10.2 Résumés and Cover Letters

Two key documents are required when applying for a job: your résumé and the cover letter. However, in addition to these, you must have the ability to create job application documents that are adapted to suit specific job advertisements. Carefully analyzing job postings will help you to assess your qualifications vis-a-vis their requirements, understand the job description, and customize your cover letter and résumé to more adequately highlight your knowledge, experience, and abilities in relation to the advertised posting.

Analyzing the Job Advertisement

Analyzing the job advertisement before creating your cover letter and editing your résumé enables you to more specifically address the requirements of the available job in your documents. Remember that the job advertisement has been carefully crafted to convey important information about the available position and the qualifications the employers are seeking in the ideal candidate. Key elements to analyze in a job include the following:

  1. The Job Description: The job description will typically offer a lot of detail about the various responsibilities involved in the position. Read it carefully and use it as a kind of checklist for determining if you have the experience and qualifications that will enable you to perform the various tasks and take on the responsibilities.
  2. Education and Experience: Educational qualifications are usually listed and will include university, certifications, and other specialized training, such as at-heights training, software knowledge, and the like. The minimum number of years of work experience in the field is also stipulated in this section of the job advertisement as well as specifics about the types of experience the employer is requiring.
  3. Qualifications: Employers will include a rather comprehensive list of qualifications that they are seeking in their prospective hires. The qualifications section will describe the knowledge, skills, and capabilities that the employer is seeking in prospective candidates. This is another checklist for you to use as a way of self-assessing your suitability for the available job. If you have most of the qualifications, consider applying for that job.
  4. Personal Qualities: In addition to role specific qualifications, employers will also specify the attributes that the ideal candidate should have. Such attributes may include: the ability to work well with others and independently, team collaboration skills, ability to work under pressure, interpersonal and communication skills, languages, and such.

Job advertisements will also include information like posting date, start date, salary, working conditions and physical demands along with a company description. Use these components to further inform your decision as to the suitability of the job for you.

Print out the job description and annotate it; get into a conversation with it:

  • Highlight or underline any qualifications that you hold — any skills you have, technologies you’ve used, etc.
  • Make note of any past achievements that relate to any of the preferred qualifications. For example, if the job description seeks a candidate who can diagnose and solve technical problems, write down an example of a specific time in which you did so in a professional or academic setting.
  • Circle any key terms you might use in your own materials. Using the same terms as a potential employer demonstrates to that employer that you are able to “speak their language.”
  • Note any questions/uncertainties and any qualifications you do not have in order to decide what to highlight and what to downplay in your materials (as well as what you need to learn more about).

Interestingly, only some applicants will have all the qualifications stipulated in the job advertisement. If you do have about 2/3 of the qualifications, go ahead and apply. Often, some skills and knowledge can be acquired once you are on the job.

 

Knowledge Check

Researching Your Potential Employer

It is important that you research your potential employer as well as the job for which you’re applying. The easiest way to research a potential employer is to visit the company’s website. Look for an “about us” page or a “mission statement,” and observe how the company describes its goals and values.

Try to answer the following questions about the company or organization:

  • Whom does this company serve?
  • Who are this company’s partners or competitors?
  • What technologies would I use at this company?
  • What is the tone of this company’s materials (formal, conservative, humorous, “cutting edge,” etc.)?
  • How would you describe this company’s brand?

Here are a few more ways to research a company: Search for its name on LinkedIn and other social media sites, browse for news articles about the company or press releases written by the company, speak with friends or colleagues who work for the company, or call the company to request an informational interview.

As you research, look for ways to connect with the company:

  • What do you admire about the company?
  • Where do your values and interests overlap with those of the company?
  • What makes this company a good fit for you?

Try to summarize your connection to the company in one sentence. Remember that your potential employer is also your audience, so adapt your tone, examples, and level of technicality accordingly.

Job Application Documents

A résumé is what employers focus on the most when judging an applicant’s suitability for doing the job for which they’re hiring. The résumé is the central document of your job application and is created using specific structural and stylistic conventions. Using this document as a guide, employers will ask themselves: Does the candidate have the right combination of core and soft skills to do that job? Did they acquire those skills with the right combination of education, employment, and other experience? Are they able to put a document together in a clear, concise, correct, organized, and reader-friendly way?

