Emphasize Your Why in Cover Letters + template

Cover Letter Advice by Aurora Meyer on Dispatches from the Castle

There are more than 6,560,000,000 search results for “cover letter template.” Nearly all of the results recommend starting with the standard, “I am [adjective] excited to submit my application for [job title] at [company].”

Starting a cover letter this way practically ensures the recipient will skim the opening and the rest of your letter.

In the positions I’ve hired for, I prefer to read cover letters that start with why. Why this position? Why this company?

Specifically, tell me a story and prove you’re a writer.  For example:

I would like to express my interest in the [position title] position at [company]. My interest in [field] has taken me from [experience] to [experience]. I believe that my passion for [aspect of your field or background], a strong commitment to [aspect of your field or background], and interest in [aspect of your field or background] make me an ideal candidate to join the [department] staff at [company]. I’m specifically interested in [company] because [related to the company mission statement, reputation, a specific project, is in one of your areas of interest, etc.].

This tells me you are not only looking for the position title but at my organization, which makes me inclined to look closer at what you would bring to the role. Which is exactly what you should spell out next.

As a candidate, here’s what I could immediately bring to the table:

  • An [adjective] [descriptor that reflects transferable skill outline in the job description]: In my role at [current or previous job], I [action or accomplishment with outcome emphasized]. I was also able to [verb] my [skill desired in job description] abilities as a [role or responsibilities outlined in job description] in [project name] by [what you did].
  • A [adjective] [descriptor that reflects another transferable skill outline in the job description]: I have always displayed my [soft skill outlined in job description] to [job responsibility outlined in job description] by [action]. At [current or previous company], I [time such as always or frequently] [action]. In addition, I had the opportunity to [action or accomplishment], which further shows my [noun such as commitment or dedication] to [aspect of your field noted in the job description].
  • A [adjective] [descriptor that reflects another transferable skill outline in the job description]: Every step in my career is driven by my [noun such as interest, appreciation, recognition] in [aspect of your career field noted in the job description]. [explain how you keep up with industry trends and tie this sentence back to the specific company, for example, While actively managing more than 10 social channels, building and supporting the online community, I still regularly dedicated part of my week to stay current on marketing and social data trends. Given [company’s] [recent award or recognition] I strongly believe this established routine would make me a valuable part of the team.]  

Looking for even more hints? Find your current job description or rewrite your current job description and compare it against the job description you are writing the cover letter for.

As a hiring manager, if your cover letter makes it past the algorithm, I want to see you can write, learn more about why you think the company is where you want to work and if your skills are a good fit beyond what your resume tells me. 

How to Ask Your Network for Help (templates included!)

image with hand and graphic representations of people in white depicting How to Ask Your Network for Help (template included) by Aurora Meyer on Dispatches from the Castle

Is there a specific organization you are interested in or job title you are looking for in your next position? No matter where you are in the search process, you absolutely must start making connections with organizations or individuals who can help you make that step.

You should start by scouring the openings at those organizations and measure your current skills with what they are looking for in a new hire.

Additionally, I would suggest reaching out to a friend of a friend or a former colleague to see if you could be connected to a recruiter or a hiring manager, ideally, through an email. LinkedIn is a great place to find connections (just make sure your profile is professional and up to date!).

For example, you could asl your mutual connection to send an email like this:
Hi NAME, my friend [YOUR NAME] is looking to [get back into the industry, take the next step in her/his/their career, change career paths, etc.] and is very interested in our organization. I wanted you to meet her/him/them in case you have any openings that might be a good fit for her skill set or you might have time to connect. I’ll let you two take it from here!”

Here’s an example I recently wrote:
Hello, NAME! I wanted to introduce you to our mutual colleague NAME. [DETAILS about who colleague NAME is and the connection/reason I’m writing].  She’s [job title plus a job-related compliment or achievement] and is an all-around really fantastic person. 

