How To Write a Cover Letter

How To Write a Cover Letter

February 20, 2014  |  How to, Writing Tips  |  No Comments

The What

Writing a cover letter that stands out can be the difference between attaining the job of your dreams and not being considered at all. A competitive listing may receive hundreds, if not thousands, of applicants which means that the statistical chance of them choosing you is relatively small. Although a well written cover letter is not sufficient to guarantee that you get the job you desire, it is almost always a necessary component. The covering letter is of huge importance and should be considered a vital ingredient as far as your application is concerned. This is why the “cover” letter is typically the first page and not an appendix (although it is becoming increasingly common to attach the cover letter as a separate document). Whereas your CV/resume is meant to offer the reader (i.e. the hiring staff or potential manager) a brief summary of your accomplishments and qualifications, the covering letter serves to demonstrate your ability to express yourself. In essence, the resume is akin to the foundation of a building which carries the weight of the structure whereas the cover letter is more like the finishing/interior design which is perhaps not the most vital component of a building but most certainly the attribute that attracts the eye the most.

The cover letter points out to the employer that you have the qualities the job requires, and it makes a statement about yourself and how suitable you are for the job. It should give that je ne sais quoi, the personal touch that your CV intrinsically lacks.

According to a recent study1 conducted in the United States, a full 42.9% of employers required the applicants to submit a cover letter for each and every position they applied to. Only 29.8% felt that cover letters weren’t important or that they simply didn’t have time to read them. The remaining 27.4% had no opinion in the matter. Another study 2 published by an American firm credited as the world’s first and largest accounting and finance staffing firm states that 91% of the executives polled for the survey felt that cover letters were valuable in the evaluation of candidates. Although historically, the cover letter was typically sent as a hard copy accompanying the resume sent through regular post (“snail mail”). Its use has nevertheless not disappeared with the advent of electronic submissions. As a matter of fact, the study cited previously also states that as much as 79% of managers agree that sending a cover letter online is now the standard procedure.

The 3 Types of Cover Letters

Categorically, cover letters can be put into the following groups:

1. In response to an application: This type of cover letter is written in order to secure a known job opening. It’s directed, well tailored and specific.

2. A prospecting letter: This type of cover letter is uninvited and is meant to describe, in general terms, your abilities and how these fit the company’s requirements and/or culture. You’re essentially inquiring about future positions.

3. With intent to network: This type of letter requests either information and/or assistance in your job search.

This article focuses on the first category as this is perhaps the most common and therefore the most useful.

The Why

The reason to submit a cover letter is fairly straightforward. The cover letter offers you a chance to stand out from the crowd and allows the employer to assess your background in a way that cannot be done by merely scanning through a CV. There was a time when one could easily land a job with a simple and to the point resume. Unfortunately, those days have passed. In order to be considered as a serious contender these days, one will need to submit a cover letter that can demonstrate why they should choose you!

Back in the good o’l days, a person could land a job easily with a very brief CV and no cover letter. Unfortunately, much more is needed in this day and age to land a job. It’s important to submit a well written cover letter even if the position you are seeking doesn’t require one. The only case in which you would avoid writing a covering letter is when it explicitly states that no such document should be sent. In any other case, it will either constitute a vital component necessary to be considered eligible for the position or at the very least, help improve your chances buy making you stand out from the crowd.

The How

Perhaps the most important element of the cover letter is that it should be tailored for the specific position that you are seeking. Avoid using a generic cover letter that you send indiscriminately to different positions. Instead, take the time needed to customize each message and be sure to highlight aspects of your career or educational background that are relevant for the position in question. There should be no ambiguity that the cover letter is directed specifically towards the person reading it.

Issues that have to be covered

- The purpose of your application
Are you seeking an internship, a full time position or something else? The reason for writing the letter should be explicit and clear to the reader in the first few lines.

- What makes you the best candidate
You need to highlight the skills that you possess, the experience you’ve gained and the knowledge you’ve acquired that makes you the perfect candidate for the position. To accomplish this, you need to read the job description carefully and make sure you understand what’s needed from you.

- How did you hear about the position?
Did you stumble upon it by searching for positions related to “x” or perhaps through a flier or through a referral? This should be evident in the letter.

- Earliest date you can begin
Are you available immediately or can you only begin at a specific date? This sort of information should be included in your letter, perhaps near the end of the message.

- Your personality
The cover letter needs to be able to offer a glimpse of your personality. Although it is nearly impossible to convey something as intricate as one’s personality in a few lines, it still needs to have that personal touch. It goes without saying that you won’t be able to compress you personality into a brief document spanning 1-2 pages. However, one should be able to at least gain a glimpse of who you are even if that glimpse only reflects one small fracture of the whole puzzle.

