How to Write the Perfect Cover Letter- on

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How to Write the Perfect Cover Letter

By Catherine Conlan
Monster Contributing Writer
Your cover letter is typically the first impression you make with the hiring manager, so you’ll want to put in the effort necessary to get it right. We spoke to some job search experts to find out what you need to know to write the perfect cover letter.

Pick your purpose

Of course your goal is to get the job, but there are several kinds of cover letters that can help you achieve that goal — and knowing the kind you want to write will help you get yours right. “They all have a purpose,” says Brenda Collard-Mills, owner of Robust Resumes and Resources. “There is the traditional cover letter to reply to an advertised job, a networking cover letter, a cover letter targeted to recruiters, the direct mail cover letter and the pain cover letter,” which addresses a specific pain point the company may have and how you would be able to solve it. “Research when to use each type and incorporate as many as possible when conducting an active job search.”

Reflect the company’s culture

Go beyond using keywords from the ad and find a way to make your cover letter reflect what the company is all about. “For example, if applying to a data analysis, statistically focused company, your cover letter should be equally quantified and appealing to data-thirsty readers,” says Erik Bowitz, senior resume expert at Resume Genius. “If you are applying for a position in a young, creative company then your cover letter should be more casual and fluid, using words like active, social or even organic to better reflect the ideals of the individuals you are hoping to work with.”

Focus on the organization’s needs


You want a job, but you need to focus on what the employer wants if you hope to succeed, says Lynne Sarikas, director of the MBA Career Center at the D’Amore McKim School of Business. “Be very specific in addressing their needs outlined in the job description and show them how you can address their specific needs.” Presenting yourself as a solution to a hiring manager’s problem can help your cover letter take the right tone.
Donna Shannon, president of Personal Touch Career Services and author of “How to Get a Job Without Going Crazy,” recommends providing specific examples of how you can help the company. “A salesperson can discuss how they will increase the revenue of the company. An executive assistant can speak about the problems they solve on a daily basis. The IT professional can write about how they can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the systems, thereby saving the company money. Always think: how can I help this company?”

Sublimate your ego

As you focus on the company’s needs, use the word “I” sparingly, says Sarikas. “The cover is letter is about meeting their needs, so be very careful not to overuse ‘I.’ Do not start every paragraph or multiple sentences with ‘I.’ Think about different ways to get your message across.”

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Networking – Does It Really Work?

Sometimes, you can feel all alone when the connections are all around you. We can help you find them!

Sometimes, you can feel all alone when the connections are all around you. We can help you find them!

Is networking valuable?  Like everything else, it depends on how you use it.  If you’re just calling people and asking for jobs, then no, it does not.  If you can offer something of value – knowledge, experience or even friendship – then yes, it can.


The 80% myth: “80% of all job seekers find jobs by networking.”

Heard that one yet?  Scary, isn’t it? Many candidates are not comfortable with networking.  Not everyone is as personable or bold as the super-salesman, after all.  Believe it or not, shy and introverted people get hired every day.

The 80% figure is an inflated number.  It includes Aunt Martha telling you about a job she saw on  You don’t have to shake hands like a politician to land a job.  Don’t get intimidated or down on yourself if this is a weak area for you.  There are plenty of ways to improve your networking skills.


Get over networking fear

If you’re not comfortable with face-to-face networking, try it online first.  Websites like and are great places to contact people.  If you can break the ice in electronic worlds, you will be more confident when you meet people face-to-face.  Social networking sites are growing exponentially, which opens more and more back doors to your target companies.  However, there is more to gain than just job contacts.  Networking is really about people helping each other by sharing knowledge.  This is done in groups.

When you join groups, ask questions and get involved. If you like someone’s answers, look at his profile.  Is this somebody you would like to know more about? Try emailing them in private about their answers, rather than just posting your comments in the discussion areas.  After you’ve shared some emails back and forth, ask them to connect.  They don’t have to work for your immediate target companies to be valuable. The goal is to build a self-sustaining network that will last beyond the job search.

Learn to build a valuable network.  It’s not really about building the numbers if you have no idea who these people are or what your connection to them is.  As in real life, concentrate on building mutually beneficial business relationships.  In my own case, I have found mentors, students, advisors, old acquaintances, friends and fun people online.  Isn’t that what true networking is all about?