[mutual colleague NAME], please meet NAME. [DETAILS about NAME is and the connection/reason I’m writing. NOTE: this should reflect what you wrote above]. She’s [current job title and reason you are introducing these two people]. She’s [job-related compliment or achievement].
I will let the two of you take it from here!
Aurora 

Then as the person who is looking to make a change, you could reply, reiterate your interest in the organization and inquire if the person would be willing to talk [phone is preferred, though email can also work] suggestions and recommendations to make your candidacy stronger.

You did not build a network to look at, do not be afraid to use it! 

Other Duties as Assigned

Other Duties as Assigned Post Image depicting a computer with Job Description written and a keyboard by Aurora Meyer on Dispatches from the Castle

Almost all job descriptions use the phrase, “other duties as assigned” and this might give some candidates pause, but it shouldn’t.

According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management for federal employees, the clause, “other duties as assigned” is meant to refer to minor tasks related to a certain position.

“Because minor duties normally do not affect the classification of the position, are usually unimportant to work operations, and change frequently, it is generally not necessary to mention them in the position description,” according to the Classifier’s Handbook. “A statement, such as “Performs other duties as assigned,” covers such situations adequately.”

While some employers may abuse this, there are a few ways to inquire about what these could look like during the interview. As a candidate, you should ask:

  • What about the job isn’t included in the job description?
  • Can you share some examples of projects or responsibilities that could be included in other duties as assigned?
  • Could you share some examples of opportunities for stretch projects?
  • How do you respond to employees noticing something and correcting it or bringing it to your attention?

As both a manager and an employee, I have found that more often than not other duties as assigned may include filling in for someone who is on vacation, mundane tasks such as getting and sorting the mail and opportunities to grow your position or scope of responsibilities. 

The mundane tasks or ones that are completely out of the scope of your job description can be looked at one of four ways:

  • One-time requests to be helpful (ok but be mindful of when and if these cross a line or become more than just once in a while)
  • Other departments asking for your help without going through your supervisor (this article from Muse has some great suggestions for how to navigate those)
  • Covering for a team member as needed (vacation, sick, etc.)
  • General helping out (noticing the copier paper is low and refilling it for example)

A quick word of caution, don’t let the mundane tasks take your time away from your actual job responsibilities because it could prevent you from future opportunities to grow your position or scope of work. 

While the mundane tasks can be seen as ways to be a supportive team member, opportunities to grow your position or scope of responsibilities are what will continue to make you valuable as an employee. Mundane tasks accomplish a specific goal, stretch projects are growth opportunities and are a good indicator of trust. 

(Note: there is a difference in growing your position and scope of responsibilities and coming in with a know it all attitude or intention to fix everything you see wrong. I often recommend those just starting with an organization give it at least six months and ideally a full year before asking for stretch projects or opportunities to try something new. However, during that time, your supervisor may give you stretch projects or opportunities and you should absolutely take those.)

The best supervisor I’ve ever had once told me, my job is to give you the tools to be successful, the objectives you need to achieve and the timeline. How you create that success and reach those goals is up to you. 

In other duties as assigned, you can find opportunities to learn and hone new skills and gain experience to elevate your career. 

Scaling Your Startup: 21 Books Every Entrepreneur Should Read

Editor’s Note: Here at Dispatches, we are always looking for ways to help our readers do things. For some of our readers, that means helping navigate the working world, for others, it means assisting in the ever challenging question, “what’s for dinner?” For still others, it means figuring out how to balance family life with everything else. In an effort to aid in all of these endeavors, we have collaborated on this article written for our readers.

Infographic of IG-Entrepreneurship-and-Startup-Stories by Aurora Meyer

You’re familiar with the saying “knowledge is power.”

Of course, knowledge can be gained just about anywhere these days: a TedTalk, podcast, YouTube video — you name it, the list goes on. But If you want exposure to new ideas, modes of thinking and a compounded aggregate of diverse knowledge, then reading is important, especially if you want to be a successful business person.

