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How to Write a Killer Cover Letter

You’ve found the perfect job, your resume is ready to go, but there’s one last thing on your to-do list: the dreaded cover letter.

While it might seem easy to write a one-page letter touting your strengths, many job seekers struggle to understand what, exactly, an employer is looking for and how to translate that into a couple of paragraphs.

Cover letters are unavoidable, and many employers consider them the most important part of any job application. As much as you’d prefer to let your resume speak for itself, your cover letter is truly your chance to make the best first impression. This is your opportunity to showcase your talents, stand out from competing candidates, and help hiring managers get to know you outside of your resume.

It’s time to give that cover letter the TLC it deserves. Below are a few simple tips to help you write a cover letter that lands your dream job:

1. Always Submit a Cover Letter

This bit of advice might seem pretty obvious to you, but many people think cover letters are optional. Even if the job description doesn’t specifically ask for one, you should still include one.

Applicants who don’t take the time to write a cover letter are typically seen as less motivated, and most hiring managers won’t even look at an application that lacks one. Cover letters are a must! We all know the time and stress that goes into writing one, but by going the extra mile, you prove your interest in the job while showing you’re willing to put in the effort.

2. Don’t Regurgitate Your Resume

Yes, it’s okay to talk about the things listed on your resume, but don’t copy and paste them right from the document. Instead, elaborate on your previous experiences and highlight things that relate to the position you’re applying for. A cover letter lets you put your skills into full sentences rather than just bullet points. Use this time to share additional details you weren’t able to squeeze onto your single-page resume and tell a story about why you’re the perfect fit for the job.

3. Don’t Apologize for Skills You Don’t Have

This is one of the most common cover letter mistakes. For some reason, we all feel the need to apologize for our perceived shortfalls — but why? If you don’t meet all of the job requirements, don’t draw attention to that fact. Instead, stay positive and focus on the skills you do have. It’s better to highlight your strengths than to apologize for your weaknesses.

4. Don’t Be Too Formal — Show Some Personality

Remember the person receiving your cover letter is just that: a person. Spare the overly formal constructions and put some personality into it. Reading through cover letters can be exhausting, and employers often only skim them. Dare to get noticed. Make your cover letter stand out. Give employers a reason to stop and read your full letter. It just might be the thing that lands you an interview.

5. Pay Attention to the Details

The smallest grammar mistake will most likely land your application in the “no” stack. It doesn’t matter what job you’re applying for; hiring managers are always looking for smart, detail-oriented individuals. If you misspell a word or forget a comma, don’t think it will go unnoticed. Be sure to proofread thoroughly your cover letter before submitting it. Consider having a colleague or friend review it as well for added security.

6. Be Yourself

Last and most importantly, be yourself. There is nothing worse than someone trying to be something they’re not. If you land the interview after blatantly lying in your cover letter, the employer is going to find out, and you won’t get the job. Be confident in yourself and highlight your true strengths. An honest cover letter will go a long way.

While it can be stressful to write, a cover letter can make or break your chance of landing an interview. Be patient and give your letter the attention it needs. You’ll be happy you did.

Ahnaf Bashir is the vice president of human resources at Advance Financial.

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Apply the Genius Habit to Your Job Search

Being able to navigate a job search seamlessly is imperative in the changing landscape of work. While a job search can be intimidating, you need to get used to the idea because you will have to go through the job interview process many times over the course of your career. Gone are the days when most people stayed with the same company — or even the same industry — for their entire careers.

To find the right new job, you need to become a job search ninja. A job search ninja is fearless about the prospect of navigating a change and confident in their value. If it’s clear that things aren’t ideal in your current role, start the job search with excitement and a plan. The less fear you have about changing jobs, the more powerful you will be in terms of guiding your career toward your vision and in the direction you want to go.

I’ve met many people who avoid the job search entirely. They stay in jobs they don’t like because they are overwhelmed at the prospect of searching for new ones. They simply don’t know where to begin and don’t understand the process, especially regarding the ever-evolving ways that technology and social media have changed recruiting. These people are unprepared to face the rejections that invariably come or the arduousness of identifying the right targets. They also lack clarity on how to speak about themselves, what value they bring, and what they are looking for.

Once you know your “Zone of Genius,” there will be infinite possibilities for you to explore, but sometimes the infinite possibilities are what make finding a job so daunting. The job search is an area in which you can use your genius and your purpose to narrow down your search. Start with organizations or types of work that are meaningful to you. Is there an opportunity for you to impact directly another person who is aligned with your purpose? Is the company delivering or creating a product or helping people in a way that’s connected to your purpose? If not, keep looking.

Once you have identified areas of work or companies that may be a good fit for your purpose, look at the specific jobs and potential roles that could use your genius. Use the kind of thinking and problem-solving that you’re best at and compare your genius to the job opportunities. When you land the interview, you can find out more information about how often you would be able to use your genius on a day-to-day basis. If the job has no opportunity for you to use your genius, it’s not the right job for you.

