Creating and Submitting Your Resume Package: From Cover Letters to Thank-You Notes (page 5)
YOUR RESUME IS just one of the tools you will use to ultimately land a new job. This article deals with assembling the perfect resume package, which consists of:
- Your resume
- Your cover letter
- A personalized business card
- Samples of your work (if applicable)
- Thank-you notes
The key to creating a professional resume package is synergy when it comes to appearance and content: All the parts of the package should work together to create a greater overall effect. You should use the same paper, fonts, and typestyles when creating these documents.
Later in this chapter, methods of actually getting your resume into the right hands are explored. These methods include responding to an ad, networking, and taking advantage of career-related websites.
Writing a Cover Letter
One of the most common misconceptions among job seekers is that the resume is their primary marketing tool when looking for a job, and the cover letter is nothing more than an ancillary formality. In reality, your cover letter is as important as your resume when it comes to capturing the attention of a potential employer and selling yourself as a viable candidate for a job opening.
Because e-mail, faxes, and other written correspondence have become the primary methods of communication in today's business world, many employers rely on the cover letter to evaluate a candidate's ability to communicate in writing. Virtually all employers put great value on an applicant with strong written and oral communication skills. After all, a resume is typically a series of bulleted lists and short sentences, but a cover letter represents an actual writing sample.
Unless you first impress an employer with your cover letter, many HR professionals won't bother to read your resume. Thus, there's a chance your cover letter will be your only opportunity to convince a potential employer that you are a viable job candidate. Both the wording and the overall appearance of your cover letter should complement your resume.
Your cover letter should not duplicate too much information that's already in your resume. Use your one-page cover letter as a marketing tool designed to:
- Introduce yourself
- State the specific job for which you're applying
- Seize the reader's attention
- Pique the reader's interest
- Convey information about yourself that's not in your resume
- Briefly demonstrate your skills and accomplishments
- Convince the reader to read your resume
- Ask the reader for an action to be taken
Every cover letter should highlight things about you that are of direct interest to the recipient. Before sending a resume and cover letter to an employer, you must first develop an overall message and package to market yourself. This package should be synergistic.
As previously mentioned, the envelope, stationery, ink color, typestyle, and font should all match, and each piece in your resume package should work together to promote you—the applicant. Every aspect of your overall package can affect the decision to invite you in for an interview or not.
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.
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
The Support Paragraph
What about the employer specifically piqued your interest? Answering this question should be the purpose of one of your cover letter's support paragraphs. Here's an opportunity to compliment the employer, demonstrate you've done some research about its organization and industry, and show that you have a strong knowledge regarding what the company is all about.
Be sure to emphasize your experience and accomplishments. Avoid personal topics such as your age, race, religion, health, physical/ mental disabilities, hobbies, social security number, or references to your physical appearance.
When it comes to compensation (salary, benefits, etc.), avoid this topic in your cover letter. If your salary history is specifically requested, provide a range, not specific numbers.
As you create drafts for each cover letter, keep in mind that this too, like your resume, is a marketing tool. Include as many action words as possible. An extensive list of these words and phrases is provided in Appendix A.
A Request for Action
Typically, after responding to an ad or job opening announcement, the next step is to request a formal job interview.
This section of your cover letter should contain a request for the reader to take action and invite you for an interview. Remember, the person to whom you are writing is probably busy, so follow up with a telephone call and mention you will do so in your letter. Don't simply send out your resume package and then sit by the telephone waiting for a response.
This paragraph of your cover letter might be worded like one of the following:
I plan on being in the (city, state) area on (insert date) and would greatly appreciate the opportunity to meet with you in person. I'll call you next week to schedule an interview.
I'm looking forward to speaking with you in greater detail about this job opportunity. I will give you a call later this week to schedule a convenient time for an interview. In the meantime, please don't hesitate to give me a call at ###-###-####.
Upon reviewing my resume, I hope you will find time in your busy schedule to meet with me in person regarding the (insert job title) openings at your company. I'll give you a call later this week to schedule a convenient time for a meeting.
The opportunity to meet with you in person would be a privilege. To this end, I will contact you later in the week to schedule an appointment. In the meantime, please don't hesitate to give me a call at ###-###-####.
