How to write cover letters quickly

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Published Date:05-07-2017
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Ontario Public Service Writing a Cover Letter and Résumé: Tips, Tools and Resources Prepared by: HR Program Management Branch HR Service Delivery Division Ontario Shared Services Ministry of Government and Consumer Services Updated October 2015 What’s New Effective December 1, 2011 the Ontario Public Service (OPS) will request that all applications (cover letter and résumé combined) should not exceed five pages in length (or less). The Cover Letter and Résumé Writing Guide has been updated to provide you with the tips and tools you will need to write a cover letter and résumé within the requested five page limit. These include: • Tips on how to write a concise cover letter and résumé which focus on information that is most relevant to the qualifications of the job you are applying to. • New links to provide you with additional tips and tools to help you write your résumé and cover letter. • New sample cover letter and résumé to help guide you in your cover letter and résumé writing. • Summary of common cover letter and résumé errors and tips to help you avoid making those errors in your cover letter and résumé. Remember, the tools and tips provided in “Writing a Cover Letter and Résumé: Tips, Tools and Resources” have been developed to help you prepare your cover letter and résumé to apply to positions within the Ontario Public Service. While this guide will not guarantee you an OPS interview, it will allow you to market yourself more effectively for an OPS competition. The resources within this guide will help you in developing the foundation to write your cover letter and résumé. GOOD LUCK in your future endeavours Preparing Your Application Your cover letter and résumé are the most important documents you can use to demonstrate your skills, experience and knowledge in relation to job advertisements. Page 4 Overall, your cover letter and résumé are your opportunity to clearly convey to the employer how you meet the job requirements. Before you decide to apply, ask yourself these key questions: Can you do the job? • Do you meet the requirements described in the job advertisement?  Consider some of the strengths you have that would be relevant and transferable to the new position.  Remember, developing your cover letter and résumé for positions for which you are a good match is much easier than trying to apply your skills and experience for a job that is not a match. Spending time applying to jobs that you are not really interested in which do not utilize your skills and experiences will only reduce your chances of success. Are you really interested? • Success comes from doing something you like to do. Are you interested in the work and business of the ministry you are applying to?  It is strongly recommended that you research the ministry, the branch and the specific position that has been posted to determine your interest. What’s in it for you? • Does the job potentially contribute to the goals you have set for your career and life?  Look for the jobs that match your values and will help you develop as a person or professional. What is the work environment like? • Does it look like the environment of the job will fit with your personal situation and expectations? Page 5  Do your research and define your requirements related to your commute, work schedule, team and business goals. When you find the ideal job to apply to, begin to strategize how you will write your cover letter and résumé. As you prepare your application consider the following:  How have you demonstrated the skills, knowledge and qualifications required for the position you are applying for?  What relevant training, experience, accomplishments and/or education do you have to substantiate the skills, knowledge and qualifications you outline?  What makes you stand out from all of the other applicants?  What type of crucial information should you include and what can you leave out?  Have you communicated the necessary information concisely within five pages (or less)? Remember, when you submit your cover letter and résumé, it will be carefully screened and evaluated against the qualifications outlined in the job advertisement. Research the Job First Analyzing the Job Advertisement When applying to a job advertisement, it is important to recognize the needs of the organization and then match your qualifications and experience to those needs. Research can help you identify if the job is right for you. Researching the Job 1) Carefully read through the job advertisement to get a good understanding of what the job is about. The “What We Are Looking For” section of the job advertisement provides you with a list of the required qualifications. Page 6 2) Additional information about the job requirements is also located under the “View Job Spec” icon. 3) If there is a “View More Info” icon, this will provide you with additional information about the work environment or vital information about the job. 4) You can gather valuable information about the ministry you are considering applying to from a variety of sources, including: • Internet sites for the specific ministry, which will allow