The cover letter is the first thing hiring managers see of you and plays a key role in convincing them to consider your application. Besides introducing the résumé and requesting an interview, the cover letter is a sales pitch explaining how you will benefit the company where you are applying. It also proves that you can put coherent, persuasive sentences and paragraphs together when writing formally on the employer’s behalf. The cover letter must be flawless because, like the résumé that follows it, even one writing error could be read as a sign of the poor quality of work to come and prompt the hiring manager to save time by shredding it immediately.

The résumé and cover letter work together to establish your credibility and suitability as a job candidate. These documents will therefore be the focus of the discussion below. But, let’s begin with the self-inventory as a first step to creating your résumé.

Conducting a Self-Inventory

As you work on your résumé, you may worry that you have nothing valuable to include, or you may worry that you are “bragging.” One way to get over these hurdles is to allocate pre-writing time to a self-inventory. Brainstorm your skills, accomplishments and knowledge. What did you accomplish at work, school, or a volunteer position? What skills have you learned? What would you tell a friend or family member you were proud of having achieved there? In addition to program-specific skills, you can also add a range of other skills. Get started by asking yourself the following questions:

  • What specific computer programs am I good at using? Do I have examples of work to show employers how I’ve used them at an intermediate or advanced level?
  • Do I work well with others? Have I demonstrated this with my employment experience or with volunteer or extracurricular activities such as league sports or clubs?
  • Am I better at following instructions or giving them? Am I destined for leadership roles? What proof can I offer up either way?
  • Can I read, write, and converse in another language besides English? At what level of proficiency?
  • Am I a quick learner? Am I a creative thinker? Can I think of specific instances as proof of my answers to these questions if asked in a job interview?
  • Am I a good communicator in both written and spoken situations? What evidence can I offer employers of my proficiency in both?
    (Guffey, Loewy, & Almonte, 2016, pp. 377-378)

Another way to generate a list of keywords relating to your area of specialization is to consult the vocational learning outcomes of your current academic program. These describe the skills that industry employers have said graduates must have to be considered for hire. Many of these skills are noted in the learning outcomes of your college courses.

Of course, you can’t put all of these on a résumé because the full list would include too many, be too detailed, and would need to be rewritten in your own words. At this point, however, what’s important is that you begin a master list of such skills that you can tailor for the résumé when you see the skills and duties employers list in their job postings. Matching the skills you have with those that employers are seeking is the key to a successful application.

In addition, try writing down key terms and action verbs that describe your experiences and accomplishments, and don’t worry yet about putting them into a résumé format. Here is an exercise to guide you.

EXERCISE 10.2.1

For help brainstorming action verbs that describe your skills, browse a key term list such as the one below. First, scan the groupings of skills (Communication Skills, Creative Skills, Financial Skills etc.) for key terms related to skills you have or work you have done. Then, write down 1) categories of skills you have (again, Communication Skills, Creative Skills, Financial Skills etc.) and 2) action verbs that describe skills you have or work you have done (e.g. analyzed, performed, calculated, advocated, etc.).

Communication/

People Skills

Creative Skills Management/

Leadership Skills

Helping Skills Organizational

Skills

Collaborated Combined Assigned Aided Arranged
Communicated Created Coordinated Arranged Categorized
Developed Developed Decided Assisted Distributed
Edited Drew Improved Contributed Organized
Incorporated Illustrated Led Cooperated Recorded
Proposed Planned Managed Encouraged Responded
Suggested Revised Oversaw Helped Updated
Synthesized Shaped Recommended Motivated Tracked
Translated Crafted Reviewed Supported Monitored
Facilitated Conceived Supervised Prepared Synthesized
Mediated Established Delegated Bolstered Adapted

Table adapted from Creating Resumes I by Roads to Success, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (Savage, n.d.).

As you gather information about your work history and skills, double-check that your information is accurate and current – gather dates of employment, dates of training, lists of activities you have been involved in, academic awards, achievements and special projects. Job descriptions or performance reviews from previous jobs can also include key terms to include on your résumé. Finally, ask former coworkers or managers about your significant workplace contributions.

EXERCISE 10.2.2

Get a partner and a piece of paper. Take ten-minute turns speaking and writing. The speaker should describe past work history and experience, especially as it relates to the job at hand. The writer should take notes while listening to her partner’s description, taking care to note any key terms she hears. The writer should also ask questions that help the speaker go into detail about the experience (who, what, when, where, why?). Be sure to ask about specialized technical skills and knowledge. Finally, the writer should help identify any skills or achievements the speaker may not realize he or she has; sometimes we have a skill that we don’t recognize because we assume it is something everyone can do.  Then, switch.