Once you get accustomed to reaching out to people, then go after your targets, seeking them on LinkedIn and Twitter.  Just like anything, networking is a skill and you become better by practicing it. If you’ve started to build your network already, you will quickly become a valued asset instead of “that creepy guy” who tracks people down and bombards them with silly or irrelevant emails.


Going live: Professional groups and associations

Professional associations are valuable connections with your industry.  Use these as research centers and build up from there.

In general, many professional groups contain a significant number of job seekers, about 10-30% of their membership.  Don’t go to a meeting thinking you’re going to meet the CEO and hand him your resume.  Nobody likes being blindsided at a social function.

Instead, ask them questions about their company and industry.  The more you can ask about them, the better.  People like to talk about themselves.  Ask intelligent questions – you might even write some down before you get to the event to help keep your own focus:


  • Where do you see your company going in the future?


  • I read an article about ________ – what’s your opinion?


  • I think ____________ is going to be a big industry trend – what do you think?


  • What’s your biggest challenge right now?


The last question is a great lead-in.  If you get an opportunity to pitch yourself, be sure it relates to the needs they just stated.

When you meet people at a networking event, be sure to trade business cards.  If you don’t have any, has some very affordable options for cards that look and feel professional.  Keep your message positive, and not a desperate title like “Seeking opportunities in Human Resources.”

After the event, it is essential to follow up the next day.  Send a thank you email and mention key points you discussed the day before, even if it was fantasy football or the latest movies.  You want your new contact to remember you – many people don’t recall names, but will remember an interesting conversation.

Don’t send your new contact a resume right away.  Cultivate the relationship first.  Show appreciation for them as a person, not just an avenue to get a job.  Networking works best when you connect with people, not use them.

What Really Happens in the HR Department

The following comes directly from Donna Shannon’s book, How To Get A Job Without Going Crazy. Please enjoy this preview of the book, and use it to your advantage in your job search. – James Nay

In the quiet Human Resources department, a lone figure works at her desk.  Poring over the stack of resumes, the director hopes to find that perfect candidate, the one who not only meets every criterion, but also has the “spark.”  She sighs as she lifts the next packet off the paper mountain.  She reads carefully, weighing the merits of each candidate before setting their resume aside.  Her tired eyes fall on the next cover letter, low expectations written all over her face.

Her pulse quickens as she reads with disbelief – this could be the one!  The experience sketched out in the letter is a perfect match for the company’s needs.  Eagerly, she flips to the resume: it is a home run!  The perfect skill set, the perfect background, the perfect degree. She can’t wait another moment to talk to this candidate.  She must snatch him up before another company does.

Her hands fly to the phone.  She dials nervously – what if he’s not there?  What if he’s interviewing somewhere else right now?  She draws a tight breath while the phone rings once, then twice… Her heart skips a beat as you answer the phone.  Now it is only a matter of going through the formalities of the interview before they can offer you the job of your dreams.


* * *


Did you enjoy that?  Good.  Because that is never going to happen.  Now that the fantasy is over with, we can uncover the nasty truth about what the Human Resources (HR) department is really like.

The truth is that most HR departments receive a deluge of candidates every day, far more than they could ever hope to read with any great depth or understanding.  In order to process the mountain of resumes, every single company – big or small – will create simple tricks to screen candidates.  You have probably heard some of these already, such as “the resume will only be read for 30 seconds.”  Many of these rumors are true, but it is important to understand why in order to get through the system.

So like it or not, here is what a real HR department is like:


HR departments reduce the candidate field by up to 90% – or more – before forwarding the top candidates to the hiring managers

The HR department is not your buddy, looking for the perfect job for you; they are c looking for ways to CUT YOU.  The survivors of this ordeal are considered as the top candidates. However, because of the screening process, these people might not be the most qualified candidates.

If you don’t want to be a qualified casualty, learn the screening process.


The average amount of time spent reading a resume the first time is 30 seconds, and not everyone gets a second read

HR professionals do not spend time pouring over the details in your resume.  They are taking a quick look to see if you have the minimum skills and/or experience they want.  If HR can’t see your value in 30 seconds or less, your resume is rejected.

Very few people are excited about reading through a stack of resumes.  And who can blame them?  Most resumes are boring, monotonous, poorly written, or filled with bragging.  That’s why…


Lower-level HR employees do the initial screening

It is tedious going through a stack of resumes.  So they make the assistants do the first layer of cuts.  Or worse, they are let a computer do the screening.  Either way, these screeners follow very literal and specific instructions.  If your resume is not using the right key terms or jargon, you probably will be cut, no matter how qualified you are.  Not only that, the screeners have very little oversight on their work.  Nobody is checking to see if you got cut or not – unless you are networking with managers at the company.