Layout

The layout of your cover letter is important, there’s no denying that. Having that stated, it is by no means as important as well written content. A lack in design might be overlooked but a clumsy written piece is most definitely going to be discarded. Here are a few tips to consider when designing your cover letter:

Font type: Times New Roman is a standard font type that delivers time and again. If you want to try something different, I would recommend Arial (but use a smaller font size), Calibri or possibly Myriad Pro. Avoid at all cost fonts that look comical or childish such as Comic Sans.

Font size: 10-12 px depending on the font. Certain fonts are inherently larger and can therefore justify a smaller font size and the reverse is also true.

Margins: The default margins in Microsoft Word are generally set to 1 inch (2.54 cm) all around (top, bottom, left and right). No need to tinker with it unless you know what you’re doing.

Number of pages: Always keep it between ½ page and 1 page unless you have a very good reason to deviate from this. In the survey cited earlier 3 19% of employers argued that the cover letter should cover an entire page,
46% insisted that it should only be half a page long whereas 24% indicated that the shorter the length, the better. The remaining 11% had no particular preference. The important lesson to take from this is to never surpass the 1 page length unless you have good reasons to do so.

Keep in mind that a cover letter that is sent electronically does have certain characteristics that separates it from its physical counterpart. For one thing, the signature block containing address information is typically placed below your name in an e-mail but at the top of the page in a hard copy. In the e-mail letter, you will have to consider writing a good and captivating subject line. Sometimes, this line has already been specified by the employer and in such cases, make sure you comply to their standards. If not, keep it simple, descriptive and interesting. An example of the former is “Refnr:250 – Proposal Engineer – John Johnson” and the latter: “SEM Expert Seeking New Opportunity”. Although there are many other ways to write it, it should always be clear what type of message it is.

Finally, the handwritten signature should always be included in a hard copy but is of course not necessary in an electronic application.

Content

The primary objective of the cover letter is to make sure the reader understands why you’re the most suitable candidate. In addition to this, the letter has to cover the following issues:

  1. Entice the reader to look at your resume
  2. Explain your motivations behind sending your resume: be specific.
  3. Discuss how you came to this decision. What lead you to apply for this particular position?
  4. Show that you have knowledge about the company and its practices. Show how your skills are relevant to the company’s overall goals.
  5. If you have been referred by someone working in the company, this needs to be included.
  6. If you’ve worked with the company previously, perhaps as an intern or as part of a project, this too needs to be mentioned.
  7. Use examples of your relevant knowledge/experiences that makes you suitable for the position.
  8. Invite the employer to call you or get in touch with you for further information. Unless the employer specifically says otherwise, you can initiate the contact yourself once the submission has been sent.
  9. Provide information answering any specific questions that the employer may have inquired about in the official job description.

Sample Cover Letter

The following section4 shows you a few sample cover letters.

The Who

The cover letter is typically sent along the resume and supporting documents to the HR representative or even better, directly to the Hiring Manager. The chances of getting hired are significantly higher if you can skip the middle man and directly send your application with the covering letter to the person who has the final say on who gets in. Unfortunately, a lot of times, the manager will simply redirect you to the HR department where your application will end up in a large pile with other applicants. That’s unfortunate but true. A way to circumvent this conundrum is to look up who the manager for the position is and then attempt to book an appointment with the individual at their office. This will distinguish you from other applicants and give you a chance to explain why you’re the most suitable candidate for the position. Make sure you have prepared some questions that you can pose to this person.

The Where

If the application is sent through electronic means, which is more or less the norm these days, you will attach the cover letter in the manner specified on the job description page. This typically entails sending the cover letter and the resume as separate attachments. In some cases, the cover letter is either attached or “pasted in” the submission form. Be sure to always be certain of how many words you’re allowed to use in the submission form. It’s not particularly fun to have produced a well written, well tailored cover letter which is longer than the required number of words specified by the company in question. If there are no such requirements, you may refer to “The How” section of this article for guidelines in regards to length.

The When

The best time to send your cover letter (along with the rest of your application) is typically on a Monday. Why, you may ask, one Mondays and not on other days? The reason is simple: Mondays mark the new work week and the chances are that the recruiter’s desk isn’t cluttered with new applications. This line of thought is supported by a recent study 5 showing that people who send their job application on Mondays have a much higher chance of getting accepted to the next stage in the recruitment process. This result is based on an analysis of over 500,000 job applications showing that job-seekers who apply on Mondays have the highest success rate (30%), compare this to Saturday applications that had the lowest success rate (14%). The reason for this phenomenon is not explained in the study but a common theory is that job-seekers who apply on Mondays are simply more eager than others.