Knowledge Check

The Résumé

Can you get to an interview without a résumé? In most cases, no. The résumé is key to the hiring process–even in the age of LinkedIn. Sometimes one writing mistake—even just one little typo– will eliminate your candidacy. Employers demand perfection in the résumé for the following reasons:

Figure 10.2.1 Top reasons resumes are rejected by hiring
managers (Liu, n.d.).
  • When the hiring manager’s task is to whittle down a pile of a hundred applications to about five for interviews, even one writing mistake in a résumé gives them the reason they’re looking for to send the résumé to the shredder, thinning out the pile a little further.
  • A perfect résumé speaks volumes about how conscientious a job applicant can be about the quality of work to be produced on the job. If a résumé is poorly written, the employer can safely expect a similarly poor quality of work if the applicant became an employee.

Employer expectations are high and rising. Figure 10.2.1 describes how employers use employment documents and your social media presence to narrow the pool of candidates pre-interview. Gone are the days where a printed résumé was all you had to create. Today you must also project a professional image online in whatever employers find when they Google-search you—because they almost certainly will. Even your electronically submitted résumé must be written with a consideration of the electronic filters employers use to scan applications and pre-select those that truly answer the job posting’s requirements.

The next section will help you increase your chances of getting to interview for the job you’ve been training so hard for by writing a résumé that meets employer expectations. First, watch this Business Insider video, A Business Insider Reveals What a Perfect Résumé Looks Like (2016) for more information.

 

 

Knowledge Check

Developing Your Résumé

To be competitive in any fierce job competition, a generic résumé—i.e., the kind that you made a hundred copies of to get your first job and handed out to every shop on the street that had a “Help Wanted” sign in the window—just isn’t suitable for a job search related to your career field. Your best chance of succeeding is to make your applications stand out with superior quality, knowing that your application will be just one of the dozens, perhaps even hundreds, vying for interview spots. Along with those marred by glaring errors, generic résumés are the first to go into the shredder.

A targeted résumé, however, is tailored to present information specific to the job posting. An employer’s job posting is a wish-list of all the skills and qualifications that would set up the applicant for success in the position advertised and reflects the selection criteria the employer applies to every job application. The employer expects that each section of the résumé will prove the applicant is perfect for the job, as well as meet general expectations for quality of writing—clarity, conciseness, correctness, and accuracy—as well as document readability and organization.

You may choose from three résumé types based on your situation and employer requirements. Each type of résumé is defined by the method by which information is organized in it:

1. Reverse-chronological résumé: For each experience section (Education, Employment, and Related), this résumé lists your professional activities starting with the present or latest (most recent) at the top and your first (oldest) at the bottom. A key feature is a column with date ranges in months and years beside each educational program, job, and relevant activity you’ve done. This presents the hiring manager with a snapshot of where you’re at right now in your professional development, how you got there, and where you came from. See Figure 10.2.2 for an example.

 

Figure 10.2.2 Detailed chronological résumé with original color and design choices, created using Excel (Peterson, 2020, OER).

Reverse-chronological résumés can be revealing in ways that might not cast you in an entirely positive light. Exclusively short-term employment and significant gaps in your work and educational history will raise questions (Vandegriend, 2017).  However, there are alternative ways of organizing a résumé.

2. Functional (a.k.a. competency- or skills-based) résumé: Rather than organize the résumé around experience sections measured out in months and years, the functional résumé makes important skills the subheadings. The bullet points that follow explain in more detail what each skill entails, how it was acquired through training or education, and how it was practiced and applied professionally. The functional résumé is ideal if you have questionable gaps in your employment or educational history because it omits or de-emphasizes date ranges.

Here are some categories you may want to consider when drafting a functional résumé:

  • Communication skills
  • Teamwork skills
  • Leadership skills
  • Honors and special achievements
  • Athletic involvement and achievements
  • Volunteer experiences

Review the following: Figure 10.2.3Sample Functional Résumé 1″ and Figure 10.2.4 “Sample Functional Résumé 2” are examples of how a functional résumé might look.

Figure 10.2.3 Sample Functional Résumé 1 (Kinonen, Mold, Erickson, & Curtin, 2017, OER).

