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Creating and Submitting Your Resume Package: From Cover Letters to Thank-You Notes (page 2)

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Updated on Nov 30, 2010

Creating Your Resume Package

A resume package consists of your resume, cover letter, envelope, and any additional documents you eventually supply to a potential employer, such as a list of references or a thank-you note, in hopes of landing an interview. This chapter emphasizes that using matching papers, envelopes, ink colors, typestyles, and fonts for each document in your resume package is essential for many reasons.

Your resume package will most likely arrive on a potential employer's desk along with many other pieces of mail, and possibly dozens of other resumes from people applying for the same position. Someone will sort that mail, and your resume package will, hopefully, reach its intended destination—the HR person or executive within a company who is expecting to receive it.

If you want your resume package to stand out, it needs to look professional, as if you've put considerable thought and attention into the appearance of the package. First impressions, in this case, are important. The first impression your resume package makes is based on its appearance.

Sending an unsolicited resume to an executive within a company is like sending a piece of junk mail. Only a small percentage of unsolicited resumes a top-level executive receives actually get read. Most executives will simply forward your resume to the company's HR department, though some may just toss your resume in the trash. Writing Personal or Confidential on a resume sent blindly to an executive is almost guaranteed to get it tossed without ever being opened.

Your Resume Package's Appearence

Although the content of your resume, cover letter, and all other documents supplied to a potential employer is important, the initial objective of your package is to capture the attention of the reader by making your resume package look spectacular, yet highly professional. Of course, having some graphic design experience helps, but it's certainly not necessary as long as you follow basic design rules.

To accompany your resume, it's important to include a well-written cover letter that will introduce yourself to a potential employer and hopefully convince the reader to review your resume.

Introducing Yourself with a Cover Letter

Your cover letter is used to introduce yourself to a potential employer, state the job for which you're applying, explain some of the reasons why your resume is worth reading, and then request some sort of action to be taken by the reader.

Although the reader of your cover letter will, of course, look at the letter's content and meaning, the reader will also be evaluating your writing style, spelling, punctuation, and the format of your document. What you say in your cover letter is important, but you should also think carefully about how you want to say it, and make sure that your overall presentation is professional and visually appealing.

Typically, cover letters should be written in a business letter format and customized to the job for which you're applying. Also, these letters need to be personalized, using the name and title of the recipient.

Anytime you submit a resume to a potential employer, it should be accompanied by a cover letter. The main exception to this rule is if you attend a career or job fair and you distribute resumes to a handful of employers while attending the event. Otherwise, always use a cover letter when:

  • Sending a resume in response to a help-wanted ad or job opening announcement
  • Following up on a job lead given to you by an acquaintance
  • Sending an unsolicited resume to a company

Before sending your resume package to anyone, make sure you know the full name and title of the person you are addressing. Using the correct spelling of the recipient's name along with the company's name is important. It's also critical to confirm the recipient's gender, so you can address the envelope and cover letter to Mr., Ms., Mrs., (insert last name). Accidentally spelling someone's name incorrectly is insulting to the recipient and totally unprofessional. The slightest spelling error could result in your resume package getting thrown out, even if you're a qualified candidate.

Once your resume package is complete and you've found job opportunities to pursue, the next step is to pinpoint specifically to whom your resume package should be addressed. The cover letter and the envelope for your resume package could be addressed to any of the following people within a company, based on various circumstances:

  • A friend, former business associate, or network contact who currently works for (or is associated with) the company for which you want to work. If this person isn't responsible for the company's actually hiring, your cover letter should ask him or her to forward your resume package on your behalf to the appropriate person, along with their recommendation.
  • A professional headhunter or job placement specialist.
  • An executive or department head at the company for which you want to work, such as the vice president of marketing if you're hoping to land a job within the company's marketing department.
  • Someone in the HR department at the company for which you want to work.

The Anatomy of a Cover Letter

You must obtain and include the following information for your cover letter to have the desired impact. So, before you actually sit down to write a cover letter, make sure you know:

  • The recipient's full name
  • The recipient's job title
  • The company name
  • Mailing address
  • Phone number
  • The exact position for which you're applying
  • The recipient's fax number (optional)
  • The recipient's e-mail address (optional)

Your resume should summarize your accomplishments, education, and skills, using plain English. Thus, your cover letter should be used to complement your resume by offering an introduction and explaining what exactly you can do for the company for which you want to work.

Just as your resume was only one 8½-by-11-inch page in length, your cover letter should also be kept to one page. The shorter the better, because most people don't have time to read long letters.

Within your cover letter, it's acceptable to use bulleted points to emphasize key facts, skills, or elements of your work history. Using bulleted lists eliminates the need for long paragraphs of text and can make your cover letters easier to read.

At the top of your letter, list your full name, address, and phone number. If you have personalized stationery to match your resume paper, use it. Your contact information should be followed by the recipient's address and the date (using a standard business letter format). Next comes the salutation, the opening paragraph, your marketing message, one or two support paragraphs, your formal request for an interview, and finally some type of closure. Because your cover letter is so important, let's look at each of these sections in more detail.