In addition to the above, you should also consider sending the job application as soon as possible since early applicants have a higher chance of getting hired.

Final tips

Here are some concluding remarks.

- Proofread the document
It is of paramount importance that the writing should be free of grammatical mistakes. At the very least, you need to use the spell check feature included in most word processors. In addition to this, be sure to read it out loud; by reading it out loud, you will notice if a particular sentence sounds strange. When you feel content with the quality of the document, print it, grab a marker and start reading. The final reading of the document should, in my opinion, always be based on a printed version even if the application is sent through electronic means. Remember, the person who will be reading the document is probably going to print it out and for this reason alone, it’s important that it looks nice when printed.

- Let someone else proofread it
You can let either someone who is a friend or a relative read through your cover letter. You would be surprised what they might pick up that you may have overlooked. This is why it’s always a good idea to let someone else offer their insights. It may be that something that felt obvious to you weren’t as obvious to your friend.

Things to AVOID

  • Do not lie: No job is worth the depletion of your integrity. Always be truthful, the truth always comes out in the end anyway. Also, by lying you have to keep track of all your lies and everything that happens from the rest of your career will always be based on an untruth.
  • Do not spit out cliches.
  • Do not make claims that you can’t back up, even if they are truthful. If you say for instance that you can speak Spanish, you better be prepared to show that if asked.
  • Do not sell yourself short: everyone has strengths. Make sure you highlight those strengths as much as possible without using too many flattery adjectives

References

  1. Hilden, Eric (2010). The Center for Career and Life Development at Saddl
    eback College
    . Available here. Accessed 2014 Feb 20th.
  2. Robert Half (2012), Covering All the Bases. Available here. Accessed 2014 Feb 20th.
  3. Hilden, Eric (2010). The Center for Career and Life Development at Saddl
    eback College
    . Available here. Accessed 2014 Feb 20th.
  4. Virginia Tech, Cover Letter: types and samples (2013). Available here. Accessed on 2014 Feb 20th.
  5. Farnham, A. Monday Best Day to Look for a Job (2013). ABC News Blogs.
How To Overcome Procrastination - Help and Solutions

How To Overcome Procrastination – Help and Solutions

October 3, 2013  |  How to, Managing Time, Self-Improvement  |  No Comments

Charles Dickens once famously remarked: “My advice is to never do tomorrow what you can do today. Procrastination is the thief of time.”; pertinent advice for all that are listening, one must agree. The reasonable person within us tends to agree with this sentiment, it is after all only logical to not postpone important work until tomorrow when it can just as easily be finished today. Alas, if only life was as easy as following the reasonable voices within us. Instead, although we instinctively agree with the aforementioned quote, often we tend to act in agreement with another quote.

This time uttered by Mark Twain, who quipped: “Never put off till tomorrow what may be done day after tomorrow just as well”. A lighthearted joke, I am sure. Unfortunately, from experience I think we can both agree, seeing as you´re currently reading this, that this lighthearted quote has defined much of our existence.

Enough is enough! In this guide, we will discuss how to overcome procrastination and offer a few possible solutions to slay that dragon once and for all. That being said, before we proceed, it might be prudent to shed some light on some of the possible reasons for procrastination.

Common Reasons for Procrastinating

There are various reasons for which people begin procrastinating. Below, you’ll find some of the more common ones. The best way to begin treating this problem of yours is to first acknowledge it, then understand it and finally face it.

The task seems too big.
I need not remind you that all great things started out simple. If the task is very large, instead of putting it off into the future (and thus make it ‘bigger’); deal with it today by breaking it up into smaller, more manageable tasks.

The lack of motivation
If you’re putting of the work because your lacking motivation, then you’re in deep waters. You need to remind yourself of the importance of this endeavor, not the importance of the task itself which may be small in magnitude but rather the importance of the mission itself. This brings me back to the old tale of the two construction workers. Once upon a time, as the tale goes, these two workers were standing side by side constructing what to the naked eye seemed like a wall. A passer-by asked one of the gentlemen what he was doing to which he responded: “I am building a wall”. The onlooker then turned to this colleague who choose to give the answer “I am building a hospital”. Now, even though the men were working on the same project, the construction of a new hospital, only one of these two individuals had his mind set on the greater goal. Although the task might have been putting up a few bricks, the overall endeavor was much greater than that.

Likewise, you will need to understand and properly value the greater picture. Do not let whimsical desires obfuscate your vision and make you loose sight on the things that are truly important.

How common is it?

