When seeking any type of employment, a skillfully written cover letter should offer a valuable introduction, addressing aspects that are often more difficult to explain on a resume, such as work ethic and detailed accomplishments. Since a great portion of energy and effort is rightfully expended toward creating a powerful resume, it is common for many job seekers to overlook the importance of a well-composed cover letter. Moreover, as a former member of the military, you will also have the chance to reveal and explain qualities and achievements even beyond that of a civilian job candidate.
What to include:
A cover letter should be concise, yet allow you to elaborate on certain abbreviated aspects of your resume. Choosing approximately two or three military achievements from your resume in addition to a couple of post-military accomplishments, such as volunteer work, internships, or education is recommended. By expanding upon what is listed in your resume with some pertinent details and highlights, you are giving your prospective employer a better idea of who you are as a job candidate transitioning into the civilian workforce. However, remember not to ramble or digress away from the main idea, as you don’t want your cover letter to carry on too long.
Bear in mind that your ultimate goal is to convince an employer that you are a perfect match for the position you are applying for. Therefore, when choosing what to include in your cover letter, select aspects of yourself that are most applicable to your desired position. The purpose of any cover letter is to support and draw attention to the most important sections of your resume, not duplicate its entire contents.
Your cover letter also provides you with a chance to let your prospective employer know why you have decided to transition into the civilian workforce. This is particularly important if the position you are applying for does not have direct ties to your previous experience. Research the organization you wish to work for. Unless they are openly military-friendly or express a partiality for hiring veterans, focus on civilianizing your cover letter by drawing attention to exactly how you would fit into their organization. An effective way to achieve this is by interpreting your skills and experience without use of military terminology, and by illustrating direct correlations between your own specific competencies and important aspects of the job description.
One piece of information you should not be afraid to duplicate from your resume is your contact information, namely phone number(s), email, and mailing address. Some choose to include this in the closing line of the letter or under the signature line. When writing a formal business style letter, mailing address information is usually included at the top of the letter.
What not to include:
When writing a cover letter, what to leave out can be just as important as what to include. For instance, unless a job posting directly requests your salary history or requirements, this is something you definitely don’t want to include. Another practice to avoid is stating what the job will do for you; always keep sentences centered on what you can offer the employer. For example, stating that the job will fit well into your post-military lifestyle or offer a stepping stone into a higher level civilian position, although maybe true, is not showing your potential employer that you are aiming to be a loyal contributing team member.
Additionally, you should avoid including extraneous personal information in your cover letter for the simple fact that it is unnecessary and can also be viewed as unprofessional. Remind yourself that you don’t want to include specifics that you will not be able to accurately explain in an interview. Moreover, don’t conclude your cover letter with a statement implying that you will follow up, unless you are absolutely sure that you will. In other words, make sure you can back up what you write.
The next step:
After you have completed your cover letter, proofread, edited, and proofread some more, now it is time to ask a civilian friend or family member to read it over. If you are working with a job placement service, a recruiting representative should be able to assist you in this area as well. Another set of eyes may be able to catch any small mistakes you might have missed, and this makes a huge difference when it’s finally being viewed by a prospective employer. An external perspective can also give you an opinion as to the general style and tone of your letter. If a civilian is having difficulty understanding any of the military descriptions in your cover letter, you should probably address those areas and rewrite them in a clearer manner.
Transitioning from the military into the civilian workforce can be a hopeful and exciting time in your life, and through some simple guidelines and the right support, you may just find yourself landing the civilian job of your dreams.
Stewart, Cooper & Coon, has helped thousands of decision makers and senior executives move up in their careers and achieve significantly improved financial packages within short time frames. Contact Fred Coon – 866-883-4200, Ext. 200