Figure 10.2.3 Sample Functional Résumé 2 (Kinonen, Mold, Erickson, & Curtin, 2017, OER).

 

3. Combination functional and reverse-chronological résumé (also known as the hybrid résumé): This is the most popular form and the basis for the information on targeted résumé parts given below. It uses the reverse-chronological format for the standard experience sections showcasing the applicant’s educational and employment history but adds a Skills and Qualifications Summary at the beginning to highlight the applicant’s abilities and credentials that match the job posting requirements. See Figure 10.2.4 for a sample combination or hybrid résumé.

Phil Phillips
1000 Yonge Lane, #5
Cityland, ON X0X 0X0
(123) 456-9999
example-email@example.com

Professional Summary

Reliable Pipeline Welder with an AWS Certification capable of handling any size job or project. Experience in planning complex pipe system layouts utilizing both orthographic and isometric drawings. Specialize in petrochemical and power production industries requiring extreme attention to detail and full understanding of all safety codes and procedures.

Highlights

  • Current AWS 6GR Certification
  • Comprehend detailed plans and specifications
  • Lay-out, install and repair all types of pipes and tubing
  • Maintain safe work environment and clean safety record
  • Capable of adapting to challenging working conditions in the field

Relevant Work Experience

Pipeline Welder
Middleburg Petroleum Industries
Cityland, ON
2015 to present

  • Develop detailed work plans in support of project specifications
  • Implement work plans through hands-on participation and/or supervision of staff
  • Inspect all work for compliance with job specifications
  • Point out deficiencies as necessary and supervise and approve corrective actions
  • Test pipelines and other related systems
  • Supervise compliance with safety regulations and minimized or removed workplace hazards

Pipeline Welder
Coastline Construction Company
Cityland, ON
2012 to 2015

  • Read and comprehended contract plans and specifications
  • Measured, cut and installed pipes according to plans
  • Maintained clean and safe work environment
  • Installed valves and other control equipment for pipeline testing
  • Submitted projects for testing and corrected deficiencies as required

Education

Cityland Community College, Cityland, ON
A.A.S. Welding Program, 2014

Cityland Technical Institute, Cityland, ON
Pipeline Welder Apprenticeship   2012

Certifications

American Welding Society (AWS) 6GR Certification

References furnished upon request

Figure 10.2.4 Sample combination or hybrid résumé (Fleming, n.d., OER).

Résumé Sections

Let’s look in detail at how you can make your résumé meet common (but not necessarily all) employer expectations in all parts of a combination reverse-chronological/functional targeted résumé.

Personal Information.  The personal information header appears at the top of the document.  Use your full legal name.  Below your name, add your contact information, including your physical mailing address, phone number, and email address. Whatever phone number you give, ensure that the personalized message that a caller hears if they’re sent to voicemail is a professional one. Also, don’t use your work email address unless your current employer is okay with you using it to look for work elsewhere.  Finally, space permitting, include a personal website such as a link to your LinkedIn profile and/or online portfolio.

The Objective statement should mention the company and position in question. This type of statement confirms to the employer that the résumé is targeted. The Objective statement singles out the employer as the applicant’s priority.  A targeted résumé’s Objective statement focuses on what exactly the applicant can do for the employer. See below for an example.

Example: To contribute to an increase in sales at Company XYZ as a top sales representative.

Skills and Qualification Summary. This skills and qualifications section follows the Objective because of its importance in declaring in one neat package the major attributes that match those in the job posting. If the job ad lists four main skills—let’s call them skills “ABCD”—the candidates who list skills ABCD in this section will have the best chance of getting an interview because they frontload their résumé with all the top-priority items the employer seeks. Doing this shows you can follow instructions and says to the employer, “I read your job posting and am confident that I’m what you’re looking for.”

Your Skills and Qualifications Summary section helps you pass the filter that many employers use to scan electronically submitted applications by using enough of the job posting’s keywords. If your application fails to mirror exactly the key terms listed throughout the job posting, the employer might not even see yours.

Dividing the Skills and Qualifications Summary into sub-lists related to categories of the job will increase your chances of meeting the employer’s approval. To use this prized real estate on the page effectively, consider arranging the sub-lists in three columns; a couple could be for job-specific technical skill sets, another for transferable soft skills. Only do this, however, if you’re sure that your application formatting won’t be electronically filtered out. Some of the online application software will convert résumés into scannable formats, often scrambling text into an unreadable mess. Table 10.2.1 provides an example of how to organize a table with categories highlighting your job skills.