HR departments and hiring managers won’t read everything you send them

This fact is often a shock for many job seekers.  One common misconception is that a strong cover letter can overcome a weak resume, or vice versa.  However, that is not how screeners read the submitted material.

The common practice is to read the resume first.  Then, if it is interesting enough, they read your cover letter.  On the other hand, they may not understand why you applied at all.  They hope your cover letter will add some insight.  In either case, your cover letter and even your references need to support your resume, not the other way around.  That means your resume really needs to stand out from the competition.


Job descriptions are not absolutes

Ever hear the statement; “if you don’t have all of the qualifications, apply anyway?”  That is true! Hiring managers and HR professionals do not spend hours constructing the perfect job description.  They throw it together quickly and according to the company’s approved format.

Whether the job description is dead-on or just an approximation, it is still used as a tool to cut candidates.  However, here’s the tricky part: some things are added to deter lower-level candidates.  The hiring manager may not care about these standards at all.  HR departments are famous for adding requirements because it follows the company’s format.

Don’t let a misguided HR screener control your entire fate.  Reaching the hiring manager can actually save you from a mistaken cut – if you handle it the right way.


Employers won’t hire the perfect candidate. They hire the closest match at the right price

The right price does not mean the cheapest candidate.  They are looking for someone who matches the most critical skills and experience while staying within a given budget.


Spring Clean Your Career Documents

The weather is warming up. Cherry blossom festivals are taking place. Last week you scrubbed off the grill in anticipation of dinners cooked over an open flame. Next week you plan to clean out your closet and drop off un-used items at Goodwill.

And what about your résumé?

Spring is a good time to pull up your career documents to update them. “What career docs?” you are asking. “I just need a résumé and cover letter.” Yes, a résumé and a cover letter are the bare minimum. To start, add a reference list. Then add a detailed employment history and a social media disclosure statement. To complete your application package, do you have an electronic copy of your recommendation letters? Have you scanned your education credentials? Your driver’s license? Your passport?

If you updated your résumé at the beginning of the year, use this time to complete another career document. Maybe you took on additional responsibilities since January and need to update it anyway. If you did not update your résumé at the beginning of the year, now is the time to do so. Your current résumé focuses on the last 10-15 years of your current job industry. However, take notice of how much experience the employer is requesting in the job description. If it is a senior management role that requires 15-20 years of experience, consider listing your entire career on the résumé you submit.

By comparison, you may create a master résumé for your own references, which includes every job you have held. This document, which is never sent to a potential employer, could be several pages long.

Cover Letter

Like a great suit, everyone should have more than one cover letter. Ideally, you would write a fresh cover letter for each job, or at least have three or four letters that you can easily adapt to job postings. Have a few that are ready for a quick tweak – especially for an email message. Do not forget to put in extra effort to customize the letter for your dream job. Including research specific to that employer or situation will help you stand out from other applicants. This applies to follow-up letters and thank you letters as well.

Reference List
Rather than stating “reference available on request” on your résumé, have a prepared reference list. This is a one-page document that includes three or four professional references and up to three character references. Ideally, you want to select people who would be willing to speak with a potential employer, discussing you, your achievements and the attributes that make you the best candidate for the job at hand. I usually add a paragraph that describes my relationship to the contact, how long they have known me, in what capacity: mentor, supervisor, colleague, staff reporting to me and what skills they can validate. If a written recommendation letter exists from an individual and you plan to add it to your application package, make a note of it on this list.

In fact, when was the last time you communicated with the people on your list? Now is a good time to reconnect. Find out what they are up to and fill them in on all the happenings in your life. If a colleague mentioned writing you a recommendation letter the last time you spoke, then follow-up on their offer. Make it easy for them by directing them to your LinkedIn profile.

Employment History
NOTE: You will not distribute this document! It is a one to two page reference sheet to help you prepare for interviews and completing job applications. Modeled after your résumé, the history lists extra details, such as the address for each position, your supervisor or HR department with their contact information and your starting/ending salary at that company. For a private service position, you would not list your work location. Instead, list the business address of the family office or LLC. More frequently, private service agencies are asking why you left each previous position – list the reason here. My employment history has a section for previous addresses and my driver’s license number.

