7 Reasons Why a Good Cover Letter is Gold

Writing-a-cover-letterElizabeth Jarque is an experienced Human Resources Manager with Viridity Business Advisory Services and Corporate English and Communication Coach with E4B | English for Business.

From her unique insights in both specialisations, she is keenly sharing some of her observations in securing your next position.

7 Reasons Why a Good Cover Letter is Gold

Here at Viridity business is booming and we’re recruiting again. As the Viridity HR Manager I am constantly surprised at the lack of preparation given to the candidate CVs and Cover Letters that we receive.

Considering the fact that these two documents will probably be the first and only opportunity for the candidate to introduce themselves and make a memorable (positive) impression, why are candidates so careless and essentially lazy?

For example, despite the fact that our recent job advertisement specifically requested a CV and Cover letter, only 50% of applications included a Cover letter.

Hence this blog post on the importance of taking the time to construct a Cover Letter and CV that specifically addresses the critical criteria found in the Job advert.

Why? Let me give you 7 reasons

1. First impressions stick

The Cover letter is the potential employer’s first introduction to the candidate. First impressions are very hard to change which works in the candidate’s favour when the Cover Letter is a good one. It also means that the interview is more likely to open on a pre-existing positive impression, making it easier for both parties to move forward on how they benefit each other.

2. Not including a Cover Letter is also communicating something about the candidate to the prospective employer

So, there’s no Cover Letter. Often this means that myself and other HR Managers don’t even look at the CV, particularly if there are other promising candidates. Why not? Already the candidate has communicated to me that:

  • the candidate is lazy,
  • shows lack of attention to the details of the Job Advert,
  • a new role isn’t really a priority or,
  • has no idea know to write a Cover Letter.

Is Viridity really interested in a staff member with any of the above?

3. A well-constructed Cover Letter tells a story

A critical part of finding the right candidate is ensuring a good cultural fit. Will this person fit into the culture that Viridity has created? A CV rarely provides this insight. But a Cover letter should tell a story, revealing the individual personality behind all the skills and accomplishments. It’s also a great place to explain the candidate’s motives for applying – for example, why are they job searching with only 7 months in their current role? This is also the perfect opportunity to score brownie points by making reference to what Viridity does and why they would like to work for us.

4. Convinces the employer that you should be in the ‘A’ pile

A good Cover Letter should address the Job criteria using the STAR formula, and when it does, bingo, I’m hooked. We’ll certainly be giving this person a call. Why? Because any candidate can tell you how efficient, hardworking, innovative and dedicated they are. But why should I be inclined to believe them? The STAR formula proves it.

Don’t know what the STAR structure is? Look it up, it’s an excellent tool.

5. Demonstrates communication skills & other essential criteria

When a candidate takes the time to prepare an individual Cover Letter for each application, it demonstrates the following:

  • Excellent communication skills (You try to encapsulate who you are and why you are the person for a job in less than 1 page )
  • Critical and analytical thinking in determining from the Job advert the key skills and characteristics Viridity are looking for.
  • Commitment, focus and hard work.

6. A generic Cover Letter and CV are blatantly obvious.

It’s false economy to email the same CV and Cover letter to prospective employers. During Job Skills’ workshops that I occasionally facilitate, there are often job seekers who proudly tell me that they have applied for over 100 jobs and haven’t received a single response! And they’re surprised. Obviously, it’s a no brainer – poor communication skills coupled with laziness in not bothering to formulate a winning application addressing key criteria.

7. And finally, why is a good cover letter gold?

Why? Because they’re as rare and as valuable as gold. When I read one, I remember the candidate for all the right reasons and will certainly put them in the A pile…even perhaps before I’ve looked at their CV.

E4B | English for Business are keen to know your job search experiences so give us a call to discuss how to find success in securing your next position.

info@e4b.com.au or 0433 264 826 

Ted Talk of the Day and Business English Presentations

In this Ted Talk of just under 7 minutes, Emdin talks about motivating teachers and changing the classroom with gusto.

While the tone seems a bit too American for an Australian context there are a number of things he does well and all of these elements translate into giving a good presentation for anyone.

  1. He tells a story. I know I’ve been talking about this before, but this really is the way to engaging your audience.
  2. He paints a picture. We can imagine the black church and its parishioners.
  3. He uses irony. We can see the bored education student listening to the tired lecturer about engaging the audience.
  4. He has passion and enthusiasm for his subject.
  5. He sets the scene. “Right now, there is an aspiring teacher who is working on a 60-page paper based on some age-old education theory developed by some dead education professor…”
  6. He uses repetition. “Right now, there is…”
  7. He uses body language. He makes eye-contact.
  8. He uses a personal pronoun. “Right now, there’s a student to come up with a way to convince his mum or dad that he’s very sick and can’t make it to school tomorrow.”
  9. He has great threads too.
  10. And, he uses humour.