Table 10.2.1 Examples of Job Skills Categories

       Programming Language                      Software                      Interpersonal
  • 3 years’ advanced proficiency in C++
  • 2 years’ intermediate use of C#
  • 1 year of familiarity with OpenGL
  • 3 years’ advanced proficiency with 3ds Max
  • 5 years’ functional proficiency with Photoshop
  • 2 years’ familiarity with Java
  • Excellent leadership and teamwork skills
  • Advanced writing and presentation skills
  • Fully bilingual (reading, writing, speaking) in English and French

 

Employment Experience. The Employment Experience section follows the same format as the Education section. List your jobs in reverse-chronological order with your current (or most recent) job first and your earliest last. List the month/year date ranges in the same position as in the Education section. The months are important because a date range such as “2015-2016” is misleading if you worked a few weeks before and after New Year’s, whereas “Dec. 2015 – Jan. 2016” honestly indicates seasonal work.  Figure 10.2.5 presents a sample employment experience section.

 

Figure 10.2.5 Sample employment experience section that lists employment experience in reverse chronological order (Bartsiokas & Hylton, 2019).

At the beginning of your working life, include whatever jobs you’ve done (except perhaps newspaper or flyer delivery), but make them relevant by adding transferable skills as sub-points underneath. While you should omit task-specific skills, definitely list transferable skills (e.g., teamwork) that match those listed in the job posting. As you can also see in Figure 10.2.6, use bullet-point action words to describe your experience. Use verbs for the present job in the present tense, and list those for past jobs in the past tense. Use clear, high-impact action verbs such as the following:

Achieved
Analyzed
Approved
Averaged
Collaborated
Constructed
Contributed
Converted
Coordinated
Corrected
Delegated
Designed
Directed
Enabled
Engineered
Established
Expanded
Expedited
Facilitated
Grew
Implemented
Improved
Increased
Initiated
Innovated
Introduced
Investigated
Managed
Organized
Overhauled
Pioneered
Prioritized
Provided
Reduced
Represented
Resolved
Restructured
Reviewed
Revitalized
Screened
Served
Spearheaded
Spurred
Streamlined
Strengthened
Supervised
Targeted
Transformed

Figure 10.2.6 Action words for describing your responsibilities (Bartsiokas & Hylton, 2019).

When in bullet-point descriptions of skills in a three-part verb + object + prepositional phrase structure, some of the above action verbs may look like the following:

  • Collaborated consistently with team members in working groups improving departmental processes
  • Streamlined collaborative report-writing processes by switching to Google Docs
  • Organized annual awards dinner celebration for a department of 150 employees
  • Designed 13 internal feedback forms in the company intranet for multiple departments
  • Secured government program funding successfully for eight departmental initiatives

Focus on quantifiable achievements and use actual numerical figures when possible. Also, place adverbs after the verb rather than beginning points with them (e.g., not Consistently collaborated with team members) so that you always lead with verbs (Guffey, Loewy, & Almonte, 2016, p. 387). To make your accomplishments more concrete, Google executive Laszlo Block (2014) advises you to structure them according to the following formula:

Accomplished X as measured by Y by doing Z.

Even if your job is just a grocery store cashier, you can quantify your achievements and put them in perspective. Instead of “Processed customer purchases at the checkout,” saying “Served 85 customers per day with 100% accuracy compared to my peers’ average of 70 customers at 90% accuracy” demonstrates your focus on achieving outstanding excellence with regard to KPIs (key performance indicators), which hiring managers will love (Block, 2014).

As you add more industry-specific work experience throughout your career, you can move those transferable skills to only career-oriented entries in this section and delete non-industry-related work experience. A decade or two into your working life, you’ll have a solid record of only career-oriented work experience in résumés targeted to career employers.

The gold standard of experience that employers want to see in a résumé is that you’ve previously done the job you’re applying for—just for another employer (Vandegriend, 2017). This means that you can carry on in the new position with minimal training. If that’s the case, you should place your Employment Experience section above your Education section. Otherwise, recent college graduates should lead with their more relevant Education section, appealing to employers hiring for potential rather than for experience.