Your cover letter should conclude with a formal closing and your signature. Be sure to thank the reader for his or her interest, time, and consideration. A few ways to end the letter are:
- Sincerely yours,
- (Typed name)
- (Typed name)
- Best regards,
- (Typed name)
- Yours truly,
- (Typed name)
- (Typed name)
The wording of the final paragraph could be as follows:
Thank you, in advance, for reviewing my resume and considering me for the (job title) position you have available. I look forward to meeting with you in person for an interview soon.
- (Typed name)
Gathering the Facts Needed for a Cover Letter
Here's a short questionnaire to help you gather the information you will need when actually writing your cover letter. The answers you provide will help you write a well-organized letter that conveys the necessary key points.
Formatting Your Cover Letter on Paper
Traditional business correspondence can follow several basic formats, any of which are acceptable for a cover letter. With the possible exception of the thank-you note, all correspondence should be typed or created on a computer, as opposed to being handwritten. Exhibit 6–1 shows one example, and Exhibit 6–2 lists useful tips and guidelines for creating professional-looking cover letters.
The body of your cover letter can be left justified or fully justified, and it should be single spaced, printed using the same 12-point font as your resume, and use 1.25-inch left and right margins plus 1-inch top and bottom margins.
Create a Personalized Business Card to Accompany Your Package
To complement your resume and distinguish you from other applicants, have personal business cards printed with your contact information. These personal business cards should be included whenever you send a resume package and also with your thank-you notes.
For under $30, basic business cards can be printed that provide your contact information, including:
- Your full name
- Home phone number
- Cellular phone number
- Pager phone number
- Home and/or school address
- E-mail address
You can either have cards printed for you at a print shop, or you can buy special perforated stock either from an office-supply store and layout and print the cards on your PC. Again, it's best to use a laser printer.
It's important that the style of your personal business cards matches your resume in terms of paper color, font/typestyle, and ink color. The following is a sample layout for a personal business card that can be used as part of an overall resume package.
References and Letters of Recommendation
Another valuable piece of your overall resume package, which will be submitted to an employer during a job interview or upon request after submitting your resume and cover letter, is your list of personal and professional references. Most companies will simply ask you to fill in this information on the company's standard job application, or the hiring manager or someone in the HR department may contact you (usually after an interview) and ask you to provide this over the phone or via e-mail. However, if you are asked to submit a list of references on paper, here are some guidelines.
From a visual standpoint, this document should be printed on the same type of paper as your resume and cover letter, and use the same font, typestyle, and ink color. In terms of content, your references should list the full name, address, and phone number of each person, plus a brief description of that person's relationship to you (i.e., friend, former coworker, former employer, college professor, etc.).
References should be separated into two categories—personal and professional. Personal references can include friends (but not relatives), past college professors (or high school teachers), and personal acquaintances who are well known or whose name will carry clout (such as the CEO of a well-known company, a politician, or a celebrity who knows you).
Professional references can include past coworkers, supervisors, or employers; leaders of charity organizations for whom you've done work; and so on. These people can vouch for your professionalism, work experience, and skills.
Instead of providing employers with a list of your references, you may be asked for letters of recommendation written on your behalf. Letters of recommendation should, of course, be written by the person recommending you and printed on his or her personal or company letterhead. These documents should not be printed on the same paper as your resume and cover letters.
Remember to say Thank You!
Immediately after every job interview, send the interviewer (or the person/people you met with) a personalized thank-you note to show your appreciation for taking the time to see you. Even if an employer wants to hire you, it's common for interviewers to hold out on making a job offer to see if an applicant sends a thank-you note in a timely manner.
"Thank-you letters are a must! Get a business card from everyone you interview with so that you can get the names and titles correct on your thank-you letters, which should include a little tidbit of information from the interview so that they know you were paying attention. Don't copy the same letter over with the sentence order changed for different people within the same company. People don't usually compare thank-you letters, but you never know. In fact, a lot of folks just throw them out; but they do notice when they don't get one at all."
—ROZ, ACCOUNT EXECUTIVE
No matter how busy and stressed you are about the job-search process, and even if you're 100% convinced that after participating in an interview that you're not getting hired, take a few minutes to write and send a personalized thank-you note within 24 hours after your interview. Sending a thank-you note is just one way you can set yourself apart from the competition, while demonstrating that you have strong follow-up skills and are a true professional.
A thank-you note can either be typed, using a formal business letter format, and then printed on the same paper you used for your resume and cover letter, or you could handwrite your personalized message on a note card. If you handwrite the note, use a black or blue pen, and write extremely neatly. You can also send an e-mail.