See if you can weave some of these elements into your next presentation.

Click here to watch.

Never let a story get in the way of a good phrasal verb

The ever-feared phrasal verb is one of the main causes of concern for advanced business English speakers. This is especially the case in the workplace where native speaking colleagues consider them to be the easiest thing in the world to slip into conversation.

Generally speaking, business English phrasal verbs are a less formal way of communicating, which pretty much means they are being spoken in meetings, over the phone and in the lunchroom. They are probably being used in most emails too but rarely in more formal emails, official documents or reports where more Latin-based words are preferred.

So how to conquer the phrasal verb in the business English context?

My number one tip for improving your phrasal verb knowledge is to listen. Listen to your colleagues and develop your own personal phrasal verb lexicon and start working them into your conversations and emails where possible. If you currently have a teacher, present your list and ask for an activity that will help you exercise them. If not, find a confidante who will help you use them correctly.

By successfully stealing phrasal verbs from your colleagues you will find the ones that are most suitable to your unique business English context. The trick with phrasal verbs is that there are thousands of them and the other trick is getting the word order right.

Take a look at this online tool Lexchecker and see if your phrasal verb explanation can be found here.

Otherwise, search this online thesaurus for the correct usage and related synonyms.

And here is a good list of business English phrasal verbs to test your knowledge.

If you’re going it alone, why not try reading the MX newspaper on your commute home for a good variety of phrasal verbs. At least this might keep you more entertained than reading the articles. You could also try taking a few phrasal verbs from your favourite movie the next time you watch it – that shouldn’t detract from the storyline too much. Anyway, never let a story get in the way of a good phrasal verb.

Speaking Up in Meetings – when and how to interrupt, correct someone or ask for clarification

Business MeetingHow many times have you sat through a meeting with something brilliant to say but never knowing quite when to say it? Or realised half-way through the meeting that your colleague who spoke up has said something you completely disagree with? Or worse yet, found yourself nodding and smiling in agreement while wondering what in the world the discussion was actually about?

Speaking up in meetings — to interrupt, correct someone else, or ask for clarification — can be extremely intimidating. Having a few useful phrases available can go a long way towards giving you the confidence and tools you need to be able to interject your thoughts and opinions effectively in group situations and meetings.

When You’ve Got an Idea

Often people don’t speak up because they’re afraid of being seen as wrong, uninformed, or putting forward a stupid idea. A great way to sidestep this fear is to depersonalise your idea by putting a question to the group. When you think you just might have a good suggestion but aren’t absolutely confident about it, go ahead and start by introducing it with a comment that suggests it’s something the group might want to consider:

  • Have we thought about… getting Steve involved in the PR campaign directly?
  • Did anyone mention… the Brealy report? I seem to recall it covered some of the same topics Andrew has raised here.
  • Another option we might want to consider… is pushing back the timeline until early October.
  • Is it worth revisiting…last week’s minutes from the meeting to review the product specifications agreed upon?

The subtext here is that you’re contributing to the conversation and adding value to the group — but not personally claiming ownership of the idea or taking over the conversation. By using a more informal question you’ll be able to make your voice and idea heard, without overstating your commitment to that idea.

When You Disagree

It’s hard to disagree without being disagreeable. When the conversation is heading in a direction that you don’t agree with, it’s often hard to keep your mouth shut. Of course, it’s your right (and perhaps even your responsibility) to speak up when you want to challenge what has been said or give a completely different opinion.  The key is knowing how to adjust your comments so you don’t come off sounding tiresome or offensive. Here are a few strategies and helpful phrases to use in those awkward or tense moments:

  • Be very direct: I’m afraid I disagree with that assessment, Jon. Or, My experience has actually been quite different…I found the team to be highly engaging.
  • Be cautious: I just want to play devil’s advocate here for a moment, but what if we were to… go with the opposite approach and use direct mail marketing instead of relying solely on social media efforts?
  • Be provocative: This may shock you, but I want to…challenge our assumption that we have to take the deal.

