Monday, May 26, 2008

Three Steps to Writing a Cover Letter for a Career Change

So you’ve spent years working in a less than satisfying field, and now you are looking to change into something that fits you better. Problem is, your background is in a different field or you feel you do not have the exact experience that they are asking for. Before you give up or become too anxious thinking that what you are applying for is too much of a dream or not the right fit, focus your mind on why you thought you should apply for the position in the first place. Even if it was from a friend goading you on to something they thought you would like, try to allow for the fact that if you or somebody else at some point thought you would be a good match, there is probably something in it that would convince the employer the same. Here are three helpful steps in devising your cover letter to give you some leverage in making a major leap:

1) Research the position extensively.
Perhaps the most convincing argument you can use to convince an employer that you would be an excellent match for a position is to express an understanding for the position that goes beyond what is merely stated in the job description. What would the position really be like? How would your background prepare you for potential challenges? What things are congruent in your history? With research, you have the opportunity to identify congruent items that are not defined in your resume, such as company culture. The more you are able to express an understanding for the company/position you are applying for, the more they might be willing to consider you despite your work history. Please appreciate how critical insider networking can be to establish this step, and do not be afraid to call upon your friends when doing this research.

2) Put your best foot forward first.
Once you have researched the position, you need to make sure that what you mention in the cover letter are your most persuasive points. The best way to do this is to take inventory of your greatest achievements in all of your history, and consider which of these would be of greatest value or interest to the potential employer. If you “wow” them with your achievements, they are more likely to see your potential, since rarely does any candidate perfectly match a description anyway. The idea is if you have a history of achievement in your former work, you are more likely to be the same in your new capacity.

3) Connect the dots.
This may be the third step, but it is no less important than the other two. These connections are what we call transferable skills. So you never used the main proprietary software that will be your main tool for the position you are targeting. But for your last two positions, you quickly adapted to their software tools. This can be a real challenge to come up with relevant experience, but you cannot rely on your potential employer to figure out how you fit.

Remember, for each opportunity, the competition ultimately dictates the outcome--and that is one variable that you have no control over. What you do have control over is whether or not you take a risk. The timing might just allow you to succeed in this stretch if you take the initiative of putting yourself out there first. You can never win or lose if you don’t try.

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