References. In the context of the résumé, references are former employers who can vouch for you as a quality employee when asked by your prospective employer. You have two options for how to fill out your References section:

  1. Simply say “References available upon request” under the heading “References” following the Related Experience section.
  2. Include a References section (as in Figure 10.2.7) with actual entries when applying to a smaller organization that will likely make quick decisions about hiring.

Figure 10.2.7 Sample list of references (Kinonen, Mold, Erickson, & Curtin, 2017).

If you include references, put them all on one page at the end of your application, so they can be separated from your résumé and shredded at the end of the hiring process. Three or four references is best, and each must be someone who was in a position of authority over you, such as a manager or supervisor, for at least two years, ideally. The assumption is that less than two years is not enough time to fully assess the consistency of an employee’s work ethic. List your references in order of what you expect to be the most enthusiastic endorsement down to the least. Do not include coworkers, friends, or family members among your references.

Each reference must contain the following pieces of information:

  1. Full name in bold, followed by a comma and the reference’s official job title capitalized (e.g., Manager, Supervisor, CEO, or Franchise Owner)
  2. Company or organization they represent (or represented when you worked under them, though they’ve since moved on to another company).
  3. Phone number as employers checking references prefer to call, rather than email, so they can have a quick back-and-forth conversation about the candidate.
  4. Email address to allow the for the potential employer to set up a time for a phone call with the reference or to ask for details in writing if a phone call is somehow difficult or impossible (e.g., time-zone differences or international calling charges).

It’s very important that you confirm with your references that they will provide you with a strong endorsement (use those words when you ask) if called upon by a potential employer. Don’t be afraid to ask. Providing references is part of a manager’s or supervisor’s job. They got to where they are on the strength of their former employers’ references, and there’s a “pay it forward” principle motivating them to do the same for the employees under them. If they don’t believe in your potential, they’ll likely be honest in advising you to ask someone else.

 

Knowledge Check

The Cover Letter

An important distinction in the content between the résumé and cover letter is that the former is focused on your past, while the cover letter is focused on your future with the company. Many job applicants wastefully use the cover letter to express in sentences what they listed in point-form in their résumé. To be persuasive, however, the cover letter must convince the employer that you will apply the skills and qualifications developed through previous work, education, and other experience to your future job. They want to see how you believe you’ll help meet their business goals and fit within the company culture. If you answer the “What’s in it for us if we hire you?” question that hiring managers direct towards any cover letter, you increase your chances of getting an interview.

Is a cover letter even necessary? In cases where you know that the employer thinks they’re just a waste of time, then you can obviously skip it. Sometimes job postings will helpfully clarify whether they want a cover letter or not. What if they don’t say either way, though? The safe bet is to write a cover letter as part of your targeted approach to the job application. It’ll show the hiring manager that you’ve made the extra effort to explain how well you suit the job and give them more information to make a well-informed decision about you. Adding a cover letter looks better than all the applicants who didn’t bother. Check out this Careercake (2013) video that will introduce you to cover letters.

 

As a direct-approach message, the cover letter generally follows the AIDA pattern of persuasive message in its four paragraphs:

A for Attention States emphatically what job you want and that you qualify
I for Interest Summarizes how you will apply your skills and qualifications
D for Desire Explains why you’re interested in the company and job itself
A for Action Requests that the reader consider you for an interview

Knowledge Check

Cover Letter Sections

Let’s look in more detail at how to write each of the cover letter paragraphs plus surrounding parts.

Opening Salutation. The most impressive cover letters address the hiring manager formally by name in the opening salutation (Guffey et al., 2016, p. 398). “Dear Ms. Connie Jenkins:” tells the employer right away, “Take me seriously because I’m a targeted résumé” compared to the droves of applications introduced by generic cover letters beginning with “To whom it may concern:” or, worse, with no introductory cover letter at all. If the job posting identifies the recipient, creating a customized salutation gives you an early lead in the competition because it shows that you can follow orders, which not everyone does.

If the job posting does not identify the hiring manager, finding their name also shows that you’re resourceful and conscientious because you care about finding the right person to deal with—qualities employers love. You may have to dig for that information on the company website, by Google-searching for the company’s HR or recruiting personnel, or calling the company to ask whom you can address your application.

Job Opening Identification. If your cover letter responds to a job posting, its first paragraph should do no more or less than the following:

1. State the official job title of the position you’re seeking, as well as the reference number if one was provided in the job posting. Get right to the point by saying emphatically, “With 3 years experience in geo-surveying, I am applying for the position of . . .” or “Please accept this application submitted with keen interest for the position of . . . .” Don’t waste the reader’s time with redundant lead-ins such as “I’m Todd Harper and I’m applying for . . .”; they can see your name at the top and/or bottom of the page.