The Salutation

Your cover letters should start off with a salutation, such as:

  • Dear (insert job title):
  • Dear (insert recipient's first name),
  • Dear Mr./Mrs./Ms./Dr. (insert recipient's last name):
  • Dear Sir or Madam:

Do not use "To whom this may concern." This is the worst salutation you can use for a cover letter. It's impersonal and demonstrates that you didn't take the time necessary to determine to whom the letter should be sent.

Tips for Addressing Your Cover Letters

  1. Because you're writing a personalized cover letter to a specific individual, the salutation should read, "Dear Mr./Mrs./Ms./Dr. (insert recipient's last name)." Avoid addressing someone by his or her first name unless they're a relative or close friend.
  2. If you're responding to a help-wanted ad that only lists a contact person's first name, and no telephone number, then obviously you should address your cover letter to that person using his or her first name. Never use a generic salutation, such as "Dear Sir or Madam:" or "Dear (insert job title):" unless you have no other option. And, never address a letter to "Dear Sir," assuming your reader is a man. Many women managers will automatically toss cover letters addressed this way, simply because you have assumed that the person in charge of hiring is a man. You do not want your resume ignored because of such a simple mistake.
  3. Unfortunately, some names, such as Pat, Chris, Kim, Jamie, or Sandy, can belong to either a male or female. Before sending your package, determine the gender of the recipient by calling the company and asking the receptionist; don't ask to speak to the person to whom you're writing (or even his or her assistant). Most companies are adamant about "no phone calls" from candidates responding to help-wanted ads, and you should respect that policy (even if it's not stated). If you cannot obtain the information regarding the person's gender, as a last resort, you could simply address your letter to "Dear Chris Smith," for example; Chris will appreciate your not having assumed his or her gender. Don't make assumptions.
  4. If you're sure the recipient of your letter is a woman, but you don't know if she is married, the safest approach is to use "Dear Ms. (insert last name):" as your salutation. In today's business world, "Miss" is seldom used in a business letter and "Mrs." should only be used to address someone who is married and uses her married name.

The Opening Paragraph

The opening paragraph of your letter should be short and simple. Answer the questions "Who are you?" and "Why are you writing this letter?" Keep this part of your cover letter no longer than two or three sentences.

Examples of an opening paragraph might be:

I noticed your advertisement in the (insert date) edition of (insert newspaper/publication name), and strongly believe I have the skills and work experience necessary to fill the (insert job title) position that you have open. Enclosed please find my resume.

(Insert name) suggested I contact you regarding the opening for the (insert job title) position your company has available. Enclosed please find a copy of my resume for your consideration.

In response to our telephone conversation on (insert date), regarding the job opening (insert company name) has for a (insert job title), I am pleased to enclose my resume for your consideration.

In response to your company's ad, which appeared in the (insert date) issue of (insert newspaper/publication name), please consider me for the (insert job title) opening your company has available.

Our mutual colleague, (insert name of colleague), suggested I contact you regarding the (insert job title) job opening your company has available.

In the opening paragraph of your cover letter, mention specifically for what job opening you're applying, especially if you're responding to an ad.

Your Marketing Message

Following the opening paragraph, the next paragraph or two within the body of your cover letter should be used to quickly distinguish you from the competition and position you as the best applicant for the job.

One of your main goals for this section of the letter should be to address the employer's needs. You should have a basic understanding of what the employer's needs are from information such as the wording of the ad or job description. Give a few examples of how you can fill those needs.

One way to begin this paragraph is by posing a question (such as, "Don't you need…?"), however, a strong opening statement often works best. For this portion of your letter, using bulleted points can save space and allow you to convey more information to the reader quickly.

One approach you could take might read something like this:

For your consideration, enclosed is a copy of my resume, which as you will see, demonstrates some of the skills I possess and used regularly in my previous jobs:
  • Accomplishment/ Experience/ Skill
  • Accomplishment/ Experience/ Skill
  • Accomplishment/ Experience/ Skill
  • Accomplishment/ Experience/ Skill

If the ad to which you're responding states, for example, that "six years' experience as a sales account executive" within the employer's industry is a job requirement, address those needs directly. You could write:

As you'll see from my resume, I have (insert number) years' experience working for the (past employer's name) as a sales director. Some of my major clients have included: (insert company names). As a sales manager, I have developed an extensive client base, which in the past, has allowed me to be a top revenue producer.

In several short sentences, you can demonstrate how you meet the job opening's qualifications, and that you have related work experience. Answer the questions you know the potential employer has on his or her mind, for example:

  • Are you knowledgeable about the industry and the company?
  • Can you communicate well on paper?
  • Do you possess the skills, education, and work experience necessary to meet the job's qualifications?
  • Do you have what it takes to succeed at the company?
  • What sets you apart from other applicants?
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