By: Dr. Helen Ofosu
Cover Letters 101: What’s your Cover Story?
Creating a cover story is not a deception; it can be a tool to protect you from a past that does not fully define you and it can help you exercise your right to finding a satisfying career.
Okay, so, you are sitting at your kitchen table staring at an embarrassingly outdated resume, or perhaps, with your laptop open at a busy cafe as you Google ‘How to write a cover letter’ all the while feeling hopelessly stuck. Sound familiar? You’re not alone. Maybe you struggle to write a cover letter when you feel your past employment is not your best asset. This is an issue that many job applicants encounter. The process can be unduly stressful. It really doesn’t have to be if you take the right approach or solicit the right kind of professional help.
“Asking for help does not mean that we are weak or incompetent. It usually indicates an advanced level of honesty and intelligence” – Anne Wilson Schaef
It can be difficult to find work even when you’re an assertive and accomplished person. When your confidence has been shaken by an unpleasant (or even emotionally unhealthy) work experience it can be especially problematic. That is where experienced career coaches come in. The right coach can support you and help you get over that invisible hurdle or hurdles. It’s about creating transparency and self-assurance within job-hunting. Also, building skills to reinvent your career. Sometimes, what’s necessary includes career psychology.
“The resume focuses on you and the past. The cover letter focuses on the employer and the future. Tell the hiring professional what you can do to benefit the organization in the future. ” ― Joyce Lain Kennedy, Cover Letters for Dummies
How do you look great on paper when you apply for that desired position if your work history is complicated or absent? The first way to address this difficulty is to construct a great cover story within your cover letter. Now, that’s not meant as an invitation to start fabricating information. Rather, it’s often wise to focus on the intended employer, by showcasing your strengths, education and overall moral character. It’s also about showing how that information will meet the needs of your future employer. Part of your cover story is also about omitting aspects of your work history that a potential employer might find irrelevant or unsuitable for the position. For example, if you are seeking employment as an administrative assistant you don’t need to draw attention to the fact that over 5 years ago you were bussing tables at a greasy spoon restaurant before being fired by an ill-tempered manager. We all have past jobs we wish to forget and that’s okay. It’s more about finding the common ground between what you’ve done, what you know, and what’s required for the new role.
Here are some tips to get started:
- When possible, connect the dots between your past accomplishments, experience, and lessons learned and how those will be relevant in the new role.
- Focus on what the employer needs and how you can help the potential employer accomplish those objectives.
- Keep it factual and verifiable.
- Don’t sell yourself short, this really is your time to speak up for yourself or you won’t make it past this important initial screening step.
- What they say is true – yes, you may get yourself screened out if your letter has spelling and/or grammatical errors. Use spell check. Proofread, twice. Don’t ruin your good first impression with rookie mistakes in your otherwise well-crafted cover letter.
Depending on the amount of time you have available and your skill as a writer, this list of suggestions may be easier said than done. If you could use some strategic help with an important cover letter, then please contact me by email, phone, or via direct message on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn if you’d like to discuss any of these topics in more detail.
More than career coaching, it’s career psychology®.
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