She accepts all LinkedIn invites via: Dawn.Boyer@me.com. Join her 4,600+ connections!

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Becoming a Subject Matter Expert on LinkedIn via Questions & Answers

What are criteria for rating answers Best or Good?

Users of LinkedIn have been asking and answering Qs in Q&A for a while now. When one asks a Question, it’s good practice to go back and award ‘Good’ and ‘Best’ answers, as appropriate (and send a note to those rated Good or Best). 
What does one use as criteria for Good and Best? Is there an ideal number or percentage of “Good Answers” one should assign or do you just rate them as one’s fancy leads? 

What makes a good, quality Q&A? How would you rate the answers to one’s questions and why?

There is potential for increasing credibility, business proficiency, and recognition when answering questions as well as the question askers handing out a lot of “Good” answer rewards and recognitions.

MAIN CRITERIA:

The major criteria used in evaluating answers are, “Did they answer the question?” and “Did they answer all of the question?” This is more of a factor than one might think.  If the question is, “Which do you prefer, red or blue? Why?” invariably, someone will say, “Well, I don’t like either, but I do prefer yellow. This is why you should have included yellow…” The question they answered was, “What is your favorite color?” not “Which did they prefer, red or blue?” You will also get answers that will say, “Red,” but not answer “Why?”

SECONDARY CRITERIA:

1)         How much did the question and how much did the answer make me think? This helps especially if the view isn’t in line with one’s own. If there is pondering – long about something said – then there is something there.

2)         How much was learned from it? It doesn’t really matter if someone provides support material in their answer – one can always follow up with them.

3)         How entertaining was it? If they accomplished #1 and #2 and cracked a joke, it has value.

4)         How original was the answer? If I want Abraham Lincoln, I’ll go read him or ask him to answer the question. I like to hear people’s own ideas and experiences, not a regurgitation of others. But, references to subject matter experts can help if one understands why.

5)         What history does the person have in answering other questions? Repeat quality answerers like repeat quality customers are valuable to continue to build relationships.

6)         The answer is correctly written, with excellent grammar and syntaxes. It is a real and genuine pleasure when an answer meets these conditions in such a way that helps effectively to its readability and its comprehension.

7)         The answerer makes a genuine effort to communicate his/her ideas by applying the best of his/her knowledge and experience to add value to the discussion.

8)         Challenge preconceived assumptions and dogmas to offer an innovative analytic perspective that adds real value to my own learning process.

9)         Discard immediately all those answers coming from public domain sources like Wikipedia, because these may be found easily by making a focused search in Google.

10)      An answerer documents his/her response with statistical data, hard facts, and anecdotal evidence to bring a deep, well-documented and fresh perspective about an interesting and challenging topic from my own professional perspective.

11)      Short responses written in one-line sentences in most of the instances are judged negatively. These answers may be interpreted as a quick and superficial attempt of making a real and valuable contribution to the thematic discussion.

12)      The value of an answer in function of its applicability to real-life situations related day-to-day business contexts. When an answer is endorsed with proven experience in real business context, the response acquires an value from a professional perspective.

13)      Employing a dialogue with the author of a enlightened and outstanding answer to get a fresh and widen perspective for a theme mutually beneficial for both questioner and answerer.

14)      The inclusion of relevant links complementary to an answer helps to gain a wider comprehension about a theme sustained from different analytical perspectives for proper comprehension.

15)      Professional profile of the respondents for a clear correlation between professional experience and qualifications and perceived quality of the answer. This factor is the last one in being considered to avoid possible bias from a professional having an impressive professional profile and stellar qualifications.

TIE-BREAKER CRITERIA:

16)      Was the questions responded to by a fly-by answer? There needs to be some value and demonstration of interest in the question beyond supplying another answer for tabulation.  (Unfortunately, LinkedIn hasn’t yet separated those who have answered the ‘most’ questions from those who have received the most ‘best’ answers as SME’s.)

17)      How did the person respond to follow up questions for elaboration? While this may not appear in the original answer, one appreciates folks who respond to inquires for clarification or elaboration.

18)      How many best answers does the person already have? The fewest or none receive preference. (Again, see # 16 above for the fallibility of the current system.)

19)      Were they the first to answer? I like folks who help me get the ball rolling, so the first answer has value in this regard.  (One wants to provide a solid basis answer to a thought-provoking question within the first ten responses. Otherwise, most LinkedIn folks are too busy to click through to the ‘next page’ of responses to read one’s highly qualified response, and the answer might never be seen!)

HOW TO RATE ANSWERS:

GOOD: If they answer the question and hit one or more of the secondary criteria, then they receive a good. If they don’t answer the question, then they don’t unless they are a repeat, quality answerer.

BEST: This isn’t as important to the questioner as it is to the answerer.  LinkedIn has a list of labeled SME’s but there is an issue of quality metrics within the system (as of April 2010). As it is, all someone has to do is answer, “I agree with (so & so),” or even crack a silly joke or add a pun, and that’s still considered an answer. Since one loses the right to select BEST if not used, make a selection anyway to help somebody.