you to research ministry priorities, programs and news items. • Ministry publications at Service Ontario Publications • Current newspaper articles relating to a specific ministry and its core businesses and initiatives. • INFO-GO provides insight into the services and organizational structure of the branch and/or division that you are applying for. 5) Think of all the positions you’ve held and the skills that you have that are transferable and relevant to the job you are applying to. List those skills with indicators of how you obtained them. 6) Include extracurricular activities (volunteer work, memberships, hobbies) if they highlight skills that you have not used in the workplace, but are relevant to the position. Writing a Good Cover Letter Page 7 Your cover letter provides prospective employers with their first impression of you. Everyone who sends a résumé should submit it with a cover letter. Although in the OPS a cover letter is not mandatory, your cover letter is the ideal tool to display how you meet the qualifications of the specific job you are applying to. A cover letter allows you to: • Supplement the information included in your résumé. • Emphasize the knowledge and skills you have in relation to the qualifications of the position. • Convey in a narrative format what unique qualities you can bring to the position. • Enhance your résumé by adding a more personal touch to the package. The OPS is requesting that applications for OPS positions should not exceed five pages. When considering the ideal length of your cover letter, the length and content should be appropriate for the position to which you are applying. Aim for a cover letter that is one to two page(s) in length. To help you write a cover letter, consider the following tips: 1. Be concise. The ideal length for a cover letter is between one to two page(s). Be sure to emphasize the Job ID and position you are applying for as well as your key skills and accomplishments that fit the role. • Avoid repeating information. • Avoid including irrelevant information, remember your cover letter is a career marketing tool, not an autobiography. • Edit unnecessary words. 2. Tailor your cover letter to the qualifications of the job advertisement. • Focus on the duties that are relevant to the position you are applying for. • Focus on your most recent experience and accomplishments. Page 8 3. Write your cover letter in your own words so that it sounds like you and not like something out of a book. • Avoid directly copying material from the job description and placing it in your cover letter. 4. Proofread your cover letter to ensure there are no spelling, typing or grammatical errors. • If you need a little help with grammar, review Strunk & White's Elements of Style. • A good place to begin is "Chapter 5: Words and Expressions Commonly Misused." 5. Show that you know something about the ministry or the organization. • This is where your research comes in. Briefly demonstrate why you match the skills and knowledge that they are looking for and what value you can bring to the organization. What’s in a Good Cover Letter The Header: Your header should include the following information:  Your full name  Your address  Your e-mail address(es)  All your telephone numbers (work, home and cell) Including current contact information will make it easier for Recruitment Services staff to contact you if you are selected for an interview. Addressing Your Cover Letter: Page 9 As recruitment in the OPS is centralized, there is no need to personalize the cover letter with the hiring manager’s name. Addressing the letter to “The Hiring Manager” or “To Whom it May Concern” is sufficient. Make sure to put the current date on your cover letter above the address. The Subject Line: It is a good practice to reference the file number (Job ID) and job title. It is also a good practice to include the name of the ministry in the subject line as well. Opening Paragraph: • This is the introductory section of your cover letter. • The objective is to get the reader’s attention immediately. • Briefly identify what you have to offer the organization. • Identify the main reason why you would be the ideal candidate for the position. Note: Some employers may want additional information in your cover letter such as outlining how you learned about the job opening and why you are interested in the position. However, in the OPS this information is not used as part of the screening criteria. Mid-Section: Explain particular benefits you offer in relation to the required qualifications. • Emphasize your relevant skills, competencies, experience and knowledge. • Cite specific and relevant experiences or examples where you gained and demonstrated those skills, knowledge, abilities and accomplishments.  