Writing a Cover Letter that Stands Out

Cover letters are often a client’s first introduction to an employer, and should always be included with a job application. Like the resume, tailor the cover letter to the position announcement. The goal of a cover letter is to entice an employer to review the client’s resume and to secure an interview.

Here are five tips on how to structure and write a cover letter that will lead to an interview:

  1. Start off on the right step

The header on the cover letter should be a replica of that on the resume. A matching header gives the two documents an added professional look. These two documents should be submitted together. Be sure to include the date, candidate’s name and contact information.

  1. The greeting

Avoid nameless salutations such as, dear sir. It might take a little research but finding the actual name of the position’s hiring manager will score major brownie points. Never start a cover letter with, ‘to whom it may concern,’

  1. The structure and body of the letter

Limit the letter to one page. Try to keep the cover letter to a maximum of three paragraphs. Keep it simple and clean, not cluttered. Structure your letter so that each part achieves a particular goal. Try not to use the same wording that is on the resume.

  • Paragraph 1: Have a strong opening statement that make it clear why the applicant wants the job and why he is right for it. Include the job title and how the candidate learned about the opening (e.g., company’s website, an employee referral, job search site).
  • Paragraph 2: Describe the candidate’s qualifications. A cover letter should show what she could bring to the company and the position. Give the job listing a careful read and see where the candidate’s experience best matches up. Then, reveal why the applicant is a perfect and unique match for the position. Explain why she has chosen the employer or job. Briefly summarize the applicant’s talents, experience, and achievements. Use specifics. For example:
    • Office manager cover letter: I currently serve as office manager for a busy financial services firm, (XYZ Company), where I supervise a team of 12 employees and coordinate all office functions. My strengths in improving office systems and building a top-performing clerical team have earned repeat commendations and formal recognition from the company CEO.
    • Chef: Classically trained at the renowned XYZ Institute, I earned an AOS in culinary arts and mentored under celebrity chef Bill Jones as a sous chef for 3 years. Following this experience, I held executive chef positions within 4-star restaurants for a leading hospitality group and spent the past two years as a chef on luxury yachts.
    • IT: Key strengths include: High-volume ticket management. In my current position as helpdesk support specialist for XYZ Co, I handle 1,725+ tickets per month, fully resolving and documenting issues for future reference.
  • Paragraph 3: Follow up information. Mention that the resume is enclosed and indicate a desire to meet with the employer. Thank the employer for their consideration.
  1. Want an error-free and perfectly written cover letter? Then you must edit!

Make sure the letter has no spelling, typing, or grammatical errors. Job applicants are frequently passed over because of such mistakes. Take some time away from the document and return with fresh eyes, ready to edit. It’s always better to have a second person proofread the text as well.

Bonus Tip: Save both the resume and cover letter in the following format [last name, first name document title] for example [Redford, Nicole Resume]. Hiring managers like to be able to quickly find and access documents as they often receive dozens to hundreds of resume for any open position.

Need a template for a cover letter? Start with this one from CareerOneStop!

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Resume Writing: For Entry-Level Positions

At Higher, we receive many inquiries from the network on how to write a professional style resume with refugee clients. While this can be a time-consuming task, below is a sample illustrating vital areas to focus on for streamlining this process.

Start from the beginning. Explain to your client what a resume is and how to use it in their job search. Show visual examples of resumes and describe all the information that they will need to include. 

    1. Review what personal information is essential to ensure that prospective employers will be able to contact and stay in touch with the candidate.

     

    1. This section can also be titled Professional Experience. Providing accurate information and keywords is extremely helpful to employers. O’NET may be useful to gather descriptions of your client’s specific career or jobs.

     

    1. Include past education, as well as education and training that your client is currently undertaking. It is important to emphasize training and education that is relevant to the desired position. Including English Language classes for non-English speakers shows potential employers that the applicant is committed to learning.

     

    1. Listing skills that are crucial to particular industries may help a client get the job. Use Cultural Orientation Resource Center (CORE) lessons on identifying skills.

     

    1. Professional references are not always required on a resume, but they may provide a way for an employer to reach out to your agency to address concerns and give you the opportunity to advocate on your client’s behalf.

     

    1. Once completed, ensure that the client understands the resume’s description of their experience. Additionally, the client needs to know how to tailor resume revisions to job openings.