Lastly, try to get a sense of the culture at every company you interview with. A sense of connection with the person you would be reporting to is a great place to start in terms of figuring out whether you would be a good fit for the team. Many people take jobs they think will look good on their resumes, or they have waited so long to start looking for new opportunities that they are burned out on their current jobs and take the first offers that come along. However, if you are so desperate to leave your old job that you don’t take the time to vet properly the new company and manager, you will likely end up right back where you started: unhappy and looking for a way out.

Have faith that the right opportunity will come your way, and until then, dig into the process and do a lot of work. I have clients who come to me in despair saying they left their previous positions and can’t find jobs. Then, I find out they’re only reaching out to two or three companies a week when they should be targeting 10, 15, or 20. If you’re not working, a job search should be your full-time job. If you’re still employed, expect to do less job hunting each day and recognize the process will take more time.

If your job search is taking longer than you expected, get curious. There are probably areas of the interview process in which you can improve, such as how you’re presenting yourself or how thoroughly you’re interviewing a potential employer. Use your search to build grit, and never give up. There are endless opportunities. If you embrace the process as an adventure rather than a chore and become skilled at speaking about yourself, you will end up finding opportunities that you never thought existed.

Excerpted from The Genius Habit: How One Habit Can Radically Change Your Work and Your Life (Sourcebooks 2019) by Laura Garnett.

Laura Garnett is a performance strategist, TEDx speaker, founder of Garnett Consulting, and the creator of the Genius Habit.

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How to Prove Your Leadership Skills on Your Resume

It is usually fairly easy to showcase your qualifications and hard skills on a resume, but demonstrating your soft skills can be quite a challenge. This is especially true in the case of leadership skills: It’s easy to say you have them, but it’s much more difficult to prove you do.

Demonstrating your leadership skills is essential to landing many roles, especially those with supervisory or managerial duties. Here are five ways to craft a more convincing portrait of your leadership skills on your resume:

1. Explain the Structures of Your Previous Teams

Recruiters will not know the organizational structures of your previous employers or how your previous positions fit into them. A great way to quickly demonstrate your leadership skills is to explain where your position fell in the company hierarchy and the type of people you led in that position. You can make this information quantifiable by writing about the number of people on your team, the number of people in total, and how your work fed into the business.

Example: “Managed a team of 6 analysts, reporting directly to the managing director.”

2. Reference Your Delegation Skills

A good leader knows when to delegate and how to get the most out of their team members. Of course, when describing your delegation skills, be sure not to take attention away from your integral role in the project. Instead, your stories of delegation should showcase the fact that you were being an effective leader, not simply passing work off onto your subordinates. Keywords such as “empower,” “appoint,” “mobilize,” “engage,” and “connect” can show your delegation skills without taking the focus away from your own role as a leader.

Example: “Mobilized a team of 3 project managers to deliver 5 milestones, with a weekly reporting process for updates and issues.”

3. Talk About Leading From the Front

Sure, having leadership skills means being able to encourage your team members to give their all, but the best leaders make their own contributions as much as they delegate. Showcasing your ability to lead by example is a great way to provide evidence of your leadership skills.

Discuss past projects where you changed a process or encouraged others by the work you did yourself. Some keywords you may want to use in this context include “guide,” “coach,” “enable,” and “stimulate.”

Example: “Led a team with a sales revenue of $3 million, with myself personally contributing $550,000.”

4. Detail Your Team’s Achievements

An effective leader is one who can develop an effective team and inspire it to reach its goals. In light of this fact, detailing your team’s key achievements can be a good way to present your leadership skills in action. Structure mentions of your team achievements with first-person pronouns (“I” and “we”), and highlight what you did and what your team was able to achieve because of your actions.

Example: “By providing effective motivation and incentivization, I was able to increase team productivity by 15 percent.”

5. Describe How You Played a Key Role in Your Team’s Effectiveness

While showcasing your team’s achievements can help demonstrate your leadership skills, you have to be careful to emphasize your role in creating such an effective team. You don’t want recruiters to assume you were simply lucky enough to walk onto a highly effective team that already existed. It is important that your resume’s descriptions of your team keep the focus on your role in making it as effective as it was.

Example: “Rescued failing project that was behind schedule, ultimately allowing us to deliver it six weeks ahead of completion.”

If there is one key takeaway in all of this, it would be the following: When discussing your leadership skills in your resume, it is essential to keep the focus on yourself, your input, and your results. It can be difficult not to approach your achievements with a team-oriented mindset, but remember: Recruiters are hiring you, not your team.

Andrew Fennell is the founder of UK-based CV-writing advice website StandOut CV.