Private Company, LLC      9/2011 to 4/2014
Private Chef to Mr. and Mrs. John Successful
Confidential Work Location, Any town, USA
Jane Smith, HR Coordinator, 123 Main Street, Any town, USA, (123) 456-7890,
Starting Salary: 87,500/year
Ending Salary: 98,000/year plus discretionary bonus
Reason for Leaving: Spouse relocated to San Francisco, CA

Social Media Disclosure Statement
Peter Van Ryder of Estate Management Solutions recommends this type of document in his ‘Essentials to Household Management’ training. With all of the attention given to social media, having a document that discloses your activity makes sense. This year alone there have been several articles and news stories concerning social media accounts and an employer’s right to view them or have access to them. If you think that a potential employer will run your name through a search engine, then why not list the social networking that you do. Incorporate the line, “At no time will your privacy or confidentiality be at risk,” to indicate your commitment to keeping personal life and work life separate.

Now that you completed your career documents, you can kick back and enjoy the weekend. If you are starting or in the middle of a job search, then you are all set for your Monday morning job hunt session.

Who’s your favorite Private Service agency or educator?

Being a butler is just one career option in private serviceIn 2012, we published the “Job Seekers’ Guide to Private Service Agencies,” featuring over 20 of the most reputable agencies in the private service industries.  Now we are getting ready for the 2014 edition and want your input on who to include.

In addition to the book, each agency selected will be featured on our blog under the Agency Spotlights.  There is no charge to be included in either the book or the Agency Spotlights.  We compile this information as a service to our clients, the job seekers.

New for 2014, the “Job Seekers’ Guide” will also include Private Service Educators!  Including both multi-week certification programs and intensive workshops, we want to identify the most progressive and beneficial educational options out there for private service professionals in all fields: housekeepers, nannies, personal assistants, private chefs and household/ estate managers.

So if you know of a great agency or school – or if you are one – please contact Donna at

The Job Seeker’s Job Description

Do you know how to manage your job search?

Do you know how to manage your job search?

Do you know how to “treat your job search like a job?” For most job seekers, just knowing what they should be doing on a daily basis can be a challenge.  We all know the typical functions – go online, look for jobs on websites, apply to jobs – but a smart and savvy job seeker knows it takes much more than this to be effective. Think of it as you now have a new employee that you have to manage: yourself.

Just like any job, hunting for employment can be broken down into specific areas of responsibility:


  • Develop overall strategic plans for the job search
  • Set specific, measureable, achievable and timely goals and deadlines
  • Test and find best working environment, such as time of day or location

Business Development

  • Develop a prospecting list of potential or target employers
  • Set up Google Alerts on target employers
  • Conduct outbound calls for informational interviews at target companies
  • Network at live events through associations, business groups or job seeker groups
  • Reach out to past or current employees at target companies to conduct in-depth research
  • Research and contact managers at target companies
  • Follow up on submissions to HR
  • Build strategic alliances with recruiters and other job seekers
  • Gain referrals/ recommendations from past clients, managers and fellow employees
  • Create and update a database system to track progress on job search
  • Foster social media relationships
  • Join social media Groups specific to your location, industry and interests
  • Find and apply to jobs on job boards such as, CareerBuilder, etc.
  • Search LinkedIn Groups for hidden job postings
  • Build social media connections with recruiters


  • Create professional, perfect resumes with relevant key words for target jobs
  • Write custom cover letters for jobs, both for HR and for specific hiring managers
  • Upload a dynamic, key word rich LinkedIn profile with high quality photograph
  • Manage or clean up all social media accounts
  • Share meaningful content on LinkedIn, especially to Groups
  • Practice interviewing techniques
  • Evaluate wardrobe to search for potential interview outfits
  • Create presentations for interviews (if requested)

Finance and Accounting

  • Set a budget for the job search (typically 3-7% of target salary. Typical expenses include resume services, classes, networking events, food/ treats for informational interviews, travel expenses, etc.)
  • Track expenses to use as tax deductions
  • Find free or affordable fun things to do around town (there’s more to life than just job searching)

Human Resources

  • Do nice things for your network to keep their good graces
  • Keep track of 401(k)/ IRA from previous employers

IT and Technical

  • Ensure proper operation of all equipment, internet connections and on-location IT operations
  • Conduct data back up
  • Catalog warranty information


  • Calendar management
  • Data entry, inbound/ outbound mail
  • Create email lists to send monthly updates to friends, family and recruiters
  • Generate materials for interviews, including printing high quality resumes, samples of work, and copies of awards or letters of recommendation
  • Organize networking contact follow-up
  • Manage office supplies
  • Record any necessary documentation for governmental agencies, including Unemployment or Workforce Investment Act (WIA) grants

The Business of Your Business

In addition to all of these responsibilities, remember to stay sharp within your own field.  This may mean taking classes in the latest software or creating mock projects in your area of expertise.  Volunteer experience is also valuable, especially if you can do something related to your field.