     

    1. Practice interviewing with the completed resume, as employers will likely use the resume as a basis for their interview.

     

    1. Finally, work with your clients so that they can understand how to identify accomplishments and responsibilities and update their resumes as they move from their first job and beyond.

For more information on resumes, see CareerOneStop’s online Resume Guide to help your client’s build a successful resume. Additionally, Higher has resources on our site and look for Higher’s Job Readiness Curriculum, coming soon!

What are some tools or ways your write resumes with your clients? Share with us at information@higheradvantage.org!

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Need Professional Development? Job Readiness Training Courses? Check out Higher’s Online Learning Institute!

Higher’s Online Learning Institute is a free online system with courses designed for refugee employment staff and job readiness instructors. Once you register, you will find yourself on the welcome page. Click on My Courses to take a tour of the course system. Then click on courses to access sessions such as:  Adult Learning Principles, 6 W’s of Good Case Notes, Communicating with Employers: Initial Contact, and Employability Assessment, just to name a few! There are also courses to share with your clients and enhance your Job Readiness Training, such as Introduction to Computer Technology, How to Complete a Job Application, Understanding your Paycheck, and Interview Behavior.

All of Higher’s past webinars are also available in the Learning Institute. To access, click on Webinars from the My Courses page.

Higher’s Online Learning Institute can be used for professional development or, if used in job readiness classes, training for your client.

Sign up and learn more with Higher!

Are there courses you would like to see? Let us know! Email suggestions to information@higheradvantage.org.

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Tips from the Field: Safety Training – Workplace Signs

In a previous blog post we examined safety gear, today we will discuss how safety training is crucial in job readiness and ESL classes.  Understanding the importance of workplace safety signs provides refugees with the communication tools necessary to navigate employer rules. Not following safety rules and regulations can lead to workplace injuries and/or termination. Jessica Ploen, Career Advancement Specialist from LFS of Nebraska, shares a job safety activity and strategy that she uses in work-focused ESL classes to prepare refugees for their new workplaces.

  • Job Safety and Warning Signs Memory Game: The picture above provides the basis of the memory game. Print, duplicate and detach each sign. Lay the cards out upside-down and give each participant a turn to flip over and match two cards. Each card is explained and considered as they are matched. The memory game gives job readiness providers a way to select specific signs or highlight key vocabulary to increase a refugee’s knowledge of on the job safety. Jessica also suggests using signs that are common among your employer partners and asking the employers to share their safety orientation presentations or handbooks with you. In that way, you will know what workplace specific safety aspects to teach and reinforce during the game. “I took photos at different companies and showed them in class. I find the “Smoke-Free Workplace” sign especially helpful, as many students incorrectly believe that the sign designates an area where you are free to smoke,” says Jessica.

A knowledge of common workplace signs is useful as refugees learn how U.S. workplaces function. Providing workplace sign safety training in job readiness and ESL classes sets clients up to follow safety rules and guidelines successfully.

What are some ways that you incorporate safety training in your job readiness curriculum? Share with us at information@higheradvantage.org!

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Tips from the Field: Safety Training – Safety Gear

Having an understanding of the importance of workplace safety rules and gear helps prepare refugees for work in the United States. Below are two activities, provided by network agencies, which may help you to incorporate safety training into your job readiness or ESL classes.

World Relief DuPage/Aurora

Dan Peterson, Higher Peer Advisor and Early Employment Specialist, says that World Relief DuPage/Aurora developed several lessons that includes safety as a part of their six-week job readiness training course. Each lesson is taught by an ESL teacher in the daily sessions and reinforced with a once a week workshop taught by Employment Counselors.  Dan shares one of the safety gear activities here:

  • Safety Gear Review: “We bring in lots of safety gear and have an interactive lesson where clients examine the gear, guess its use. Participants also learn what equipment might be required and supplied by various companies and which equipment is often required, but must be purchased, by the employee.” The picture of safety gear on the left shows the types of equipment that might be included in this activity.

Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska

Jessica Ploen, Career Advancement Specialist from Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska, says that she has incorporated safety training into Vocational and work-related ESL classes because a majority of clients will encounter it on the job and need to understand what it is and why it is important. Here is one of the safety gear activities Jessica uses:

  • Safety Gear Race: “I put clients into two groups, and they pick one person to put the safety gear on, and the group labels each piece. The team that finishes first, wearing and labeling the gear correctly, is the winner.” Clients not only practice vocabulary for safety gear in this activity, it also ensures they know how to correctly wear the gear.