If you have a particular area of expertise, or an educational background that has helped you gain relevant qualifications, outline this in your cover letter. • You may wish to highlight some transferable skills, such as problem-solving or organizational skills. Page 10 • List any required certifications (i.e. valid driver’s license) that you have that relate to the qualifications. The Closing Paragraph: Before concluding your letter, explain in one sentence how you can add value to the organization. Also state the best method for them to contact you and thank the hiring manager in advance for considering you for the position. Review the sample cover letter and résumé for ideas on how to prepare your cover letter. Writing a Good Résumé Your résumé is your opportunity to present your experience, skills, knowledge and accomplishments. Remember, just like your cover letter, you will want to ensure that your résumé is clear, concise and relevant and highlights your skills based on the qualifications required in the job advertisement. The OPS is requesting that applications for OPS positions should not exceed five pages. When considering the ideal length of your résumé, the length and content should be appropriate for the position to which you are applying. Aim for a résumé that is two to three pages in length. To help you write a concise résumé, consider the following tips: 1. Be concise • Your résumé should be a concise and factual presentation of your accomplishments, strengths, employment history and education. • Avoid repeating information that has been included in your cover letter. • Edit unnecessary words. 2. Tailor your resume to the qualifications outlined in the job advertisement Page 11 • Emphasize your most significant skills and experience in well-defined sections. • Avoid adding other details and facts that may be irrelevant to the position you are applying for. This will take up valuable space or divert attention from what you want to highlight. • Do not include personal information (such as Date of Birth, Social Insurance Number). 3. Proofread your résumé to make sure there are no spelling, typing or grammatical errors. • If you need a little help with grammar, review Strunk & White's Elements of Style.  A good place to begin is "Chapter 5: Words and Expressions Commonly Misused." When deciding on which style to use, chronological résumés are the most common résumé style. With this style, work experience is listed with the most current information first and then in descending order based on employment dates. There are other styles that you may want to explore, for example a functional résumé, to better represent your skills and qualifications. The sample cover letter and résumé provides an example of a chronological résumé. The OPS does not have preference for one style above another, but for the purpose of this guide only the chronological résumé will be highlighted. Chronological résumés include four main sections: 1) Current name and contact information. 2) Summary of qualifications/accomplishments. Page 12  This is a snapshot of your key skills & accomplishments that can be substantiated by your work experiences. This information can also be presented in a profile. 3) Work history described with key duties, knowledge and accomplishments.  This information is listed per employment experience, with most recent experience first, along with the company names and locations. 4) Education and/or additional development/training (i.e. professional development courses). What’s in a Good Résumé Know Yourself First – Conduct a Pre-Application Self-Assessment The key to a confident and focused application is in knowing: • Who you are.  What do you enjoy doing?  What do you do well? • What skills, knowledge and experience you have to offer the new employer.  What are you good at?  What are your transferable skills? • What makes you an ideal fit for the position and the organization.  What value will you add to the organization?  What type of people do I want to work with or have as a customer? By asking yourself these questions, you can begin to develop an inventory of skills, experiences, accomplishments and job-related attributes that you can use to market yourself in your résumé. Page 13 It is important to think about yourself in the position that you are applying to and to reflect on how your experiences and skills have prepared you for work in that setting. As you prepare your application consider: • Any relevant past experiences that you would like to highlight and what you have learned from that experience. • How you gained the skills that you have today and information about any transferable skills. • Your previous performance. Talk to your manager and co-workers about your work results to help you in this exercise. As you think about your past experiences, write them down. Use the résumé writing activity sheet on the following page to jot down your skills and work accomplishments. This self-assessment technique can be modified to multiple job advertisements and will help you to update your accomplishments for each position you apply for. This will help to ensure the information remains relevant. Finally, look at the sample cover letter and résumé for ideas, but be creative in your own formatting. Page 14 Résumé Writing Activity Sheet Review the job advertisement of the position to identify the qualifications that you currently possess. Explain below how you learned and/or accomplished these qualifications (skills and knowledge) and also list any key transferable skills you have that would be an asset to the position. Required Qualifications My Skills and Experience Work Accomplishments – Demonstration of Skills (List one qualification, (List your skills that match those (Write down specific