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Tell 'Em About Yourself

Reprinted from PN October 2012

Like National Disability Employment Awareness Month, a great cover letter highlights what you CAN do.

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If you’re in a wheelchair trying to land an interview for a great job, you share a similar goal with October’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM): telling others what you can do.

Held each October, NDEAM is a campaign that raises awareness about disability employment issues and celebrates the many and varied contributions of America’s workers with disabilities.

The Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) manages NDEAM and works to expand its reach and scope. ODEP uses tools such as posters and other advertisements to  spread its message. Your search for a job follows a path much the same, only your message is about yourself, and one of your key communication tools is the cover letter.

The following tips from the Job Accommodation Network website will enable you to write a cover letter that, like NDEAM, highlights your abilities and will hopefully make you part of today’s inclusive work force.

What’s a Cover Letter? 

A cover letter is a screening device used by employers. It should accompany each resumé you send to a prospective employer.

A good cover letter is as important as a good resumé. In fact, in many instances your cover letter is more important. If it doesn’t catch the attention of the reader, he or she may not even look at the resumé.


The cover letter should be brief and personal, address the needs of the specific employer, and reflect your natural choice
of vocabulary. It should highlight four key components:

-         Introduce you

-         Create employer interest in you

-         Draw attention to one or two exceptional and relevant skills on your resumé

-         Show an employer you are interested in his or her company

Forget the “Form”

This is not the time to cut corners, and a “form” or generic cover letter should never be used.

Address your correspondence to the person with hiring authority, using her/his name and title. If that information isn’t included in the job posting it can sometimes be found on the company website.

Introduce yourself, and in the opening paragraph clearly state your reason for writing. Mention your interest and how you learned about the opening, identifying the position for which you would like to be considered and why you are interested in this organization.

In the middle paragraph(s), highlight your educational credentials, employment experiences, and attributes that qualify you for the position. Use specific examples from your extracurricular activities, course work, and employment that demonstrate skills pertinent to the position, such as leadership, decision-making, and communication. Refer the reader to your resumé for more details.

Close the letter by requesting an interview. Depending on the circumstances, you should say you’ll call on a certain date to arrange a time for an appointment or affirm your interest in the position and/or organization.

Fine Tuning

The smallest details can really matter, especially in a job search, so take the extra time to make your cover letter look great.

Use the same quality paper that matches your resumé. Proofread for misspellings, grammatical errors, and poor writing before you submit it to a prospective employer. Poor writing or typos are a sure way to direct your application to the “reject” pile.

Other things to include:

-         Use matching fonts for the letter and resumé.

-         Keep your paragraphs to 4–5 sentences. 

-         Use the first sentence of each paragraph strategically. Your reader may skim the letter and read only the first sentence.

-         Use the active voice and action verbs. 

-         One page with 3–5 paragraphs should convey your message.

-         Sign the letter.

These are a few things not to do:

-         Rely solely on your computer’s spell-check function

-         Address letters to “Dear Sir or Madam,” or “To Whom it May Concern”

-         Make statements you cannot verify

-         Avoid overused and meaningless terms such as “hardworking,” “strong communication skills,” or “loyal”

For more information about the Job Accommodation Network, visit askjan.org or call 800-526-7234 (voice) / 877-781-9403 (TTY).

 

Cover Letter Checklist 

_______ 1. Is it addressed to a specific person?

 _______ 2. Is the salutation followed by a colon rather than a comma?

 _______ 3. Have you told the employer exactly what position you are applying for?

_______ 4. Have you stated why you are interested in the position and the organization?

_______ 5. Have you told the employer what you can do for the organization rather than what it can do for you?

_______ 6. Did you use specific examples to sell your skills?

_______ 7. Is the sentence structure varied? Have you limited the use of the words “I” and “My” to begin sentences?

_______ 8. Have you requested action, mentioning that you will call or are available to be contacted for an interview?

_______ 9. Did you express appreciation for the employer considering your application?

_______ 10. Is it an original letter rather than a mass-produced copy?

_______ 11. Is it neat and attractive? Is it free of typographical and grammatical errors?

_______ 12. Does the whole letter fit on one page?

_______ 13. Is it laser-printed on high-quality paper that matches your resumé?

_______ 14. Did you sign it? (Preferably in black ink!)

 

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