The short answer: too common. According to a study by Steel (2007)1, a staggering 80-95 percent of college students procrastinate, particularly when it comes to writing assignments and other forms of course work. In an earlier study published in 1997 by Green et al2, procrastination was identified as the main culprit responsible for failed PhD studies. One would figure that academics who have pursued this line of work would be better apt to combat procrastination but reality says otherwise. This gives us even more reason to avoid procrastinating.

Procrastination solutions

Like most complex problems, you won’t find any quick fixes to procrastination. However, there are many potential solutions that can be tried.

  1. Establish a routine

  2. This is in my opinion, the best way to combat procrastination. Learn to create positive habits and sustain these habits until they become so intricate in your life, that you do not think about performing those tasks, you merely perform them. This is similar to how you visit the bathroom every morning when you wake up regardless of anything else. It has become an unshakable habit. If you can manage to turn those tasks which make you procrastinate and learn to deal with them the same way you deal with all your other habits, you will no longer procrastinate. And the way to accomplish this is through sheer force.

    Let us say for example that you need to finish writing a report. From the very get-go when this assignment or job task is announced, you need to get on top of it. This will undoubtedly feel contrived initially, much akin to the swallowing of bitter medicine with the hope of improved long term health. Do not let the laziness of today rob you from the successes of tomorrow.

    Once you’ve forced yourself to start working on this project of yours, it will immediately start to get easier. The real obstacle, you see, is actually inside your head. No matter the size of the task at hand, if you simply begin working on it, you will notice that as you start to get more things done, the “O, I really don’t want to do this” feeling will start to dissipate like a biscuit dipped in hot tea. The biggest part of the battle is forcing yourself to sit down and face your task.

  3. Develop the urgency of now

  4. This phrase, popularized by Dr. Martin Luther King in his famous ‘I have a dream’ speech, speaks to those of us who procrastinate. The time for now is never tomorrow. In all of your affairs, understand that if you do not get things done now, these things may never be done at all. Do not overestimate your capabilities in the future whilst denying your present capabilities their right due. The Scottish say that things that can be done at any time will be done at no time. This has a lot of truth to it. To respond to this, make sure that each of your tasks have their respected deadline to which you must strictly adhere.

Conclusion

Finally, I would like to conclude this article by reminding you that if you do not deal with your issues today when they are the most pressing; you will most likely regret it in the future. Imagine all of those times when you had wished that you had started earlier. Well, today you have the chance of a life time. You have the chance to start ‘earlier’ – today – so that tomorrow or next week or next month, you will be able to look back and not feel the slightest regret as a result of procrastination.

  1. Steel, P. (2007). The nature of procrastination: A meta-analytic and theoretical review of quintessential self-regulatory failure. Psychological Bulletin, 133(1), 65-94.
  2. Green, K. E. (1997). Psychosocial factors affecting dissertation completion. In Goodchild, L. F., Green, K. E., Katz, E. L., & Kluever, R. C. (Eds.), Rethinking the dissertation process: Tackling personal and institutional obstacles. New Directions for Higher Education, 99,. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 57-64.

Tech Tools For Study Habits & Organization

August 8, 2013  |  General Tips, Note-Taking, Study Skills  |  No Comments

Students are always looking for new ways to make studying just a bit easier, and just a bit more convenient. Of course, we’ve all had the experience of having to lug a massive textbook around, trying to read, memorize and absorb as much as possible before a major exam. Sometimes, this is just the way it has to happen! But these days, there are also a lot of new tools available to help students with organization and study habits. For example, here are a few ways in which apps and new technologies can help with school.

Flashcard Apps
For certain subjects, flashcards remain incredibly effective studying tools for many students. Whether you’re memorizing vocabulary, nailing down mathematical terms, or matching historical events with dates, flashcards can help you to drill in necessary information. Now, they’re easier to make and organize than ever, thanks to a number of apps. Flashcards Deluxe is particularly helpful, as it lets you make cards with words, images, and even sounds, and even allows you to download preexisting flashcard sets.

Cloud Storage
Cloud computing is at the forefront of file sharing and storing technology, and offers numerous organizational benefits for students. Particularly for university students, the ability to save work on a cloud and access it from any device (a library computer, a personal laptop, a mobile phone, etc.) is incredibly convenient, and makes for greater schoolwork efficiency. ShareFile is one useful cloud service provider to consider, as it offers valuable email encryption and security features in addition to simple cloud storage.

Cliffsnotes
If you’re a student, you know Cliffsnotes – the wildly popular service that offers literature summaries, character analysis, etc. to simplify your literature classes. Now, Cliffsnotes is available as a free mobile app, providing incredibly convenient study tools for these classes. Reading summaries, studying themes, and even taking practice quizzes can help you to understand your reading list more thoroughly than ever!