When writing a thank-you note, follow these general guidelines:
- Remind the interviewer who you are and when you met.
- Thank the interviewer for his or her time and consideration.
- Once again, state the exact position for which you're applying.
- Briefly mention something specific from your interview (to jog the interviewer's memory regarding you).
- In one sentence, describe why you're the best applicant for the job.
- State how much you want the job and ask to be hired.
- If you have personal business cards printed containing your name, home phone number, and address, feel free to insert a card in the envelope with your note. This will help the interviewer remember exactly who you are.
Interviewers aren't the only people who should receive thankyou notes. Anyone who provided you career guidance or assistance should also be shown gratitude. Thanking people for their support will encourage them to assist you again in the future.
Creating a resume package, as you've probably surmised, is a time-consuming task. Once this aspect of your job-search process is completed and you've selected how you want your overall resume package to look, the next step involves finding the best job openings and then actually applying for those jobs.
Getting Your Resume into the Right Hands
Research shows that a huge percentage of job openings never actually get advertised in the newspaper's help-wanted section or on an online job site. As a result, it's up to you, as the job seeker, to find the best job opportunities and apply for them. In addition to relying on the employment ads, take full advantage of your networking skills. Contact friends, acquaintances, past employers, coworkers (past and present), college professors, professional associations, relatives, and anyone else who might know of available job opportunities for which you'd be suited.
From an employer's standpoint, they want to hire people who come highly recommended. Thus, you will always have a better advantage when you approach a potential employer through a personal introduction. Once you know what type of job you want to pursue, think about people you know who already work in that industry (or for the company for which you want to work) and make contact with them. Even if you don't have a direct connection to a company, chances are a friend of a friend might know someone who can make an introduction for you, so don't be afraid to tap your networking skills.
Never underestimate the power of a good network. When you're looking for a job, or even after you've found one, keep in touch with former classmates, friends, business associates, people you met at seminars and workshops, and even your family! You just never know who might have some useful information, advice, a contact, or a hot tip that leads you to an opportunity. A thriving, up-to-date network is more powerful than the classified ads, the Internet, or the bulletin board at the community center.
The Internet is also a powerful job search tool. Hundreds of career-related websites are available, such as The Monster Board (www.monster.com), offering literally thousands of job listings. These listings are updated on an ongoing basis. Appendix C at the end of this book is a listing of career-related websites worth visiting.
Also on the Internet, newsgroups and mailing lists that cater to a specific interest or occupation can also be useful for finding job opportunities or networking with people currently working in your field. In addition, industry trade journals and newsletters along with industry-oriented trade shows provide opportunities to learn who's doing what in specific industries.
No matter how you make contact with a potential employer, you will have the greatest level of success if you receive a personal introduction or already know someone working for the company for which you want to work. If you do not know anyone at a prospective company, send a cover letter and your resume to a company's HR manager: After all, it is HR's job to find new, qualified candidates. You should find out the name of the HR manager to whom you plan to write; do not just send a letter with the salutation, "Dear HR Manager," because your letter and resume are more likely to be read if you address them to an actual person who is actually working for the company in which you are interested. You can usually find out the name of the HR manager by calling the company's receptionist or by visiting the company's website—most of which have a section on "jobs" or "contact us," with instructions on how to apply to that company. Sending an unsolicited letter to HR is perfectly acceptable when you are just beginning your career.
That said, however, it is not a good idea to send an unsolicited resume to a hiring manager, unless you know that person or have a mutual contact, or until you have had years of experience in an industry and would really be writing more as a professional colleague seeking a high-level position. The hiring manager's primary job is not to screen resumes—especially if he or she isn't looking to hire anyone—so if you send your resume to these people, at best, they will simply route your resume down to HR, and at worst, they may ignore or toss your resume altogether. Typical managers may receive 50–100 e-mails a day, numerous phone calls, and lots of other unsolicited mail—so if they get something from someone they do not know, they are not likely to pay attention to it, and many managers have confessed to simply deleting e-mail messages—without even reading them—if they don't recognize the sender's name. Do not let your resume be ignored! Instead, send it to the right person—the HR manager.
And again, it's always best to address your resume to a specific individual within the company. Once you know to whom you want to send your resume package, if you've spent the necessary time creating an impressive resume package and you're qualified for the job for which you're applying, your chances of being invited for an interview increase dramatically.