When You’re Confused

And finally, what’s worse than sitting in on a meeting and having no idea what’s going on? You may have stumbled in late, tuned out at exactly the wrong moment, or simply never known much about the topic being discussed — and found yourself becoming more and more confused as the meeting progressed. Whatever the situation, the longer you wait to ask for clarification, the harder it is to meaningfully reinsert yourself into the conversation. Here are some good phrases to use the next time you find yourself lost in a meeting:

  • Forgive me if I’m missing something here, but I’m a little confused about…which marketing program you’re suggesting we table.
  • I’m not entirely sure I follow you – could you please recap what you just mentioned regarding… the August delivery?
  • I’m sure I’m supposed to know this already, but… how many attendees are we expecting at the conference next week?
  • I apologise if this is totally obvious to everyone here, but what does CAFE stand for?
  • This may be a stupid question, but I’m still not up to speed on why…we’re not using rail instead of truck.

While it’s obviously preferable to withhold your interruption until the speaker pauses briefly, sometimes the value of what you want to say depends on interjecting it at the exact point when it will have the most relevance and impact.  Whatever you do, remember that any interjection can be made more acceptable if you preface it with some polite or apologetic words:

  • Sorry to interrupt…but I don’t quite see it like that
  • Sorry, can I come in here…there’s something I think you’ve missed
  • I do see your point, but…I really can’t support the proposal
  • Would it be fair to say…that we were a bit premature in signing the contract?
  • Could I add something here?…I believe that’s covered in their latest annual report
  • I’d like to say something if I may…there may be another way we can go with this
  • My apologies, but I think you might be mistaken on that point…there’s really no evidence to back it up

At the end of the day, you’ll do better for yourself if you speak up in meetings and make your case — whether to push a new idea, correct a misconception or simply keep yourself up to date and current on what’s really going on. You owe it to yourself and your team to contribute to your fullest potential — it’s far less intimidating then you may think.

Written by David Andrew

Storytelling and Building Rapport

www.ted.comIf you’re not familiar with Ted.com, get in there now – but be careful! These up-to-20-minute presentations are highly engaging and addictive. They’re stories told by people with a passion and often a profession in the field of medicine, environmental science, the arts and business.

Ted Talks have become very useful not only as a source of entertainment but also as a learning tool. The Ted style of storytelling is effective yet highly diverse in style, so, you might ask yourself, how could I ever learn to communicate like that?

I speak to a lot of people – managers and students – about corporate-level English and one of the main communication skills needing change is the increase the confidence levels towards being able to more effectively building rapport with clients and colleagues.

I remember what this was like. I lived in France for a number of years and my French was good but, even when it was at its best, I still felt that there was part of my personality missing in French. There was still part of me that I couldn’t easily communicate to those around me. This not only knocked my confidence but also knocked my ability to have that easy, casual conversation that usually leads to making others feel at ease, which leads into building rapport and then trust and later friends.

Don’t worry, I did eventually make some friends but it took much more effort in French than it normally does in English.

I am convinced that one way to put others at ease and build rapport, whether in a personal or a business situation, is to have a handle on a couple of personal stories that you can pull out in different situations.

Start looking around you at people who handle social situations well and see what stories they tell about themselves. It can be tricky finding the right story for the right situation but start by observing and then give it a shot.

Ted Talks are fabulous for this. The speakers often integrate personal experience and story into their talks. Take a look at these ones and let me know if you find any others that you think use this theory too.

Elif Shafak – The politics of fiction

Brené Brown – The power of vulnerability

Andrew Stanton – The clues to a great story

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: The danger of a single story


The Elephant in the Room

131209 elephant-in-the-room imageIf English is your second language it can be common to be nervous in client meetings. It is also common that your client might be a little nervous too.

The possibility of not being understood or not understanding what someone else says often creates tensions on both sides of the conversation.

A good way to diffuse all this discomfort, is to acknowledge the elephant in the room, which will hopefully put both parties more at ease to getting down to business, building rapport and focusing on what is important. You might say something like,

“As you might be able to guess, English is not my first language so I want you to feel comfortable to ask for clarification if you don’t understand anything I say and, similarly, I will ask you any questions if there is something I am unsure about.”

If your client feels confident that you will go away making sure you understand the situation fully and that they are free to ask questions for clarification, you will both have greater confidence in each other and your professionalism will shine.


Fluency Over Accuracy

I often ask new clients what they do if they recognise that they’ve made a mistake when speaking. There tends to be a pretty even balance between two answers: I go back and correct it; or, I keep going in the hope that no one noticed.

My advice on this one would be the latter – fluency over accuracy – keep going at the risk of making the odd mistake.

While accuracy is important – and there’s always room for improvement – the right amount of confidence plays a huge role in building relationships and getting the job done effectively.

If your listener has understood the gist of what you said – keep going. If you are unsure whether they have understood you or not, you would be better to check their understanding later in the conversation by asking for any questions or recapping the main points of what you spoke about.

Especially if you tend to be on the shy side, try soldiering through the some of the mistakes and concentrate on the content.

And remember – fake it ’til you make it!