Celebrating a Decade of Job Search Education

consulting for job seekersIt’s hard to believe that it’s been 10 years already! In January 2004, I taught my first job searching workshop at the Colorado Free University in Denver.  Based on my experience as a corporate recruiter and Human Resources specialist, I taught people how to avoid being cut in the screening process and to make the best impression on the hiring managers.  And I did it all in only 2 hours!

Since then, I have expanded the basic concepts a lot, blooming into a 250-page book and 4 workshops that are three hours each: How to Write a Relevant Resume, Jump Start Your Job Search, Ace the Interview and LinkedIn 101.  Even with all this content, people ask for more – and yes, there is another book in the works.

One thing is for sure: the job searching world is very different than it was 10 years ago.  Back then, social media didn’t even exist; heck, some places were still accepting faxed or hard copy resumes.  Much of my early classes discussed how to find jobs on Monster or CareerBuilder.  Nowadays, job seekers must create a comprehensive brand that they promote on multiple platforms.  Just having a resume is not enough anymore.

To keep myself current with the changes over the years, I would put myself in a lukewarm job search as well as applying to my own open jobs.  With this experience, I have guided my clients and students through the latest job searching trends.

Today, we have one of the top rated resume services on Yelp: check out our page at  I have a staff of 5 resume writers, both in Denver and across the country.  We recently expanded into a new office in Westminster, CO.

When I think back to that first class, I can laugh at how simple it all was.  Yet, even though it covered the basics, it became a foundation for helping job seekers, whatever their comfort level.  Moving forward, our goal is the same: reduce the amount of time it takes for our clients and students to land a great job.

It’s a New Year! Are You Ready?

tips, new year, 2014, goalsWe will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called ‘Opportunity’ and its first chapter is New Year’s Day.
– Edith Lovejoy Pierce

Have you made your 2014 resolutions yet? The New Year is a chance for a fresh start at work. The holiday season has come to an end and all the festivities are over. So, what can you do to start the New Year off right?

Set realistic goals.
Write down your goals – it forces you to get clear about what you want. With this list of what you hope to accomplish in the New Year, include goals for your current job and for your career. Make sure each goal has a detailed achievable plan: when the goal will be reached and what steps are needed to complete it.

Document your successes.
Keep track of your accomplishments. Quantify everything that you can and be as detailed as possible: include what you did, why you did it, how it benefited your employer and how much time and/or money was saved. This list will be helpful as you prepare for your annual review.

Update your résumé and professional profiles.
Ensure your résumé and professional networking profiles are up-to-date, especially if one of your New Year’s resolutions is to search for a new job. LinkedIn, Twitter and Google+ each allow you to post information to highlight your expertise. Make sure your online profiles feature the information you want people to know about you, when they search for you.

Join a professional association.
Professional organizations provide many opportunities to network and volunteer. At least attend a local chapter meeting or the association’s annual convention. Or take a more active role in an association where you are already a member. Look for a small task to start and then plan to increase your involvement.

Be flexible.
It is difficult to go very far at work if you are not flexible. Try your best to be open to new ideas and new ways to do things. Make it your goal to say “yes” more than “no” at work when it comes to requests and suggestions from your colleagues and supervisors.

As the year progresses – celebrate your successes.
For every goal reached, acknowledge your accomplishment in a positive way. If you reduced the operating budget, have dinner with a mentor. Made positive changes to staff, then spend an afternoon with your significant other.

By the end of the year – give thanks.
If you work with a team (colleagues, staff or vendors), acknowledge how they have helped you in your career over the course of the year. Let them know that you appreciate their efforts.

It is important to start the New Year with a fresh perspective; this provides an opportunity to refocus on professional goals to ensure that you are expending your energies on projects that are going to make a difference and further your career. Making a conscious decision to think about the New Year as a new beginning provides a natural milestone to reassess your career and its progress.

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