One could easily have half or all answers rated “good.” It’s possible to get many good answers. Thanking people for answers or asking for elaboration dramatically increase the likelihood of quality responses; however, as mentioned above these do not enter the public record.  One doesn’t have set a number or percentage for GOOD answers. Rate it according to standards outlined above.  Use the same criteria to evaluate questions for answers with other LinkedIn profile owner’s effort – to get your name established as credible and a professional. If someone others (and oneself) values has asked or answered a question, one tends to be more likely to read those. Unless one can add value in a different way from other answerers, don’t leave an answer. Some read far more Q&A’s than they answer.

People like questions that challenge them to think and reflect, especially if about topics that are new or haven’t yet been considered. Readers also like those with links to research material on things they may be investigating. Don’t worry about experience or credentials unless it’s a technical issue. Good ideas will have value regardless of who says it.  Management Consultants may use Q&A in LinkedIn to not only find good answers, but also track down qualified folks who might be good business connections, a splendid hiring opportunity, or to acknowledge expert status.  If you continue to received “Best” answers in LinkedIn, you will start developing a following, and recognition as an expert in many of the subject areas in which one has focused.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Dawn Boyer is a doctoral student at Old Dominion University in the Darden College of Education, working on her PhD in Occupational Studies and Technology), as well as working as a (Doctoral) Graduate Teaching Assistant teaching computer science and technology to undergraduate students. Ms. Boyer has over 19 year of senior management experience in human resources, nine years in the defense-contracting arena. She also provides HR consulting services via D. Boyer Consulting to small businesses, including dynamically growing 8a set-aside defense companies, in the Hampton Roads, Virginia area. Her LinkedIn profile is: http://www.linkedin.com/in/DawnBoyer. She accepts all LinkedIn invites via: Dawn.Boyer@me.com. Join her 4,600+ connections!

My O.C.D., Raised-Bed, African Key-Hole, Weed-Proofed, Drip-Irrigation, Kitchen Garden

Yea, sometimes I feel like I have “Obsessive Compulsive Disorder” – everything must be neat, tidy, and arranged just so.  But I’m also obsessive about trying out new things.  Over the last few years, I’ve convinced my sweet husband to help me experiment with a garden in the back of our urban home on the eastern coast of VIrginia.  I’m an avid fan of Mother Earth News, so look for ‘easier’ or ‘better’ tips on how to get a better yield from our garden each year.  This year will be a little different – we think it’ll be much hotter this summer, we’ll probably have much more of a crop yield, and our kids are all three going to be either out of the house, or working full-time jobs, and not interested in eating fresh lettuce or broccoli from the garden.

My husband, Jim, and I adore fresh produce, love walking out our back door at the end of the hard work day and being able to pluck fresh okra, tomatoes, or egg-plant right off the vine, bring it into our kitchen, and eat it within minutes in a salad or fresh-cooked.

Since we are trying something new this summer, I thought I’d share those methods with you, add a few photos, and see what you think.  Information on African Key-Hole Gardens can be found in this month’s issue of Mother Earth News.  We’d also advise buying your pre-established plants from a reputable garden-shop.  I’ve seen many of the ‘budget-stores’ trying to get into the market selling seedlings and the employees of these stores don’t know squat about their care and either over- or under-water them, and care for them incorrectly.  The professional garden stores seedlings might cost a little more, but they have been well-cared for and you know they won’t die within a week after getting them home and in the ground.

Step One. Raised beds, deeply tilled.

Step Two: Smoothed dirt, drip irrigation (from an ingenious system my husband cobbled and plumbed together).

Step Three: Apply weed-preventer cloth over the bed to keep weeds from taking over.  This should allow water to come right through when it rains, but keeps weeds from successfully growing up through your veggies and causing a lot of work for you.

Step Four: Get that big can of “Preen” for veggie gardens and sprinkle liberally around the edges where weeds could start growing around the beds and into/over into the raised beds.

Step Five: Cut small holes into the plastic weed preventer cover and slide your fresh little seedlings into the hole you’ve dug underneath.  This will be similar to laparascopic surgery.  Keep the hole small so there is very little avenue for weeds to use to gain a hold in the garden.  Through the hole you’ll dig down enough to set the plant, then once the plant is set, use your fingers to scrap the dirt from the hole back up and around the stem.

Step Six: If you are planting seeds, simply use a tool like a screwdriver to pop a hole large enough to slide the seeds into the ground.  Since the weed cover is going to act as the ‘top layer of soil’ you won’t need to worry about covering up the seed.  It’ll fall down a little into the cracks of the dirt anyway.  We planted spinach, radishes, green beans, and okra seeds in addition to:  Tomatoes, Bell Peppers, Cucumbers, Yellow Squash, Zuccinni, Cabbage, Broccoli, and Eggplant.

