Advice for Job Seekers - Cover Letters and Dreaming Big

by Jessica Krassow, MBA

For job seekers, here are a few tips I recommend from my years of hiring experience:

Cover your bases with a cover letter. Many hiring managers and online resume portals are doing away with the need for cover letters, and some experts argue that they are completely unnecessary. However, to some hiring managers, cover letters are still essential, and they are not superfluous. They show your style of thinking and conveying ideas, as well as provide greater explanation and extra information that might not fit on the resume.

Should you include a cover letter if you’re changing careers? In short, yes. If your resume doesn’t match the job requirements, or if you’re changing careers, it’s important to include a cover letter as explanation, especially if you’re trying to describe transferrable skills.

Details matter. If you choose to include a cover letter, make sure you include a cover letter pertaining to the actual company and position you are applying to, not a generic cover letter. Put the company's name in your cover letter where it would make sense and name the specific benefits you intend to bring them. This lets the interviewer know you pay attention to detail and aren't using the same cover letter for the 50 job applications you're working on that day; it lets the interviewer know that you might actually want to work for her company, and not just the first company who will hire you. The same goes for the resume. It’s great if you have room to add a summary of your qualifications at the beginning that includes the company’s name where you are applying and what you can offer the company.

And since we’re on the topic of Cover Letters…what about online job boards? If you’re applying for a job through an online job board where you actually submit your resume through that job board, it’s a good idea to make your cover letter a part of the same document as your uploaded resume, not entered into a separate part of the online application. For instance, when you apply through Indeed, the interviewer gets the resume as an attachment, but the cover letter is in the body of the email. I generally only have time to print out the attachment, and skip reading the email because it includes so much extra fluff from Indeed.

What if you’re relocating? If you are job searching in a location where you don't currently live and are applying to a smaller business, make sure to specify the reason you're relocating, and don't expect relocation or job interview travel assistance. In fact, it's really helpful to specify in your cover letter that you don't need relocation or interview travel assistance. Lots of businesses are small businesses with no budget to help for relocation or travel, and we generally don't have time to consider applicants who might be outside our area or need money to be able to work for us.

Grammar, schmammar. It's been said a hundred times if not a thousand, make sure you use proper grammar and spell everything correctly. Use spell check, but don't rely on it. It's a good idea to read everything you write aloud, even to another person, to make sure you're conveying the message you want to convey. My most embarrassing job seeking resume blunder many years ago was trusting spell check. I ended up “manging” budgets instead of “managing” them. Kind of a big difference. Needless to say, I didn’t get the job.

What if I don’t fit the job description exactly (or at all), but I really want the position? This is nitpicky, but I'm sure I'm not the only HR person who feels strongly about this. Yes, it's important to dream big and there are times where a resume might get an interview request even if the skills/qualifications don't match the posted job description exactly. However, if your resume/skills/qualifications don't meet at least 50-75% of the posted requirements, it’s wise to not waste your time or the hiring manager’s time sending in a resume. For instance, a past tax accountant position description I posted clearly stated that the requirements were a CPA/Enrolled Agent/Masters in Accounting with 5 years of tax preparation experience. If you are currently an accounting student with another year of college left, no credentials, and only 6 months of tax preparation experience, and you live in another state where you're completing your degree, it's probably a good idea to move on to another job posting.

This is not an exhaustive list, by any means, but these are a few specific things I have encountered, especially over the last year. I have been on both sides: job seeking and job giving, and it's always a good reminder what the hiring manager actually sees and wishes to see. Behind every resume is a story, and someone's life. If you're job seeking, make sure you're presenting yourself the way you would want to be seen if you were on the other side of the desk.

photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash