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The Importance of Cover Letters and How Mid-Career Changers Can Overcome the Problem of Being Overqualified

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As a mid-career changer, you may face a problem. Hiring managers could consider you overqualified. They may explain that they would like to hire you but are afraid you will not be happy with a lower-paid position. This can be a problem if you are changing careers and have to begin at the bottom of the ladder. If you have been a senior manager in one line of work, and find that you must begin at the non-management level to learn a new industry, you will run into this problem.

One way to deal with it early on is to reduce or change the type of accomplishments you highlight on your resume. You want your resume to reflect what the reader is looking for. If the reader is looking for no management people, you cannot change the job titles you held in the past; but you can emphasize the work you did rather than the managing.

Another way to handle the problem is head on. Mention in your cover letter that the job would be a career change for you. You expect different responsibilities and less salary, but feel it is worth the price to have the opportunity to pursue a new career field.

Using Cover Letters and Letters of Introduction to Position Your Candidacy

A cover letter must accompany any resume you send through the mail. If you are sending the resume to a friend who you believe will be passing it on to someone else, they will pass on both the resume and the letter if you have written a good one.

Most career changers are looking for an opportunity to say something more about their abilities and talents than the standard resume permits. People remark, "If I could just get a chance to talk with the person who will be hiring, I know I could prove my qualifications." The cover letter provides that opportunity.

Abide by seven rules when you write a cover letter.
  1. Address the letter to a person.
  2. Demonstrate your knowledge of the organization and why you are interested in it.
  3. Highlight three (if possible) special skills, talents, or attributes that make you a primary candidate for the company.
  4. Be friendly, yet remain professional.
  5. Be specific about your intent.
  6. Indicate the next step in the process.
  7. Be brief, focused, and enthusiastic.

Let us look at each rule in a little more detail.

1. Address the Letter to a Person.

A number of professional recruiters were interviewed for a research. When they were asked what was important in a cover letter, their first response was that the letter must be addressed to a person whose name is correctly spelled.

The cost of a telephone call, even from Los Angeles to New York, is cheap if it makes the difference between your letter being read or round-filed.

2. Demonstrate Your Knowledge of the Organization and Why You Are Interested in It.

If the letter is going to a company, state your awareness of the company's growth, product, or some other aspect that shows you are knowledgeable about it. This also gives you the opening to tell them the reason you are sending the resume. For example: "Ron Howard told me you are in a dramatic growth mode. He said your shipments have doubled in the past twelve months. I am sending you my resume because Ron indicated you are looking for people with energy and enthusiasm who are willing to work in the chaos of a growing company."

3. Highlight Three (If Possible) Special Skills, Talents, or Attributes That Make You a Primary Candidate for the Company.

Look at the section on your resume for special skills and qualities. Think of another way to present those skills specifically for this job application.

For example, on your resume you have a skills statement that reads:

"Exceptional financial management skills with a special ability to control costs."

If you apply for a job as chief financial officer, this point in your cover letter could read:

"I am known as an expert in cost control with a problem-solving approach. I look for creative solutions to cost control rather than simply say no to expenditures."

A second example is that of applying for the job of office manager. On your resume, you have a skills description that reads:

"Dynamic 'take charge' attitude demonstrating strong leadership skills."

The highlighted point in your cover letter could read:

"I am highly motivated and willing to accept responsibility for getting things done. This attitude helps me motivate others to be creative, assertive, and dependable."

It is important to be thinking benefits. You must get the reader's attention quickly by highlighting two or three key characteristics that would describe a top candidate for the position. The best recommendation for you is to draw attention to these points by using either an asterisk in front of each of the key statements or by using boldface type for the key word in each statement. Also be sure to set each statement apart by spacing. Do not put all of the statements into one paragraph. They lose their punch. Besides, a large paragraph will not draw the reader's attention.

You must get the attention of the reader immediately. A busy hiring manager who has to read thirty letters for each opening is going to only skim each one. This is the reason for separating the section of special skills/personal strengths with a dramatic border on your resume and using asterisks or bold-face type in your cover letter. If you fail to do these things, you greatly reduce the chances of your resume making a lasting impression.

4. Be Friendly, Yet Remain Professional.

If you are sending the letter to someone with whom you have established a good rapport, address the letter "Dear Bob." If you have not talked to the person, address the letter "Dear Mr. Wade."

Avoid using too many cute phrases, but also avoid sounding like a lawyer. Do not say, "Enclosed please find my resume." Say, "I have enclosed my resume."

Be careful about gimmicks. They can backfire. However, being creative can be just the ticket if the job for which you are applying is one that demands a creative touch. Make sure your approach is appropriate. If you have questions about what is appropriate, talk to the receptionist. They will know what works within the office and usually will be very willing to help.

5. Be Specific About Your Intent.

Do not send a vague "testing the waters" letter. It will simply end up in the round file. Let the person know why you are sending the letter. Say that you have heard about an opening and wish to apply. Or that you have heard about the company and want to know what employment possibilities exist for a person with your talents. Sometimes a company will take the time to interview a talented individual even if there are no current job openings. This happens only when a candidate has researched a company, discovered specific areas of interest, and addressed those areas with a carefully written cover letter and a well-targeted resume. Within that resume, each item listed clearly states the benefits to be derived for the company.

6. Indicate the Next Step in the Process.

That next step must be an action you take. For example, close the letter with, "I will call you next week to see if you have any questions about my qualifications." A second example is: "I look forward to speaking with you about the job opportunity. I will call you next Wednesday."

Do not leave the letter just hanging in the air. Do not expect the recipient to take the next step. Be sure you clearly indicate an action, such as telephoning, and that you will be the one to take it. If you do get a call, count it as a lucky stroke. That is not the way it will usually work.

7. Be Brief, Focused, and Enthusiastic.

Finally, keep it simple. Of course there are pages and pages of wonderful things you could write about yourself. Save such a detailed enumeration for the interview. Remember, a resume and a cover letter has just one job, to sell a hiring manager on an interview. The reader of your resume and cover letter does not care how wonderful you are. The reader cares only about what you can do for them or their company. The reader is looking for a person who will fulfill their needs, not yours. Remember that the reader never has a lot of time. Keep the letter brief and to the point.

Smile when you write your cover letters. You want your letters to reflect your enthusiasm and motivation.
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