Safety gear is an important aspect of safety training that may be highlighted in job readiness or ESL classes. Providing opportunities to see, wear, or touch real safety items will assist refugees in understanding how United States workplaces function.

Follow the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for more information on safety gear standards for various workplaces.

Look for our next blog post where we will discuss how teaching specifics on workplace safety can continue to prepare refugees for new positions that have specific regulations and rules on safety.

What are some ways that you incorporate safety training in your job readiness curriculum? Share with us at information@higheradvantage.org!

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Interactive Games for Developing U.S. Workplace Skills

The U.S. workplace often emphasizes three skills—speed, accuracy, and organization. Refugees, as well as other applicants, need to be prepared to finish tasks quickly, yet pay attention to details and follow specific instructions. One strategy from the field, to evaluate and expand these capabilities for clients and prepare them for jobs, is to use interactive games and activities such as Legos or Tetris in job readiness classes.

In Ohio, the Catholic Social Services of the Miami Valley’s (CSSMV) employment team learned of several tests, which were games, employers were using in the hiring process that fit well in job readiness classes or one-on-one skill assessments. The team decided to implement several corollary games to help build client’s confidence on skill based tests given during interviews. Introducing these games to refugees in job readiness classes is fun, and can be useful for building and evaluating job skills.  These games are accessible to a wide range of English levels. Using them in multi-level classes where pre-literate and highly skilled participants are present might optimize time and efficiency when preparing refugees for the U.S. workplace.

Perfection: the goal is to match each piece into the correctly-shaped slot within a specific time frame. This game is used with refugees preparing for work at industrial laundries, distribution centers, electronic assembly warehouses and other positions that require finger and hand agility. Perfection was introduced to the employment team by a hiring manager at a local linen supply company.

Legos: the goal is to build and match the color and shape of Legos models within a specified period of time. Legos are used as a hiring test by an Ohio company that designs and builds electronic motors which are sold internationally. Practicing Legos in job readiness classes helps employment staff to evaluate if a client was ready to move forward in applying for certain types of jobs.

“My favorite activity is a group Legos session where clients race the clock (and each other) to build small trucks, motorcycles, airplanes, etc. The directions for the Legos models are just pictures and arrows in sequential order. If you are working with clients who are non-English speakers, or may speak some English but read very little, you can still get a good measure of the skills needed for certain jobs,” said Gretchen Pfaff, Employment Coordinator at CSSMV.

Memory Match: the goal is to turn over two cards of the same picture from an array of cards. You can create your own set of memory cards including basic vocabulary for industry tools, foods and shapes, allowing clients practice of key English words at the same time. This game is used by employment staff to help build a client’s ability to concentrate, learn key words for particular jobs, and practice English.

 

Tetris: the goal is to rotate shapes to form continuous lines. This game is used by a particular employer that required staff to load and unload boxes off and onto trucks.

Job Ready Bingo: Job ready Bingo is used in job readiness classes to practice employment vocabulary such as documents needed to work, job cycle, and shifts. The goal is for each participant to quickly identify the called word on their game card and cover the space with a marker. This game helps to evaluate a clients’ understanding of the material taught in class, listening skills, and the ability to follow directions, and it reinforces key English vocabulary.

What games or interactive activities do you use to teach everyday U.S. workplace skills with your clients? Share with us at higherinformation@lirs.org.

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Identifying Job-Getting Personal Qualities

Refugees looking for their first job in America often underestimate the value of informing potential employers about personal character qualities that bolster their employability.  The following exercise helps job search clients identify their own employment-worthy character traits and develop greater confidence in their own ability to get a job in the United States.

Introduction:  In order to ‘sell’ oneself in the job market, it is necessary to know exactly what it is that one has to offer.  In this exercise, participants will identify their own positive personality traits valued by American employers.

Time: 5 – 10 minutes

Materials: Copy of “My Personal Qualities” (below) for each participant.