knowledge or skill per in the job advertisement and accomplishments from your line that is highlighted in where you may have obtained recent work experience(s) the qualifications / “What those skills) using action verbs and the we are looking for” results achieved – see Key skills can be added to your section of the job results in bold). cover letter. advertisement). EXAMPLE: Exceptional oral and written • Communicated key IT communication skills process changes to Proven interpersonal clients to ensure the communication skills • Customer service support success of a sensitive including tact and role in the OPS for a number change management diplomacy of years initiative • Currently in a client • Advised senior managers consulting role on customer service • Interact with senior managers protocols, which daily resulted in a more streamlined quality • Communicate sensitive service process and information improved productivity • Certified toastmasters by 20%. member Page 15 Work Accomplishment Statements Written statements of your results, achievements and successes are an important component of your application. Your accomplishments are made up of activities that you did well and had a positive impact on your organization, employer, colleagues or team. Providing accomplishments in your résumé tells the employer that you have added value to your organization. This adds quality to your résumé and lets employers know what you are capable of. As you prepare your accomplishment statements, consider the following: • What was the situation or problem? • What action did you take to address the situation and what was the achievement? • What were your results? Did you:  Improve a process?  Achieve more with fewer resources?  Save money, time or solve a longstanding problem?  Improve staff/team morale? As you describe your accomplishments remember that duties and responsibilities refer to the general scope of your job. Accomplishments refer to specific examples of tasks you finished successfully. It is ideal to write most of your résumé statements as work accomplishments. However, it is important to ensure that your accomplishments are specific to the position you are applying to, relevant and factual. Finally, where applicable, use numbers to support your accomplishments (e.g. hours, dollars, percentages, number of people, etc.). Here are some examples of accomplishment statements: Page 16 • Coordinated all training requests for the ministry and met provincial service standards by processing 2400 training requests within a 24 hour turnaround. • Wrote a technical manual that is currently being used in the ministry’s application training program. • Managed a 3,000,000 procurement and supply budget on a quarterly basis to ensure that spending was appropriate and balanced. • Coordinated all ministry-wide special events for the 2004 Federated Health Charities campaign and successfully raised 4000. • Designed a macro in Microsoft Excel for use in all audit reports that reduced the completion time of each report by 50% and increased accuracy by 100%. This resulted in cost savings of 1000/week. • Reduced a two-year backlog in licensing to less than 3 months by streamlining the business processes and taking calculated risks. Accomplishment Memory Jogger As you reflect on each of your accomplishments, consider writing each work accomplishment statement with the results in mind. To help you “jog” your memory, describe your accomplishment identifying the Problem / situation you had to solve, the action you took and the results you achieved. The following are some questions for you to consider to help you identify your accomplishments, however, tailor your questions based on the qualifications outlined in the position you are applying to as this will become the foundation of your résumé and cover letter. 1) Describe a specific situation in which you solved a problem or took charge of an emergency situation. 2) Give an example of something you created or initiated and how it was used or accepted. Page 17 3) Describe your involvement in a team effort that produced a specific result. What were the results, and what did you learn about working with others? 4) Describe how you identified a need and met it including how your solution was received. 5) What have you done to help others reach their work goals? 6) List ways that you have saved time or money or improved a business process. What actions did you take to do so? Accomplishment Memory Jogger Job Ad Qualification: Your Relevant Accomplishment: Problem / Situation: Action: Results: Job Ad Qualification: Your Relevant Accomplishment: Problem / Situation: Action: Results: Job Ad Qualification: Your Relevant Accomplishment: Problem / Situation: Action: Results: Page 18 Résumé Language Now that you have decided on your style and content, you should decide on the language you are going to use to describe your experiences. When you are writing your skills, try to put yourself into the reader’s shoes and think about what would keep their interest. Use a variety of action verbs that describe your accomplishments and duties. Also, keep all descriptions in the same tense. The only description that should be written in present tense is your current work experience. All previous work experiences