Archive for the ‘Cover Letters’ Category

How to Use a Cover Letter to Define Your Personal Brand

Tuesday, May 5th, 2015

What sets you apart from the thousands of people who are looking for jobs these days? It’s called personal branding, and it can make the difference between career limbo and career success.

Branding: businesses do it, organizations do it, advertisers do it, and job seekers do it – if they’re smart. If it’s done right it can make the difference between a hit-and-miss approach (throwing a volume of resumes out there and hoping against hope that one of them will hit the mark) and honing in on a clearly defined target.

Career Advisor Georgia Adamson uses the analogy of the impact of color on a black and white image. You’ve seen the commercials: they begin by showing everything in black and white and then suddenly add a splash of color that draws attention to the product, making the advertiser stand out from its competitors. By defining your personal brand, you can do the same.

With more than 23-years of experience as a resume writer and career consultant, I have found that cover letters are especially conducive to creating a personal brand. The cover letter accompanies and introduces the resume and is sometimes called a letter of introduction. There’s a formal “resume-ese” required when writing a resume. On the other hand, a cover letter – while remaining professional – can be a little less formal and speak in a more personal tone. This allows you to tell your story: who you are, what you’ve accomplished, and what you have to offer, in a way that can be very engaging and distinctive.

But here’s the kicker: people squander this wonderful opportunity by trotting out over-used and canned cover letter verbiage: “To express my interest in a position with your company, I have enclosed a copy of my resume.” I’ve read that line, or variations thereof, a thousand times. I ask you, what does that say to grab attention or make the writer stand out? There’s got to be a better way!

There is. Do you have a favorite quote that expresses your core professional values? Or is there a quote about you from your letters of reference or job evaluations that is particularly glowing and sums up what makes you unique from the pack? Put it at the top of your cover letter. Is there a story in your career history that defines who you are and what makes you stand out? Lead with it! Then use the rest of the cover letter to support your story – your brand, if you will.

For example, a client of mine has a great deal of experience in all aspects of manufacturing management. He is up-to-date on all the new processes, he’s implemented state-of-the-art systems and streamlined operations, and he knows the meaning of the word “lean.” But most production managers have those skills and expertise today. What makes him different?

In talking with him, it became clear to me that he also has an extraordinary amount of integrity, he cares deeply about his employees, and he is very accessible and down to earth. In short, he offers the best of both worlds. In writing his cover letter, this is how I began:

“There was a time when pride in a job well done, personal integrity, and a great work ethic were all it took to succeed. In today’s increasingly competitive business environment, it’s about process improvement, cross-functional teams, and continually identifying strategies to exceed performance, quality, and productivity objectives.

“Would you be interested in someone with a history of balancing both the old and the new? Someone who combines practical, old fashioned common sense with a proven ability to design and implement processes and build lean operations while upgrading production and quality? If you take the time to review the enclosed resume, I think you’ll agree that I have a history of doing exactly that.”

It’s not rocket science, but it is unique to each individual. Creating your personal brand requires that you take a good look at yourself and zero in on what you have to offer that stands out from the competition. Once you’ve got it down, identify a strategy for getting the message across.

A well-written personal cover letter can help you do that succinctly. It can deliver a knock-out splash of color amid all the black and white out there and help you land the job of your dreams.

What’s your personal brand, and how are you getting it across to prospective employers?

~ Anne Follis, Certified Professional Resume Writer

© Copyright 2013, Anne Follis. All rights reserved

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How Strategic Are Your Resume & Cover Letter?

Friday, February 1st, 2013

A prospective client with ten years of experience as a PE Teacher and Coach sent me her resume with a note that she’s tired of the long hours and is thinking of looking in a field outside of education. But she’s not sure.

The resume, which read more like a cross between an essay and a biography, began like this: “I am looking for an opportunity that will allow me more time for my family in whatever field I choose.”

Try for just a minute to think of yourself as the school administrator or Hiring Manager who’s reading this. You have a couple of openings and thousands of resumes that you must peruse while attending to the many and very demanding functions of your job. You have a budget and a strict timeframe and you simply cannot afford to hire the wrong person.

Now read that second paragraph again, Mr./Ms. Hiring Manager. The person who sent it to you begins by telling you what she wants from you. For you, on the other hand, it’s crunch time. You do not care what she wants from you. You want to know what she can do for you, and if she doesn’t tell you that very quickly you will be moving on to the next applicant.

This is a problem I encounter over and over again on resumes and cover letters, as well as elevator speeches, interview strategies, and Internet biographies. Many job seekers have a fixed idea of what they want from an employer but fail to convey what they can deliver for the employer. Since this is the primary information every employer is seeking when reviewing a candidate’s history, anything that begins by addressing the applicant’s requirements is likely to fall on very deaf ears. Applicants often compound the confusion by failing to present themselves as a good fit for job openings.

To avoid these pitfalls, YOU MUST BE STRATEGIC. Research companies that interest you, network with friends and colleagues, and when you hear of an opening for which you’d like to apply, all of your communication should specifically target that position.

The above teacher continued in her resume: “I love to teach but I would also be interested in a position in another field. I have a passion for learning. I think ‘teacher’ defines me best.”

To an education administrator on the lookout for a PE teacher who can also coach the girls’ basketball team, this is going to be very confusing. Does the applicant want to be a teacher / coach or not? Again, put yourself in the Hiring Manager’s shoes. You simply do not have time to figure out what to do with this person, so you move on, and she misses out on a potential job opportunity.

Do not say, “I’m a teacher at heart and that’s what I do best” if you’re applying for something outside of education. Instead, define a clear segue between the job you’re doing now and the job for which you’re applying. And do not say “…in whatever field I choose” if you are looking for a teaching position (or any position, for that matter). It signals to an employer that your job search has no clarity, focus, or strategy, and you will not be viewed as a serious candidate.

For example, if you’re a teacher but you’d like to supervise a customer service team, stress your experience working with multidisciplinary teams of teachers, administrators, counselors, and therapists. Talk about the challenge of managing a classroom and give examples of how effective you’ve been in keeping students on task. You can handle demanding parents and intransigent students seamlessly. You are a natural for a position in customer service!

Of course, you can turn this around: Ten years in direct customer service, including seven years as a CSR supervisor, have been the perfect foundation for a career as a teacher . . .

No one who is or might be hiring, or who may know of someone who’s hiring, should ever talk to you or read your resume and cover letter and be left to wonder what in the world you’re looking to do with yourself. Simply put, an applicant who fails to define his or her job target and related qualifications will not hold anyone’s attention past the first paragraph. Career counseling

Be clear and focused. Be strategic in your job search communication.

~ Anne Follis, Certified Professional Resume Writer

© Copyright 2013, Anne Follis. All rights reserved.

We invite your comments and questions relating to this entry or the entire blog. However, please note that off-topic posts, as well as all spam, will be deleted.