My wife thinks that I have finally cracked. She believes that my affliction derives from too many years of opening envelopes or that I am feeling the strain of the many resumes I have read at night by the glow of the computer. Her concerns escalated just the other day, when she caught me reading my son bedtime stories that I had written for him about the job market. As I told her, I was just trying to teach him at an early age how to market himself into a good job. With all the competition out there, I want this boy ready when the time comes ...
Once upon a time, there were two interesting resumes which both wanted to attract the attention of Nancy Smith, assistant hiring manager at ABC Biotech. The first resume, a handsome six-pager in a gray envelope, said to the other, "I'm going to puff myself up real big and strong, and make it impossible for Nancy to miss me in that large stack." The second resume thought that this kind of behavior was inappropriate, but was too polite to say anything at first. But it thought for a minute, and then with a determined look said, "I'm going to cover myself with a short, powerful letter to Nancy so that she gets interested before she picks me up." The first resume laughed, and said in its most sarcastic tone, "What a silly little thing you are to think that a simple cover letter could make that kind of a difference. You're just a skinny, unattractive resume in a plain envelope. In fact, you won't even get a second look."
That morning, as the assistant hiring manager worked her way through the daily mail her eyes were drawn to the first resume, which stuck out from the pile in its gray pinstripe envelope. She opened the envelope and started to skim down the first page of the resume. "Gee, this resume has a lot of style and format, but not much content," she thought. The cover letter was of the mass-produced variety, simply restating the obvious education and credentials. After spending only a moment or two on it, Nancy set it aside with the others for filing. She continued opening the mail and skimmed a few other resumes in the same perfunctory manner. She stopped, however, when she came to that second resume, which included a letter personally addressed to her. "What an interesting package. This one hit the nail on the head. The cover letter describes our problem exactly, and then points out some accomplishments to look for in the resume. I'm going to read further on this one," she thought.
The little resume beamed, knowing that once an assistant hiring manager gets hooked, the story is almost certain to end "and they all lived happily ever after ..."
Let's face it, cover letters are read and resumes are skimmed. In light of this, why is it that so many of us put such little effort into writing the cover letter? For most people, this is because they incorrectly believe that the cover letter is a throwaway, and that the resume or CV inside that envelope is what counts. Although it is entirely true that the resume has to be well written and have good content, the cover letter's job is to point to what lies inside, and to make it more specific to that reader. Just like the cover of a magazine.
Can you imagine how much fun it would be to browse the newsstand if every magazine on the shelf looked alike? Instead, the cover shows you what lies inside and summarizes some of the key things that you will find there.
Although we are allowed to put more into a cover letter than can appear on a magazine cover, the challenge is still to keep it succinct. In fact, writing something that is powerful and yet short is the single most difficult kind of business writing. You already know that although it's easy to go on and on in a company memorandum, saying the same thing in half the space can make your work twice as powerful. And that's what you'll have to focus on in the cover letter for your resume package. You'll have three or four paragraphs at the most, on one page, and you'll need to get the interest of the professional reader of these documents who spends an average of no more than 2 minutes on each resume.
Here are the three important areas to consider as you write a good cover letter:
Appearance. Some of the reminders that I have for you deal with the way that your package looks and the appearance of the letter. But your first concern should be to make certain that your multipage CV has enough postage on it. Twice a week we have to pay for postage that was shorted by people who believe that anything that fits into a #10 envelope will mail for 37¢. What a terrific impression these folks make when the company has to pay the postage due on their application!
The quality of your stationery, the presence or absence of typographical errors, and other details of your letter's physical appearance combine to reveal your taste and style. It is only when style becomes all-important, as in my fable above, that it can hurt you.
Don't forget that cover letters are often scanned along with the CV or resume. Make sure that you have used common fonts and that you have avoided italics and underlining.
Using personal stationery for the cover letter is a classy touch. Stationery is usually on high-quality cotton content paper, one size smaller than the 8.5" x 11" size of the resume. Generally, ivory or white paper looks the most professional.
Never try and save time by using a window envelope. Many a resume has ended up in the accounting department because of this blunder.
Format. A form letter introduction--one that attempts to make the same letter work for all recipients--is a shortcut to disaster. The impression such letters inevitably create, particularly those that are photocopied, is that the writer has embarked on a resume-mailing campaign to every biotech and pharmaceutical company in the Western Hemisphere. Instead, develop a personal letter to a hiring manager or personnel authority at the company. Research the company well enough so that you can fine-tune your comments in the cover letter to specific issues that they are facing. For example, if you are targeting a regulatory affairs position, and you see that the company has a major product going into the clinic soon, you'll know to describe your technical writing experience and your ability to assist them with this registration process.