Procedure:

  • Distribute a copy of the handout to each job search client. It may be helpful to provide a bi-lingual version to help clients learn the meanings of the English terms.
  • Ask participants to check off all the personality traits that they possess.
  • Once they are done, ask them to identify the top 5 traits that they possess and that relate to the job they hope to do (e.g. if one hopes to be a truck driver, then “dependable” may be a more important personal quality than “cheerful”).  Ask clients to think of a time when they successfully used each of these 5 traits (on the job or otherwise), and to be prepared to talk about it.
  • Ask participants which 5 personality traits they think most employers most look for when hiring a new employee. There is no one right answer to this question, but for the following are qualities that many employers look for when considering to hire someone:  positive attitude, punctual, works well with others, self-starter, adaptable, and self-managed learner.

For a variation on this discussion ask participants which top qualities they would look for in an employee if they were the business owner.

My Personal Qualities

Put a check beside the words that are true regarding you…

___  Well-organized                                         ___   Hard-working

___  Ambitious                                                   ___  Active

___  Flexible                                                      ___  Energetic

___  Cooperative                                               ___  Responsible

___  Punctual                                                     ___  Neat

___  Alert                                                            ___  Friendly

___  Motivated                                                   ___  Polite

___  Honest                                                        ___  Independent

___  Efficient                                                     ___   Relaxed

___  Confident                                                   ___  Intelligent

___  Dependable                                              ___  Competent

___  Knowledgeable                                        ___  Thorough

___  Adaptable                                                   __  Curious

___  Disciplined                                                ___  Helpful

___  Mature                                                        ___ Caring

___  Creative                                                    ___  Open-minded

___  Funny                                                        ___  Patient

___  Careful                                                      ___  Respectful

___  Reliable                                                     ___  Willing to learn

___  Positive Attitude                                       ___  Works well with others

___  Self-starter                                                ___  Self-managed learner

Now, list your 5 top personality strengths and think of an example of a time when you successfully used each one.

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Do you have any creative games you use in Job Readiness class? If yes, please write to us at information@higheradvantage.org

This post was written by guest blogger Daryl Morrissey, Cultural Orientation Coordinator at Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.

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An eLearning Resource: Interview Behavior Videos

Ever wanted to be able to show clients what a bad interview looks like? Well you are in luck, check out Higher’s Online Learning Institute. You can access the complete module right now with your username and password.  If you aren’t already taking advantage of our 13 eLearning courses, sign up here for instant access to these videos and the other eLearning courses.

Here are 4 things to know about this exciting new resource:

  1. There are two short videos with examples of good and bad interview behaviors.
  2. You can also get transcripts and suggestions for using the module with clients in the companion resource section.
  3. More than 20 resettlement programs across the country are using our eLearning courses in their job readiness activities.
  4.  The job seekers in the videos are refugees. Thanks to them and to African Community Center (ACC), Denver, CO for helping out.

Here’s a sneak peek at Interview Behavior Videos. 

Email Higher at information@higheradvantage.org to let us know what you think, how you’re using our latest eLearning resource and what else would be helpful.

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A More Interactive Approach for Job Readiness Class

The infographic below contains several tips when designing your job club curriculum. Best courses for refugee learners should not only include more interactivity, but aim for greater retention.  The current best practice is to introduce new material in 20 minute chunks. This does not mean job readiness classes need to be short, rather the lesson should be designed to reinforce those main ideas and core concepts.

For example, when teaching workers’ rights, you teach the right to a work place free from discrimination. Give real life examples of what discrimination looks like and share a story of a client who experienced discrimination. Then ask the group if they have ever experienced discrimination.

To give another example, when preparing clients for job interviews, you could do a lesson on hygiene and appropriate clothes to wear and then give clients 5 minutes to pick out a perfect interview outfit from a pile of clothes.

What have you found works best for your clients? Tell us your job readiness success stories or contact us for help on how to design a great curriculum. Email us at information@higheradvantage.org.

 

 

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Reminder: Register for Tomorrow’s Webinar – Financial Literacy: How to Teach the Basics

money backgroundFinancial Literacy: How to Teach the Basics

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

2:00 – 3:15pm EST

This webinar will explore basic financial literacy topics to cover with clients to build a strong foundation for economic self-sufficiency. Presenters will highlight a variety of free financial literacy resources and will provide examples of community partnerships that can be replicated. Financial literacy curricula, job readiness activities and training tips will be shared throughout the training. 

Register here

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