For Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines who joined the military at 18 and will soon be parting ways after enlistment, writing that first resume and cover letter can be daunting. It may seem like there aren’t enough skills and experience to fill an entire page.
Depending on the job you’re applying for, that’s probably fine. Everyone has to start somewhere, and you start off on the right foot with military experience. You’re competing with other people in your place in life who may not have a lot of work experience.
You’ll showcase your best asset in your first cover letter, a well-crafted document that will sell you, your skills, and your strengths, and show the value you’ll bring to their company as an employee.
Here are some tips to help you flesh out that critical document and land the interview.
1. Start strong.
Remember, you’re selling yourself for an entry-level position to an employer who might be looking for recent graduates most of the time. Let this person know that you have skills and experience that match the position, and if you have a background in the field, include that in the first paragraph as well.
This is especially true if you are pursuing a job that was also your military specialty. Just because you’re starting from scratch doesn’t mean you don’t have experience working in a store or office. Be sure to also include the position you are applying for.
2. Gather as much information as possible.
You may know the specific industry, company, or position you are applying for. If you are able to gather inside information about what the job or company is looking for in a candidate, use that information in the cover letter if it applies to you.
Networking, previous or current employees, and even alumni groups will often have information about how the company does things, what kinds of experience they really need, or if they have any alumni from your college or unit that might give you some insight into what to include.
3. Your skills must match the responsibilities of the position.
Although the cover letter is definitely a sales pitch for yourself and the employer should like you and the idea of hiring you, you should still perform the job duties expected of you. Look at the job description and the day-to-day responsibilities of the position. Tell the employer why your skills are a perfect fit for these roles.
If the job requires the use of Excel spreadsheets, describe to the employer how you have used spreadsheets in your military work. If it requires working on a specific part of an aircraft or vehicle, tell them how you worked on those parts of the vehicle. You are trying to show your competence in the workplace and your ability to get the job done.
4. Use keywords from the job description.
Just as important as talking to a human being about roles and responsibilities, it’s important to override the computer that will scan your cover letter for certain words and phrases. Just like when submitting your resume, if you can’t pass this computer algorithm, human eyes may never see the letter.
It searches certain words and phrases as a filter to ensure that candidates who are considered by a human are actually qualified to do the job. These words are usually included in the job description and are often the skills, certifications, and training required for the position. Make sure your cover letter also includes these phrases.
5. End with a call to action.
Be sure to thank the employer for considering your application, then end the letter with a thank you and outline the best ways to contact you to arrange an interview. It might also be nice to include something about your excitement about working for their company, in particular. After all, no HR professional wants to be in the same position a year later.
— Blake Stilwell can be reached at email@example.com. It can also be found on Twitter @blakestilwell or on Facebook.
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