Warren Buffett — arguably the most skilled investor of our time — said reading 500 pages a day was the key to success. “That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest,” he explained. He’s not alone in that belief. Other iconic business people incorporate reading in their daily rituals. Take Bill Gates for example. He reads 50 books every year. Mark Zuckerberg is another business icon who’s tackled lofty reading goals like reading a new book every other week — that’s 26 books in one year.

Of course, with millions of entrepreneurship and business books out there, just figuring out where to start can be a challenge in and of itself. Then you have to sift through reviews to discern quality from fluff. Simply put, not all business advice distilled into books is equal, especially when it comes to the volatility of businesses at the startup stage.

To help point you in the right direction, a startup insurance company, Embroker, narrowed down a list of 21 books geared to help entrepreneurs scale their startups and learn from some of the best veteran businessmen and women out there. These are broken into the following categories: growth hacking and scaling, books to read before pitching VCs, and entrepreneurship and startup stories.

Growth Hacking Books

If you’re like most founders, scaling your business is top of mind. In other words, mastering marketing, product development, sales, and other areas are crucial in growth hacking. Books like Explosive Growth by Cliff Lerner offer a personal narrative to give you a behind-the-scenes look inside a fast-growing startup that created the first online dating app and grew to 100 million users.

Smartcuts by Shane Snow analyzes how some highly successful startups go from zero to billions in a matter of months. Additionally, this book shows how innovators and icons make strides by working smarter, not harder.

Books to Read Before Pitching VCs

If you’re at the stage of where you need to raise capital (beyond what you’ve bootstrapped), then knowing how to pitch venture capitalists is a crucial component of moving the needle for your business.

Books like Bargaining for Advantage offer a road map for how to survive and thrive in the sometimes rough-and-tumble world of business negotiation. Venture Deals is an exhaustive guide that covers everything founders need to know about achieving successful funding, including how to understand venture capital deal structures and strategies.

Entrepreneurship and Startup Stories

Success and the path to get there looks different for everyone. Books like Business Model Generation highlight factors that determine the success and failure of business today.

Startupland is Mikkel Svane and Carlye Adler’s unconventional story of founding Zendesk in a Copenhagen loft, how they left secure jobs to start something of their own, and the company’s journey to launching on the NYSE. It’s a relatable story of risking it all and going for broke.

To learn more about the full list check out their guide on startup books.

 

 

How do you know when to expand your business?

If you’re thinking about opening another location, then congratulations!  You’re probably seeing strong sales, a steady flow of customers (maybe even customers complaining that they have to wait too long), and healthy profits. But just because you’re doing well doesn’t mean that it’s time to expand.

There are a number of questions you should ask yourself before expanding. Most importantly, you should have a compelling reason to expand.

Are You Ready To Hand Over the Reins? 
Your business is your baby! You probably do most (or all) of the work. Are you comfortable with walking away for a couple of months as you open another location? Is there someone you trust to take over the day-to-day operations?

Are You Ready Financially? 
One of the biggest mistakes that small business owners make when opening another location is borrowing too much money from their original location. The last thing you want to do is allow another location to cannibalize the original one.

A good rule of thumb here is to treat your expansion project like you would a brand new business. Hold off on moving ahead unless you can draw from an outside bank account or find a source of funding that is distinct from your original location.

Are There Customers (and Employees) Waiting For You? 
Only expand to another location if you can open yourself up to new markets. Think about who your current customers are. Do they travel long distances to get to you? Are they centered in your neighborhood? Are there new customers that will want to try your product if you expand to another location?

Also, consider your hiring potential. Maybe you’ve already exhausted your current employee market and would like to move to a new location to attract diverse talent.

Can You Recreate Your Brand?
Don’t expand to another location unless you can keep your unique brand voice intact. Huge brands, like Target and Starbucks, have tried to expand into new markets and failed miserably. Make sure you can maintain whatever it is that makes your business unique.

Check out this flowchart created by Fundera that guides you through a number of questions to decide if you should open a new location.

Use this flowchart to determine if your business should open a new location.