Career Resources

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Would you buy this cover letter?

If you saw an ad for a car that stated, "Doesn't get good gas mileage, but has a built-in GPS," would you want to buy it? Or would you go to a restaurant that was advertised as, "Our food isn't that great, but our service is super!" Probably not. However, this is exactly what some people do when they write a cover letter. If they are applying for a job and don't have one of the qualifications mentioned in the job posting, they will say something like, "Although I don't have any finance experience, I have taken courses in Financial Statement Analysis and Investments and Corporate Finance.” The recruiter or hiring manager already knows that you don’t have any finance experience from reading your resume so there is no need to point it out again.

What these statements do is set a negative tone and impression in the reader's mind. Once that tone is set, it may be difficult for the reader to hear the subsequent positive things about you. My rule of thumb is to never say what you don't have in a cover letter but only say what you do have. Is this lying? Of course not! If you state all of the qualities and attributes that you do have but omit what you don't have, you’re not lying at all. The reader may be able to figure out that you don't possess the missing qualities that you don’t mention, but at least you haven't created a negative tone for your letter or created a doubt in the hiring manager’s mind. Plus, you could "wow" the reader so much with all of your wonderful qualifications, that they don't care that you don't have one particular qualification. Remember, employers write job descriptions which describe their ideal candidate but are more often than not willing to hire someone who possesses some or most of the desired qualifications.

So how might you rewrite the statement above? “I have taken courses in Financial Statement Analysis and Investments and Corporate Finance as part of my business degree and am eager to apply what I’ve learned as a Financial Analyst Intern at your firm.” Can you see how much more positive this statement sounds than the one above? This is the kind of statement that will convince the reader to “buy your cover letter” and call you in for an interview.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

When I was younger, I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up. Partly this was due to the fact that I wasn't aware of that many careers and partly because I loved being at school! What did I love about being in school exactly? I loved learning; I loved the structured environment; I loved the positive affirmation I received from teachers; I loved the rhythm of the academic year. Although I wanted to pursue a teaching degree, many people dissuaded me from doing that because, at the time, the demand for teachers was low.

Think about what you wanted to be when you grew up. Was it to be a rock star? A firefighter? A professional sports figure? A nurse? Maybe you are still pursuing that dream, or maybe you're not. If not, think about why you wanted to pursue your dream career. What was it about the career that excited you? Once you have identified what factors intrigued you about this career, think about how you can find those factors in other jobs. For example, if you wanted to be a rock star, perhaps you were dreaming of being famous. Well maybe you can be famous in your own circles. Perhaps you can become an expert in your given field and gain notoriety with that.

If you wanted to be a nurse but later realized that you get queasy at the sight of blood, think about what attracted you to the nursing profession. Do you like being in medical environments? If so, perhaps you can pursue another career in a medical environment. Do you like the aspect of helping people? If so, you can search for other kinds of "helping professions" that don't require drawing blood on a daily basis.

It turns out that I ended up becoming a teacher after a very circuitous career path. I love being in the academic environment comprised of students, classrooms, libraries and learning! So, don't abandon you dream career just yet. Either go for it or find an alternate dream career where you can do the things you love to do and still pursue your passion.