Wisdom Wednesday: The Four Paragraphs That Make a Killer Cover Letter

Ah, writing the dreaded cover letter. The vital piece of the job hunt that almost no one enjoys. How can you possibly convey to an employer the depths of your awesomeness in just one page? Or, more importantly, what can you write to keep the reader engaged for the minute plus it takes to skim through one?

While writing great cover letters takes effort and practice, it’s imperative that you get that practice by a) including a cover letter with each application, and b) changing it for each job. No two jobs are exactly alike and therefore your cover letters should not be either. By tailoring your letter to the job you demonstrate to the reader both your understanding of the position as well as your desire to fill it. Speaking of the reader, always remember to address the letter to a specific person. Call the company, or check LinkedIn or the company site to avoid a generic greeting.

As a career coach, I always tell my clients that the key to writing a powerful cover letter is perspective. You have to put yourself in the position of the reader and think about what the employer needs to see in order to prove your value in the role. While you are writing, always keep this perspective in mind. Use the job description, both in terms of style and content, as well as other research on the company and position to discuss exactly why you are the perfect candidate. The following outline will make sure your cover letter actually contains this pertinent info:

1. First (short) paragraph–WHO are you?

This paragraph should grab the reader’s attention and announce your qualifications right away, e.g. “As a curator with over 10 years of experience building, producing, and executing art shows for my own gallery, I was inspired to see the MOMA’s posting for [X] position.” If a specific person referred you, make sure to drop her/his name in the first line. Getting a personal reference is the most important way to assure that your letter (and attached resume) will be read. This paragraph contains a quick sentence or two summing up your elevator pitch, e.g., “My extensive management training combined with a strong sales track record will allow me to immediately add value to your team.”

2. Second (longer) paragraph-WHY this job/company?

Here’s where you tailor the letter to demonstrate that you know why you want this particular position. Most job applicants skip this part completely! No employer will hire someone who can’t articulate what makes the job desirable, e.g., “Working as an engineer for [your company] would provide the exciting opportunity to innovate in a staid industry.” If you don’t express why you’re applying for this specific job, the letter will seem formulaic and have less of an impact. Even if you’re perfectly qualified for the position, the reader wants to see why YOU want this job. Explain to the employer how this job is suited for you as well as vice versa.

Do your research on the company and the particular role offered. Glassdoor and LinkedIn are helpful resources for research, but also read articles, talk to your network, and do your due diligence. This also ensures that you don’t waste your time applying to a job you never wanted in the first place.

3. Third (longest) paragraph-WHAT makes you a good candidate?

The real meat of the letter is in this paragraph, which communicates why you’re the best fit for the role. Remember the adage about writing, “show, don’t tell”? This portion is the perfect application of it. Instead of just listing your accomplishments, SHOW that you understand and appreciate the intricacies of the position by giving specific, translatable examples from your prior work. Something like, “By designing and orchestrating [x company’s] social media relaunch, I increased user engagement by [X] percent and drove traffic up by [X] page views.  Some ideas I had for [your company’s] brand redevelopment include….”

Before you get started on this section spend some time carefully reading through the job description as well as any other ancillary research you’ve compiled on the employer and the job. Sometimes even highlighting the description line by line and taking notes about your correlating experience can be a productive starting point. Be sure to include the key terms mentioned in the listing.

4. Fourth (shortest) paragraph-SALUTATIONS and follow up details

The final section is where you summarize your qualifications, e.g., “Throughout my career, I have taken on diverse challenges and proven my ability to deliver positive results. I would be thrilled to further discuss the possibility of doing the same at [X].” In addition, be sure to offer references or other materials, state that you look forward to hearing from the company.

This article was originally published on GoGirl Finance.




Come interview with Liberty Dining on-campus next week!

Liberty Dining facilitates the food service portion at the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research in Danville, VA. They are currently advertising for On-Call Banquet Server positions. This is a great opportunity for any students looking to make extra money with a flexible schedule.

On Tuesday, September 29th, a representative with the company will be on campus in the Lower Level LRC – Room 14 interviewing students for this position from 1pm to 4pm.

Make sure to complete the following tasks before attending:

  1. Fill out the job application prior to the interview at the following link:
  2. Dress professionally. What you wear matters. These are on-site interviews! Dress to impress.
  3. Bring your resume. For resume assistance, contact the GOAL Center staff at 434-797-8536 or by email at goalcenter@dcc.vccs.edu to schedule an appointment.

Please contact a Student Success Coach at the GOAL Center for any additional information.

Wisdom Wednesday: Pop Culture vs. Finance – What’s More Important?