should be written in past tense. Here are a few examples of key action verbs you can use: Management Skills: Analyzed, assigned, attained, chaired, coached, controlled, consolidated, contracted, coordinated, delegated, developed, directed, evaluated, executed, facilitated, improved, increased, led, managed, organized, oversaw, planned, produced, recommended, reviewed, scheduled, strengthened, supervised, validated. Communication Skills: Addressed, arbitrated, arranged, authored, collaborated, convinced, corresponded, developed, directed, drafted, edited, enlisted, formulated, influenced, interpreted, lectured, mediated, moderated, negotiated, persuaded, promoted, published, reconciled, recruited, spoke, translated, wrote. Clerical or Details Skills: Administered, approved, arranged, catalogued, classified, collected, compiled, dispatched, executed, generated, implemented, inspected, monitored, operated, organized, prepared, prioritized, processed, purchased, recorded, retrieved, screened, specified, systematized, streamlined, tabulated, validated. Creative Skills: Acted, conceptualized, created, customized, designed, devised, developed, directed, established, fashioned, founded, illustrated, improved, initiated, instituted, integrated, Page 19 introduced, invented, originated, performed, procured, produced, proposed, planned, revitalized, refined, redesigned, reorganized, shaped. Research Skills: Clarified, collected, critiqued, diagnosed, evaluated, examined, extracted, identified, inspected, interpreted, interviewed, investigated, organized, reviewed, summarized, surveyed. Technical Skills: Assembled, computed, designed, engineered, operated, overhauled, programmed, remodeled, repaired, solved, upgraded. Financial Skills: Administered, allocated, analyzed, appraised, audited, balanced, budgeted, calculated, completed, developed, forecasted, managed, marketed, planned, projected, reconciled, researched. Accomplishment Verbs: Achieved, expanded, launched, improved, pioneered, reduced, resolved, restored, spearheaded, transformed. Page 20 Frequently Asked Questions 1. What should my résumé length be? The ideal length of your application (cover letter and/or résumé) is five pages (or less) in length (approximately one to two pages for your cover letter and two to three pages for your résumé). When writing your cover letter and résumé ensure that you include only relevant information that outlines how you demonstrate the qualifications outlined in the job advertisement. Your cover letter and résumé should be concise and provide only the most relevant information. Add your name at the top of any additional pages in case the pages get separated. 2. Why should my application be five (5) pages (or less)? It is important to keep your cover letter and résumé focused. This includes tailoring your cover letter and résumé to include your experience, skills and knowledge that are relevant to the qualifications identified in the job advertisement. By leaving out unnecessary experience that is not relevant to the job, by being concise and by tailoring your cover letter and résumé to the specific job qualification, you will be able to write your application within five (5) pages (or less). 3. Which font should I use? For cover letters and résumés in electronic format that will be emailed, select a font that is standard on most computer systems. Good choices include Arial, Book Antiqua, Century Schoolbook, Garamond, Tahoma, Times New Roman and Verdana. Choose a font size no less than 10 and no greater than 12. 4. What tense should I write my résumé in? Write about previous jobs in past tense. For your current job, write Page 21 accomplishments/results in past tense only if they have already happened. Current job responsibilities are always written in present tense. 5. Do I need to send a cover letter with my résumé? Although in the OPS a cover letter is not mandatory, a well-written cover letter is a chance to market your credentials and demonstrate professionalism. It is a useful supplement to your résumé. 6. How do I write work accomplishments when I don't feel I have any? You may think you just do your job, but consider what makes your work performance valuable to a potential employer. Ask your coworkers or supervisors about your current performance, and review your written performance evaluations. Also think of other areas where you have accomplished results in volunteer work or as a member of boards or professional associations. 7. Do I need a career objective section? There is no consensus among résumé experts about objectives. In the OPS, it is not used as part of the screening criteria. It is a personal choice whether you include an objective or not, but if you do, be sure to tailor it to the position that you are applying to. Try to incorporate your objective into your cover letter instead of putting it on the résumé. Another option is to incorporate your goal into a narrative qualifications/skills summary or profile. 8. What if I have gaps in my work history? How should I address that in my résumé? The focus of your cover letter and résumé should be on what you have to offer. As part of the OPS commitment to Barrier-Free recruitment, applications are not Page 22

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