Sunday, May 28, 2006

Successful Cover Letter

I recently had an interesting discussion with Melanie who wrote:

Mr. Peterson,
Thank you for your informational blog. I have a question regarding security clearances. As a recent college graduate, I do not have a clearance in a field where practically every open position requires one. Many times I have heard, "thanks, but we need an employee with an active clearance." How do I politely say that I'm willing to do lesser jobs if they are willing to start the paperwork on a clearance?

My reply was as follows:

Thanks very much for your kind words Melanie. I'm glad you could find some small use for the site. This is an excellent reason to write a cover letter. A little-known advantage of using a cover letter is that you can explain unusual situations. For example, if the candidate is in an unusual degree program, they can explain why the degree can bring value to the organization and why it makes them unique.

My advice would be to suggest something like the following in your cover letter:

"Considering that I can bring your organization the most value with a security clearance, I'd like to propose an arrangement that can benefit your needs and as well as my career goals. I know a clearance is a great asset to a career and I am certain that my background is clearable. I'd be more than willing to volunteer my services for a position I am slightly overqualified for such as an assistant or technician while I go through the security clearance process."

After a few months, Melanie wrote again:

I know its been a while but I'd like to thank you again for sending me a copy of your book. I found the section on writing cover letters especially helpful as well as the chapter on interviewing. By implementing your advice and suggestions, I was given a interview and later job offer with the perfect company. I start my dream job on Monday! Thanks again--your book made it possible.

Ecstatic to hear about Melanie's success, I asked what things made the difference and how she got this great job:

Actually, security clearances (or lake thereof) should not be a problem. I'm working for a technology consulting firm in San Francisco, and while the projects I'll eventually be staffed to will be varied, I'll be able to work in areas I've studied and areas I've never seen before. Should I be assigned to a project requiring a security clearance, they will certainly find other projects for me to work on in the meantime.

However, from reading your book I learned I was making some major mistakes applying for jobs. One of the major ones, which seems obvious now, was not including a cover letter, or including a letter that was little more than "I'm applying for this position". Another mistake was not adequately preparing for phone or in-person interviews. Another mistake was not following up after an interview. A neat trick that I think helped my resume get noticed was the bit about including ascii characters in online resumes. I didn't have any contacts at this company and they didn't recruit at my campus, so it was probably a combination of a snazzy html resume and a good cover letter that got me considered.

Hope this helps. Like I said, I would not be where I am now had I not read your book.
Thanks again,


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