It is safe to say that every college student knows what weapon Katniss Everdeen wields in The Hunger Games and what iPhone will be released next, but what about the more important questions? Do college students deem financial literacy to be just as important as pop culture?

Judging from the video above, the answer is a resounding yes! The question then becomes why do students know so little on average about personal finance? The answer lies in the fact that pop culture knowledge is readily available to us at every turn, and maybe opportunities for learning about financial literacy are harder to come by.

The GOAL Center is DCC students’ FREE resource for learning about financial literacy on campus! Services offered at the GOAL Center include one-on-one coaching in the areas of budgeting, saving, debt-reduction, credit, scholarships and financial aid. If you would like to become a more financially savvy student, schedule your appointment with the GOAL Center staff today!

Wisdom Wednesday: The College Student’s Guide to Saving Money

Between buying textbooks, paying for food, and putting money towards tuition, it’s easy to see the importance of saving money in college. Getting a job isn’t always the most convenient option, especially because it means taking time away from your studies. If you have a huge course load and limited free time, finding ways to save money rather than earn more is your best bet. It’s a lot easier than you would think, and there are tons of ways to incorporate saving into your daily routine! Here are some tips on saving money in college, and ways to budget the money you’re no longer spending.

Buy used textbooks, and sell them back.

There are some great websites and stores out there that sell used textbooks at a fraction of the cost of new ones. When your course ends, you can sell them back, or find a friend that needs the same book for the upcoming semester. Check out Chegg.com for your textbook needs; it’s super convenient, and you can rent books as well!

Sell things you don’t need anymore.

If you’re like most people and have a closet stuffed with old bags, games, and random things you bought 5 years ago and never used, take some time to go through that pile of stuff, and sell it. Even if you only make a few bucks off it, you have more cash in your pocket, and less stuff in your closet.

Get rid of old clothes.

Whether it’s taking them to a store like Plato’s Closet, or selling them online at websites like Threadflip, there are tons of ways to make money off the clothes you don’t wear anymore.

Cut down on shopping, and spend less.

With the long list of payments you need to make for college-related fees, shopping shouldn’t be on the top of your priority list. That said, when you do go shopping, here are some tips on spending as little as possible:

  • Always shop with a purpose. If you set out on a shopping trip with a specific item in mind, you’re more likely to leave with just that item, rather than a bag full of things you didn’t really need.
  • Shop at discounted stores, like Marshall’s and Ross, or other thrift stores. You can find the designer brands you love to wear at a much lower cost, leaving you with more money to put towards tuition and other fees.
  • Buy used. While this can go for clothing, it can also go for more costly items, like electronics and appliances. Craigslist.com is a fantastic place to shop for used items, because people are constantly putting up new listings, and they make it easy to find people in your area with the things you need!

Ask for student discounts.

You wouldn’t believe how many stores give out student discounts. Most are between 15 and 20 percent, which really adds up if you limit your shopping to those places. It never hurts to ask!

Make a list of things you want and their prices.

There’s a huge differences between wants and needs. On a budget, it’s harder to buy those “wants”, which is why creating a list of them may help you decide which things you can do without. I like putting an estimated price next to these items, because it’s easier to see how reasonable it is for me to buy them.

Make your own stuff.

Making your own things, like face wash, laundry detergent, and jewelry, saves a ton of money. Whenever a friend’s birthday comes around, consider making a few things for them rather than going for the typical Starbucks gift card route. It costs less, and they always love getting something unique!

Take advantage of being on campus.

Keep an eye out for events being held around campus, because they are free, and that’s always a good reason to attend! Some have free food, t-shirts, and other things you’d otherwise pay for. I mean, who doesn’t like free stuff?

Make your own coffee.

Any Starbucks lover like myself knows how expensive buying coffee can get. When you’re spending up to $7 every morning on a drink, you might as well take half the money you earn and put it on a Starbucks card. Investing in a coffee maker and making your own coffee is a much better option, and while coffee makers can be expensive, you’ll be saving money in the long run.

Avoid eating out.

Just like buying coffee, the cost of eating out can add up quickly, even if it’s only a few times a week. Try eating at home as often as possible. When you do eat out, try to limit it to the weekends, and go to places that offer student discounts.

Keep applying for scholarships.

There are always scholarships waiting to be applied for, and most only take a few minutes to fill out. Scholarships are the easiest way to gain the most money, so take the time every once in a while to apply for them. Websites like fastweb.com and zinch.com gather hundreds of scholarships together to make it easy for you to find ones that match your qualifications and apply for them. You’ll be happy you did it!

