Resume Help/Letter of Interest

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Question
Dear Ralph,

The job I'm applying for wants a letter of interest with the application.  I'm not sure where to start (except to say I'm interested) or what to put in this thing.  Help!

Answer
Hi Shelly,

i get this question a lot but these letters are not as hard to do as you might think.  

The first thing you should NOT do is tell the employer directly you are "interested" in the job.  They know that.  That's why you're applying, right?  The phrase "letter of interest" is sometimes used for "cover letter."  And the cover letter has a distinct purpose and format.

The one and only purpose of a cover letter or letter of interest is to describe in a brief narrative exactly how and why you are the best candidate for the position.  In other words, how you can fulfill the qualifications the employer has described (in the job announcement) better than anyone else.  Your source material for this letter is the job announcement itself.  In it, the employer will tell you what duties you will need to fulfill, what the minimum qualifications are for this job, and what the preferred qualifications (quals) for the job are.

Let's take them one at a time.  Look at the minimum quals first.  If you do not meet all of them, don't apply.  These are the essentials that the employer will insist upon.  For example, they might ask for a high school diploma, or a four-year degree with a major in X, or some other educational requirement.  They will probably ask for a minimum of X years of experience doing what this job entails, or they may specify that if you have more experience than the minimum, some of that could substitute for educational background.  Perhaps a two-year college associates degree with a lot of experience might fill the requirement.  Whatever the minimums are, you need to meet them; if you don't, don't apply for the position.  Typically employers have someone (human resources, for example) whose job it is to screen applications; they will be looking to see you meet the minimums before passing the application up the food chain.  It is simply a waste of everyone's time (including your own)  if you apply for a job for which you lack one or more minimum quals.

The preferred quals are the place that the employer has some latitude and will exercise some judgement as to your suitability for the position.  Few employers expect all applicants to meet all the preferred qualifications.  The more you can meet, of course, the better you will look to whomever is making the decision.  Pay close attention to the words that are used in the announcement.  These are the words you will use in your letter.  For example, if the employer asks for someone who "can transcribe Latin into English."  When you write your letter, it should include the words "transcribe Latin into English."  Why?  Well, one, the employer has likely taken a lot of time to exactly describe what it is they want and your recognition of that will go a long way toward indicating you read the announcement with care.  Sometimes, however, an employer - especially a large institution - will use ATS, or Applicant Tracking Software.  This software recognizes certain key words that will flag your application as one they want to further consider.  Guess where those "key words" come from?  Right.  The job announcement.  Even if the employer does not use ATS, however, does not mean the words are unimportant.  Whoever reviews your documents will be looking to see if you have, somewhere, indicated your background in Latin/English translation.  Your failure to mention this in your letter will cause the reviewer to assume you have no such experience and that will certainly not be helpful to your cause.  You need to do this with ALL the qualifications they are looking for.  Tell the employer exactly what you have done that indicates experience in the areas they have identified as minimum or preferred qualifications.  What if you don't meet all the preferred quals?  Well, as I mentioned earlier, most employers won't expect that you will, but if Latin/English transcription is a preferred qual and you have no experience in this area, simply ignore it.  Your job in the cover letter is to tell them what you CAN do, NOT what you can't.  Don't fudge or finesse this.  They'll figure out soon enough what you are not qualified to do - especially if you are asked about it in the interview.  In that case, simply be honest.

Finally, the format is fairly straight-forward.  The first paragraph tells the employer why they have this stuff in the inbox of their computer (or why they have this pile of paper on their desk).  You are applying for the position of X advertised in Y with the job announcement number of Z.  They now know what you are applying for.  Don't make the mistake of simply writing something like "I'm applying for the job you have open."  What if they have 10 jobs open, all in different departments?  Be specific about why you have submitted your application.  Next, the main body of the letter describes your suitability for this position in ways I outlined above.  Your final paragraph reminds them how well-qualified you are for this position, tells them you are looking forward to a response at their earliest convenience, and thanks them for taking the time to review your application.  

I should probably add here that this should be written in a formal business format.  Your contact information is at the top, the letter is dated, and you need to address this to a person - not just "To Whom It May Concern" or some other lazy attempt.  If the job announcement does not indicate the name of the person to whom applications go, find out.  Go to their website and research.  If you have no luck there, call HR and ask.  But get a name.  That alone will set you apart from most applicants - and that is the most important thing you can do as an applicant.  Remember that there may be hundreds of people who have applied for this job.  You MUST set yourself apart as the most professional of those applicants if you expect to get an interview.  If you don't set yourself apart, you'll just be one more reject headed for the shredder pile.

Make it your best work, proofread it, edit it, and give it to someone else to review for  you.  Never send out anything that is not your best.

If you'd like me to review your letter for you once you get it done, I'll be happy to do so at no charge to you.  Send it to the address below.  My company does this sort of thing hundreds of times a day for our clients around the world.  Normally we charge for it, but since you and I met here on AllExperts, I'd be pleased to do it for you free.

Best of luck; I look forward to hearing from you!

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Ralph D. Converse, Ph.D.

Expertise

I can answer questions about general job searches, resume construction, crafting an effective cover letter, and how to prepare for, and conduct, a winning interview. My speciality is the field of education, but I also have extensive background in business and administration. I know what works and what doesn't work and I can make your application package stand out from the rest ... because that is what you have to do.

Experience

I have interviewed for, and held, dozens of jobs in a career going back more than 42 years. I have taught at all educational levels including middle school, high school, community college, and university. In more than 42 years of experience on both sides of the job-search process, I have interviewed hundreds of applicants and have reviewed literally tens of thousands of job application packages. I am the author of 12 Mistakes That Got Your Job Application Rejected ... And How To Fix Them! I conduct workshops for job seekers in a variety of locations every year.

Publications
Music Educator's Journal, Teaching Music, Music and American Culture (forthcoming, 2013), Last Teacher Standing: The Job is Yours Now! and 12 Mistakes That Got Your Job Application Rejected ... And How To Fix Them!

Education/Credentials
B.A. New Mexico State University; M.Mus. Southern Illinois University; Ph.D. University of California and University of North Texas

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Thousands of individuals

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