Downloadable Class Content
Depending on your school, you may be able to access notes and lectures online. But regardless of where you go to school, services like the TED Talks app and iTunes U can bring you lectures, educational videos, and class material from a variety of different professional sources. This can be hit or miss, but in the right situation it’s great for extra studying, clarification of class material, and supper for a paper or project.

Ultimately, these are just a few examples of the various technologies, apps and programs that are simplifying student organization and study habits. The fact is, new technological tools are coming out every day with the purpose of simplifying our lives, and students can find numerous ways to take advantage of them.

How To Code

How To Code

July 10, 2013  |  General Tips, How to, Uncategorized  |  No Comments

In this guide, we will cover how you can teach yourself computer programming. Learning how to code is in essence the process of acquiring a new language and a new mindset. Computer programming has become the fad of our times, its benefits are numerous and the way to learn it is rather straightforward and easy.

To learn how to code, one first needs to develop a learning strategy. Below, I have listed a few things to consider before embarking on your journey.

Which Programming Language Should I learn?

The first question you need to answer is which programming language do you wish to learn? You need to be absolutely sure, as adamant as one can be, that the language of your choosing is the one that fits your needs.

I Want to Create Websites

If you are primarily interested in developing websites, you may consider HTML and CSS (these are technically not programming languages but markup languages) as the corner stones of your web development education. The former will help you develop static websites whereas the latter will help you style the websites which you have created. Following this, you can venture into PHP and JavaScript. These two constitute the most popularly used (and therefore, most in demand) programming languages in existence.

I Want to Create Software

To create software, games and similar applications, these are the languages you will need to focus on; C and C++ will constitute a nice starting point. These are among the most popular programming languages used today and they will cover much of the basics and ‘intermediaries’ of coding. You should note that these are typically characterized as having a steep learning curve. Having that stated, learning C/C++ is beneficial seeing as so many computer games and applications in Windows are based on these languages.

Graph of programming languages trends

I Want to Create Smartphones applications for iPhone/Android

If you are primarily focused on creating mobile applications for Android, you should begin by learning Java using the Android Development Kit. Learning Java is further useful as it can run on virtually any OS, although the performance is typically not as good as when something has been created to run natively.

As far as iPhone apps and other Apple products are concerned, you will need to learn Objective-C as this is the main language used to develop apps for the OS X operating system used by iPhone. To decide which language you place an emphasis on, it is perhaps wise to ask whether or not you intend to sell the app for a fee or release it as a free product (with or without ads). The old saying goes that Android is better when it comes to free apps which produces revenue through ads whereas iPhone apps generally make more money through paid apps.

Where To Find Resources to Learn How To Code

There are lots of free tutorials, guides and articles on the web that can teach you how to begin coding. All you need to do is search youtube and you’ll find lots of videos showing you how to code in your language of preference. Although video tutorials are very useful, they shouldn’t constitute your sole method of learning. There are some really useful textbooks (which you can find both online and in libraries and bookstores) that cover an entire programming language from A to Z.

In short, to learn how to code, you should consult the following methods:

  • Video tutorials
  • Articles
  • eBooks
  • Textbooks

The different categories mentioned above can comprise both free as well as premium resources. In pursuing knowledge about how to program, it is crucial that you attempt to follow the examples provided in these guides. Programming is not something that you learn from a book, rather it is a continuous process of trial and error. This is how programmers get things done. A piece of code may not work immediately but given enough tries, it tends to work out fine in the end. It is also important that you do not give up too quickly. It takes time before you can develop intricate applications so do keep at it, every little step that you take in your journey brings you ever closer to your eventual target.

Essay Writing - IMRAD Format - Explanation

Essay Writing – IMRAD Format – Explanation

January 10, 2013  |  Writing Tips  |  No Comments

The IMRAD format is a very useful model to use when you are conducting research. It allows you to organize your research paper in a way which is consistent with standardized formats for papers. In short, the model stands for: Introduction – Method - Results – And – Discussion

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Clichés often old kernels of truth, but they seldom depict situations with complete accuracy.

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How to Write an Entrance Essay for Grad School

How to Write an Entrance Essay for Grad School

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Preparing a strong application that demonstrates how a student is capable of meeting the expectations and demands of graduate school is critical during the admissions process. There are multiple components to a graduate school application and schools vary in what information and documentation they require to complete an application.

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How To Prepare For an Exam

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There’s an old but true saying that those who do not prepare for success are preparing for failure. Passing your exams with high marks is not a particularly difficult task. The successful student plans his/her exam long before the actual due date.

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