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Cover Letter Overview

This resource was written by Allen Brizee.
Last edited by Allen Brizee on July 31, 2009 .

Summary:
This resource explains what a cover letter is, why you need to write one, and methods of tailoring your letter to address specific situations: returning veterans, transitioning auto workers, times of unemployment, and times of incarceration.

What is a cover letter?

A cover letter is a document that presents your job goals, education, and job history. The cover letter explains why you are capable of filling the job position you want.

Why do I need to do a cover letter?


Many employers need a cover letter to go with a résumé. Employers use cover letters and résumés to see who can do a job. Employers also use cover letters to read about your past jobs. Cover letters explain why you want the job and how you can fulfill the job requirements.

Your cover letter is also important because it shows employers you can communicate effectively. Your cover letter and résumé should work together to convince an employer to give you an interview. It is good to have a cover letter even if you do not need one for a certain job. It is easier to update a cover letter than to write one from scratch in a hurry.

What should I do if I’m a veteran entering civilian life?

It is important to write your cover letter in a way that employers will understand. Applying for civilian jobs means you will have to use language people outside the military can understand. For example, in the body paragraphs of your cover letter you will need to do some “translating” between military terms and civilian terms:

Military terms: Received and stored bulk and package petroleum, oils, and lubricants products. Issued and dispensed bulk fuels and water from storage and distribution facilities to using units. Selected and submitted samples of petroleum, oils, and lubricants to laboratory for testing. Performed petroleum and water accounting duties (from Army Pamphlet 611-21).

Civilian terms: Coordinated and distributed petroleum products and monitored quality control systems.

What should I do if I am transitioning from the automotive industry?

It is important to write your cover letter in a way that employers will understand. Applying for your new job outside the auto industry means you will have to use language people outside the industry can understand. For example, in the body paragraphs of your letter you will need to “translate” your auto industry terms:

Auto industry terms: Finished, prepared, and applied various materials, sub-finishes and final top coat paints to components, parts and complete vehicles in accordance with engineering drawings and manufacturer’s recommendations.

“Translated” terms: Worked in a team to apply paint to parts and complete vehicles following detailed engineering drawings and manufacturer’s recommendations.

If you remember specific details and achievements related to your responsibilities, you should include them:

Supervised and coordinated ten employees in automotive assembly and reviewed manufacturing processes and products for quality control. Maintained a 96% average delivery rate while focusing on lean manufacturing and continuous improvement.

What should I do about any times I was not working?

Short times in between jobs or work experience should not hurt your chances of getting an interview. But you should be prepared to talk about those breaks when you meet with the employer. If you were not working for pay but volunteered doing something in the community, talk about that experience to show you were busy doing something.

What should I do if I have been incarcerated?

If you were incarcerated, be honest with the employer and talk about what you did while you were serving your sentence that may contribute to your job skills. For example, many prison systems offer General Education Development (GED) programs so inmates can receive the equivalent of a high school diploma. Prison systems also offer vocational training in carpentry, plumbing, electronics, auto mechanics, etc. If you have received vocational training in prison, talk about this in your interview.

People reentering the work force from prison may want to write a skills-based cover letter. Skills-based cover letters focus on what you can do now rather than explaining an entire work history.

Click here to download the PDF file containing sample résumés and employment letters.

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