If the job posting included a reference number, include it in parentheses after the job title. Also, include it in the bolded subject line above along with the job title. Employers use job reference numbers to direct applications to the correct competition, especially if the company is large enough to run several at once.

2. Say where you found out about the job in the first sentence after naming the job title. If you were recommended by someone in the company, name-dropping works well here. Whether you heard about the job from a close network contact or if a recruiter recommended it or you saw the advertisement on Indeed, clearly state where you heard about the job.

3. State that you’re qualified for the position by mentioning a key qualification or experience. Then direct the reader to what follows. Be courteous in this request. A concluding sentence such as please consider the following application describing how I meet the required qualifications for the position nicely introduces the following paragraphs and résumé.

If your cover letter introduces an unsolicited application—i.e., it’s a “cold call” prospecting for work rather than responding to a job posting—take a more indirect, persuasive approach than the direct one advised above. Start by asking if the employer is in need of someone who can do what you do, then detail the skills you have that will benefit the employer.

Skills and Qualification Summary. Use your second paragraph to explain how you’ll apply the skills you’ve learned and practiced throughout your education, work, and other experience to benefit the employer in the position you’re applying for. Getting right to the point with this in a solicited application (responding to a job posting) is vital because anything you include that doesn’t instantly convince the employer that you have what they’re looking for is going to disqualify your application quickly. Avoid repeating and stretching out the Skills and Qualifications Summary section of your résumé.

Make the paragraph instead about how you’re going to benefit the employer, using those skills to help the company achieve its technical and business goals, which requires knowing and saying what they are. This is why you were advised to research the company at the outset of the application process and note their products and/or services, clientele demographics, and mission/vision statement. Show that you know what they want and that you have the necessary skills to deliver exactly that. If you convince the employer that you bring a skill set that will set you up for success in the position right away (with only minimal mandatory training), you’re a step closer to the interview. If you list skills that only partially mirror what the posting asks for (or, worse, not at all), however, you’ve moved your application a step closer to the shredder.

Employer Preference. Though many applicants meet the required baseline qualifications for the job, only those who look like they will be a good “fit” in the company or organization culture will be invited for an interview. The paragraph that follows the qualifications paragraph is crucial to convincing the employer that you’ll fit in nicely. To assure the employer you will be truly happy in that position, say what attracts you to it and to the company in general. Perhaps you have been a customer in the past and were really impressed by the product or service and the people you dealt with, and now you want to participate in the effort to make more satisfied customers like you’ve been. Saying that your priority is to make the company’s customers and stakeholders happy, perhaps by paraphrasing the mission or vision statement available on their website and making it your own, goes a long way toward convincing the employer that you’re their kind of people.

Closing Requests. End your letter’s message concisely with two or three sentences that do the following:

  1. Thank the reader for considering your application. Politely phrase this as a request to read on to the next page: I very much appreciate your considering me for this position. Please review the attached résumé for a more detailed explanation of how I meet or exceed the required qualifications.
  2. Request an interview. Since winning an interview spot for a chance to get a job offer is the entire goal of the application, make your intentions clear by stating your desire to talk in person. You can say that you look forward to meeting and discussing further your “fit” in the organization, since that’s exactly what they’ll be doing with the interview. Though some cover letter writing guides advise ending with confidence, saying something like you’ll be contacting them to arrange an interview or, worse, thanking them in advance for the job offer to come or asking when you can start the job will appear entitled in the worst way. Any statement that assumes a certain victory looks like you’re saying that this opportunity is owed to you rather than earned. An important part of being courteous here at the letter’s closing is being humble.

See Figure 10.2.8 below for a sample cover letter.

Sample Student Cover Letter – Welding

Albert Flynn
94 Example North Street
Odessa, ON X0X 0X0
(000) 123-9999
albert.tac @ email.com

April 1, 20XX

Mr. Bruce Campbell
Manager Works
Kinder Morgan
2 Some Avenue
Odessa, ON 0X0 X0X

RE: Welder Position

Dear Mr. Campbell:

I am writing to apply for the position of welder at Kinder Morgan, as advertised in the Daily Tribune. I have a technical certificate in welding, AWS credentials as a Certified Welder Fabricator, and five years of experience in welding. I always keep safety guidelines at the forefront while completing welding work, and I ensure my coworkers do as well.