Step Seven: If you have tomato plants, be sure to prepare ‘cages’ or a support system for them.  The last three summers of our garden, our tomatoes grew to about five feet tall by the end of the summer.  They were huge and the little scrawny tomato cages sold at the hardware stores didn’t do much for our plants – they quickly overwhelmed them in about four weeks.

Notice we repurposed those little scrawny tomato cages (behind our tomato plants in the above photo) – those will be the bases for our African Key-Hole Garden mulch idea.  They did have some very sturdy legs and rings to which we attached our chicken-wire to become the new mulch collectors.

Step Eight: Center your stakes or your wire cages in the center of the raised bed, cut a moderate sized “X” in the middle where you planted the frame, then wrap it with chicken wire or whatever you have handy to repurpose for holding the yard and kitchen waste scraps.  We used industrial strength ties (plastic with teeth, you insert tail into head and it ‘catches’ to lock) to hold the wire edges together and to attach to the tomato cage wires to avoid blowing away.

Step Nine: We turned on the drip-irrigation hoses for about an hours to ensure our beds with plants and newly deposited seeds got a good soaking.

Step Ten: We’ll hopefully be able to start pulling fresh, ripe, red radishes out of the ground in about two and a half weeks (they grow fast!), and other fruits from the vine by mid-June.  Can’t wait until we get our first crop of okra!

More photos of our garden:

This photo above is a completed garden bed with tomato cages, the mulcher in the middle, and all the plants and seeds established for that bed.

Our little garden elf watching over the catnip mint.

This photo is of one of the two garden elves which watches over my garden.   She is playing a harp to the catnip mint.

The above photo shows our first ‘dump’ of garden waste into one of the African Key-Hold Garden mulch pits established in the middle of one of our raised garden beds.  We’ve planted green beans in a ring around the mulcher so they’ll have a place to ‘crawl’ up and hold on to as well as gaining full power from the nutrients which will leak out into the bed.

I can’t wait to see what this summer brings!  Those who see us regularly – we will be sharing the wealth!

Check out my profile at: http://www.linkedin.com/in/DawnBoyer

Send LinkedIn Invitations to: Dawn.Boyer<at>me.com

Follow me on Twitter:  #Dawn_Boyer

What’s the five best tips for recruiters to source job candidates?

I’ve been in HR and Recruiting for 20 years and can help you here:

1)  Have a well-written job description; have your target market defined; have the must-have’s and nice-to-have’s separated; put in your absolute minimum salary the company will pay for the position – this is vital to screen out those who don’t have the skill sets or those who are much more qualified for the salary range.

2)  Have a well-padded network – use the social networks available to you, and have a large list of folks who do nothing all day long but assist job seekers get those jobs – employment commissions in each state, job boards at military service centers (TAP), colleges/universities’ career offices, career counselors at non-profit organizations.  Keep those lists updated constantly and consistently.  Learn to grab and run with any e-mail address that is offered to you for POC’s of offices that assist job seekers.  Send out thank you notes or holiday greetings to those contacts occasionally, but don’t spam them, either.

3) Learn your ‘Boolean’ – if you don’t know how to effectively use query engine coding you will never get anywhere.  Use the specialized codes which get you into websites, excel spreadsheet lists, e-mail lists, etc.  Take courses from AIRS.org (AIRS University – one of the most incredible and most fantastic Boolean Job Candidate courses I’ve ever taken!).

4)  Use your Social Networking – not just on LinkedIn and FaceBook, but on personal recruiting blogs, other social networks (there are hundreds out there!), go to MeetUp.com and EventBrite to create groups to organize job fairs, virtual job fairs, in-house job fairs, and other events which gets you meeting real people in less formal situations than a straight-laced job fair.

5) Use your Automated Tracking System (ATS) to the utmost.  If you don’t have one, get one.  The $100 to $500 a month for one to five user licenses that enable you to start ‘farming’ qualified candidates, screening them automatically, reserving them for that future opening you know is coming.  Send out annual notices to folks to update their resumes in the system because you see job openings for your company in the next 1, 2, of even 6 months out and you are reviewing current resumes now.  Touch base with everyone who applies for a job by acknowledging they applied for one of your jobs, let them know when/if a job has been filled or closed with no hire; and let them know you care enough to provide them with a POC name, e-mail address, and phone number if they have questions.

These five tips will help recruiters get to the top of their game.

Send LinkedIn Invitations to: Dawn.Boyer@me.com

Follow me on Twitter:  #Dawn_Boyer

Providing Career Training & Development, as well as Human Resources consulting to small businesses in the Hampton Roads, VA area.

Visit my LinkedIn Polls and help me get 400 answers:

http://polls.linkedin.com/p/83177/mupsu – on SHRM/HRCI certification programs

http://polls.linkedin.com/p/28062/mzylg – on degrees required by HR Practitioners

Ewww! Plants are having sex all over the place!

The pollen is thick today.  I walked outside and the green dusty coating is all over the front of the house, my car, the MonsterClean truck, and the sidewalk.  I’m sooooo thankful I don’t have allergies to the pollen and muck floating all around!