A workable format: The first paragraph should introduce who you are and where you work; the second paragraph should refer to one of your most appropriate accomplishments; and the closing paragraph should suggest some sort of action or describe your availability to interview.
If you have trouble getting that middle paragraph about the accomplishment into a brief statement, try using a challenge-approach-results format. State the problem you were faced with (one or two sentences), the approach you used to solve it (one or two sentences), and finally what happened as a result (one or two sentences). Voila, you've got a paragraph!
Content. Henry Ford once said, "If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get inside the other person's point of view and to see things from his angle as well as your own." That's why, as stated above, you must specifically identify something in your background or in one of your achievements that best relates to the company's issues. Often the ad you are replying to is a give-away, and yet people neglect that important information. If the ad refers to cell culture experience, do not spend that important middle paragraph describing your experience with E. coli. That's why it's generally not a good idea to customize your letters by simply changing the name and address at the top.
Although it is OK to use some "boiler plate" copy, don't waste the opportunity to get your message fine-tuned to the job at hand.
Don't use words that are uncomfortable for you or that you wouldn't use in conversation. As an example, "My resume is enclosed for your perusal" should probably read, "My resume is enclosed for your consideration."
Avoid creating what professional writers call "I-strain." This refers to the constant use of the word "I," which can get very tedious in a cover letter, almost to the point of making you appear self-centered. After you write your letter, go through it to remove a few extra "I's". Instead of writing a closing comment like, "I can be reached after 7:00 p.m.," you could make it "You can reach me any evening after 7:00 p.m."
Will There Be More Sappy Fairy Tales?
No worries. My wife has convinced me that our son needs time to be a boy before he needs to start thinking about his approach to the job market. My career as the author of children's stories about the biotechnology job market officially comes to an end with this month's column.
Application for internal job positions
Just because you are an internal candidate for a new job in your company doesn't mean you're a shoo-in.
Working within a large organization provides many advantages. One of the pros is that internal job opportunities arise from time to time, so employees don't even have to leave the building to advance their careers.
But it's easy to trip up when applying for an internal job. Why? One of the main problems is that many employees approach internal job offerings too casually. It's important to remember that similar rules and standards are in place when applying for any job, whether inside or outside a company.
Applying from within doesn't always necessarily give you an "in." The bottom line is you're trying to get a new job, and you need to use every professional tactic you can to get it. Follow these tips to help you get in from the inside.
Don't apply for every available position
You'll never be taken seriously if you apply each time a position opens. Clarify your reasons for applying for a specific job. If the opportunity is in a department in which you wish your career to grow, or if the position will allow you to expand your knowledge in a particular area, make it known.
Update your resume
Many internal candidates don't update their resumes, assuming that it's all in the family and the new internal position is merely an extension of their current one. Make sure your resume includes all the achievements you've earned since joining the organization.
Write a customized cover letter
What if you've done work for the manager who needs a new assistant, and he already knows you're terrific? There are still things the manager doesn't know about you. A cover letter should begin, "I appreciate the opportunity to apply for the XYZ position. Let me tell you why I am a good fit for the job."
Sound a bit formal? That's the idea. No matter how often you've talked to the person you're applying to, or how well he may know you, you want to use the application process as an opportunity to show how professional you are. It's quite possible the new potential boss only sees you as Sally, and not as Sally the super assistant, because he doesn't know about your specialized training, the education you're currently pursuing or your past work experience. When writing a cover letter for an internal position, be sure to expand on what makes you such a natural fit for the position: You're already familiar with the company's culture, there would be less onboarding time needed for things like orientation and paperwork, you would adhere to the same high standards that are currently expected of you, you would welcome the opportunity to build upon your success and continue your career at the company, et cetera. At the same time, you want to highlight the skills that would make you a valuable addition to that person's team—just as you would in a resume for an outside company.
Let your current boss know you're applying for the job
While you may not want your current boss to know you're seeking a new opportunity in the company, he will find out quickly if you become a candidate. Bosses don't like to be in the dark about what their employees are up to, so don't keep them there. Be honest about your reasons for applying for another position, and see if he would be willing to put in a good word for you.
Construct an internal support system
If you don't know the manager you're hoping to work for, get other people you know in common to promote you.
Write a thank-you letter after the interview
Remember it's still a job interview, and all the regular courtesies apply, including sending an interview thank-you letter.
Didn't get the job?
Now is a good time to find out why. Try to get some feedback from HR. Turn the rejection into an opportunity by getting whatever skills you need so that the next time you apply for a similar job, you'll be the winning candidate.
In the meantime, you should look for jobs outside of your current company. you can start by joining Monster today. As a member, you can get upload your resume, so recruiters, searching our database every day, can find good job candidates just like you.