Overall, keeping up with your budget and staying on top of your spending are the best ways to save money in college. Only spend what you’re able to make up, and if you go over that, make it your priority to stop spending for a while. As long as you keep track of where your money is, you’ll find that keeping money in your pocket is easier than you thought.

Wisdom Wednesday: 7 Clichés to Avoid on Your Resume

You may think your resume is already tip-top, but put yourself in the shoes of a recruiter. They look at hundreds of resumes every day. To them, most look exactly like all the other nondescript resumes in their pile. If you’re using the same tired phrases as everyone else, you’re not as exciting—or as hirable—as you thought you were.

A recruiter spends an average of six to 10 seconds per resume. Do you really want to waste even one of those precious milliseconds with a single word that doesn’t add to your credibility?

It goes without saying that you want your resume to stand out. You want a job, don’t you? It’s not hard to steer clear of common clichés and be more original. You just need to know which phrases to avoid.

Nix these seven clichés from your resume, and you’ll be well on your way to grabbing the recruiter’s attention—and staying out of the “no thanks” pile, once and for all.

Avoid meaningless adjectives.

Your resume will read like a work of fiction when you use phrases like “seasoned manager” or “influential leader” without an accompanying explanation.

Drop the qualitative description and add years of experience, job-specific technical skills and quantifiable achievements instead. Better yet, add graphs and other visuals to show what you’ve accomplished in previous jobs.

Not many applicants use visuals, but these graphics do more than add aesthetic appeal to your resume—visuals can add an air of credibility to your claims, which helps the recruiter believe you.

Cut out “creative.”

“Creative” might seem like the perfect word to describe your unique personality. Unfortunately, thousands of other applicants think the same thing. Recruiters have seen this word so much they will completely gloss over it.

Creative was the top buzzword for two years in LinkedIn’s annual survey of clichés. Many LinkedIn profiles use the word “creative”—even professionals not involved in creative fields.

Instead of telling the recruiter you’re creative, show them evidence of your creativity. Write a compelling cover letter or create a video resume to narrate the highlights of your career. Add interesting (nice-to-know, but not-so-personal) tidbits about yourself, and you’ll have a show-stopping resume cum cover letter in one neat little package.

Remove “results-oriented.”

What exactly do you mean when you describe yourself as “results-oriented”? Do you aim to hit the goals your employer sets for you? That should be a given. Every employer wants employees who drive results.

So prove to the recruiter you’re that person with details, and nix the empty and nondescript “results-oriented.” This description is subjective. Instead, highlight your skills and accomplishments by using the names of the projects or campaigns you worked on, then include the results for said projects.

Take out “passionate.”

So what’s wrong with saying you’re passionate? It goes two ways: Recruiters might buy this—not likely—and think you’re passionate about what you do, or they might think you’re desperately looking for a job.

The verity of your enthusiasm can easily be checked through your social media profiles. If you really love what you do, your Facebook and Twitter accounts would show work-related status updates, reflecting how excited you are about what’s happening in your job.

Delete “passionate” and similar adjectives fit for romantic novels. Replace them with solid examples of how much you love what you do, such as details about personal projects related to your line of work. For instance, if you’re a programmer, include info about apps you’re developing for your own use or for fun.

Rid your resume of “responsible for.”

Upon seeing this phrase, a recruiter pictures a mechanical employee doing what he’s paid to do—no more, no less. Change this phrase to “managed X,” “completed X tasks,” or similar action verbs that embody leadership and initiative.

Get rid of “guru.”

“Guru” sounds impressive, doesn’t it? Calling yourself a guru on your resume makes you sound like somebody trying hard to look smart. Stop proclaiming you’re a guru, ninja, or expert. It’s fine if other people describe you that way, but it’s not how you should describe yourself.

Replace these self-proclaimed titles. Demonstrate your expertise instead by listing published books or articles, interviews, past speaking engagements and other accomplishments that could establish your contribution in your field.

Remember, pretending to be someone you’re not will backfire on you during the interview.

Axe “excellent oral and written communication skills.”

Although this is a must-have soft skill, recruiters don’t need to see it on your resume.


Because hiring managers can judge your communication skills in mere seconds! If your resume and cover letter fail to communicate why you should get an interview, then what’s the point of putting “excellent communication skills” on paper?

Proofread your resume for grammar slips instead. Remove fillers and redundant phrases.

Your resume is your stepping stone to getting a job, so invest an extra 30 minutes to make it attention-grabbing. Review your resume, cover letter and LinkedIn profile for these clichés and buzzwords. Save a copy of the original files, then apply the tips above to revamp your profile. Compare before and after files and see the difference.

Originally posted on Levo