As indicated in the enclosed résumé, I am adept at welding metal components to repair or fabricate products using brazing, electric arc, and gas welding equipment. Additionally, I have a demonstrated ability to read and interpret layouts and blueprints. Moreover, I am proficient in different measuring tools such as tape measure, dial caliper, micrometer, and protractor. Above all, I am able to follow health and safety guidelines while performing the welding and fabrication tasks.

As a worker, I am a strong team player and work well with coworkers and supervisors. I am also flexible and able to work long hours when needed for a project and to come in for additional shifts. I am also eager to share project ideas that will move Kinder Morgan into future success.

I am confident that my experiences, expertise, and strong interest in exceeding the goals of Kinder Morgan make me an exceptional candidate for your welder position. I look forward to discussing my qualifications with you further in a meeting.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Albert Flynn

Enc. Résumé

Figure 10.2.8 Sample cover letter for a technical position (Fleming, n.d.).

Knowledge Check

 

EXERCISE 10.2.3

1. Write a targeted résumé for the job posting you chose in the previous chapter. Moving forward, you can use this as a model for how to excerpt a targeted résumé from your generic CV.

2. Write an unsolicited cover letter for your dream job. Take the indirect approach and be convincing in how you present your pitch.

 

Credits: Content for this section of the text has been partially adapted from Tom Bartsiokas’ and Tricia Hylton’s Communication@ Work (2019), which has been adapted from Jordan Smith’s original Business Communication for Success (2015). Some content has been remixed and adapted from the chapter entitled Preparation by Megan Savage, in Technical Writing (n.d.).  Model documents have been remixed from OER sources as indicated. Some content was created by Robin L. Potter.

 

References

Bartsiokas, Tom. & Hylton, Tricia (2019). Communication@Work. CC by 4.0 https://pressbooks.senecacollege.ca/buscomm/  Adapted from Smith, J. (2015) Communicating for success. OER CC by 4.0.

Block, L. (2014, September 29). My personal formula for a winning résumé. LinkedIn. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20140929001534-24454816-my-personal-formula-for-a-better-resume

Business Insider. (2016). A business insider reveals what a perfect résumé looks like [Video]. Youtube. https://www.thejobnetwork.com/this-is-why-your-resume-was-rejected-infographic/

Careercake. (2013). 5 steps to an incredible cover letter [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mxOli8laZos

Fleming, W. (n.d.). Technical writing for technicians. OER CC by 4.0. https://www.oercommons.org/courses/technical-writing-for-technicians/view

Guffey, M. E., Loewy, D., Almonte, R. (2016). Essentials of business communication (8th Can. Ed.). Toronto: Nelson.

Guffey, M., Loewry, D., & Griffin, E. (2019). Business communication: Process and product (6th ed.). Toronto, ON: Nelson Education.  http://www.cengage.com/cgi-wadsworth/course_products_wp.pl?fid=M20b&product_isbn_issn=9780176531393&template=NELSON

Kinonen, A., Mold, J., Erickson, E., & Curtin, S. (2017). ENGL145 Technical and report writing. CC 4.0 https://www.oercommons.org/courses/bay-college-engl-145-technical-and-report-writing/view

Liu, J. (n.d.). This is why your résumé was rejected [Infographic]. The job network. https://www.thejobnetwork.com/this-is-why-your-resume-was-rejected-infographic/

Peterson, K. (2020). Crafting résumés. In Beilfuss, M., Bettes, S., & Peterson, K. (2020). Technical and professional writing genres: A study in theory and practice. OER CC by 4.0 https://www.oercommons.org/courses/technical-and-professional-writing-genres-beta-openokstate/view

Savage, M. (n.d.) Chapter 12.1: Preparation. In Gross, G., Hamlin, A., Merck, B., Rubio, C., Naas, J., Savage, M., & DeSilva, M. Technical writing. OER. CC by 4.0. https://openoregon.pressbooks.pub/technicalwriting/chapter/y-1-preparation/

Vandegriend, K. (2017, November 30). Hiring manager résumé pet peeves, must-haves, and red flags. Career Story. http://careerstory.ca/blog/2017/hiring-manager-resume-pet-peeves-must-haves-and-red-flags

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Technical Writing Essentials by Suzan Last is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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