The Key to a Great Cover Letter: Deconstructing the Job Description

lookforjobs2.jpg

The Key to a Great Cover Letter: Deconstructing the Job Description

By: coopcom
  41104 reads

We all know that writing a targeted cover letter is one of the most important parts of your Co-op job applications. Every semester, the Co-op program receives feedback from employers about template or generic cover letters from Co-op students so how can you make sure that your cover letter isnt included in the generic pile? As Tony Botelho, Manager for SFU Career and Volunteer Services, likes to say, the employer gives you this amazing gift its called the job description. The Co-op job description can help you effectively target your cover letter and prepare for those all-important interviews you just need to take a few minutes to extract the most important pieces of information from it, and thats what we call deconstructing the job description.

Deconstructing the job description is a great way to get past writers block and help ensure that youre including the most relevant information in your cover letter. Lets follow our Career Guide as he does some practice job description deconstruction below.

A good practice when deconstructing job descriptions is to read it over a few times, and then to analyze it, starting from the beginning and working your way down.

Here is what I used during this deconstruction process:

  • A printed copy of the job description
  • A pen and some paper (to take notes)
  • A highlighter
  • My concentration

Job Description: Click here to see the full versionThis job posting is for XYZ Valley Systems. For practice, Im using one of the sample job descriptions from the Resources area on the Online Learning Community.

Position Title: Human Resources Assistant
Sometimes you can get a sense of what the job will entail just by reading its title. Other times, not so much. For example, what does a Communication Architect do? (Ill give you a hint: it does not require any designing or constructing).

No matter how clear or ambiguous a job title is, it is unwise to judge what the position entails based solely on its title. In this case, we can only guess that this job is likely to require some form of communication with other people, and the fact that it is an assistant role means that youre likely to be working alongside others. We must study the rest of the description in order to get a clearer idea.

Company Description
Judging by the description, XYZ Valley Systems is a rather large company with international clients. Now is a great time to research the company by searching them online and reading OLC Profiles of students who worked there in the past. Note that they specialize in broadband and communications & storage semiconductors, so it may be beneficial to research and see how influential the company is in that sector. Researching the company will come in handy when explaining why you want to work for them in the cover letter. Its also smart to be prepared when you are asked what you know about the company during an interview.

Duties/Responsibilities
After carefully reading through this part a few times, go over it again and circle/highlight/take notes wherever you feel an important piece of information is mentioned.

Organizational and communication skills seem to be a large aspect of this job. At this stage, you may want to start listing examples of previous experiences which you can discuss in your cover letter and interview.

Its very important to not to get dejected, even if you feel unqualified. For example, if a job description emphasizes event planning or coordination as a common aspect of the position, that does not mean you need to be a professional event planner. Remember that you can bring up examples from past experiences such as volunteering (see table), or even teamwork skills you developed when working within a group for a school project.

When you are coming up with your list of examples, remember the importance of transferable skills from Bridging Online 1 and Co-op workshops. Maybe youve never used your organizational skills to plan a large event before, but think about other ways in which youve used that skill and how you would transfer it to an event planning task. Think about your experiences from previous jobs, from volunteer work, class work and more.

Always remember that job descriptions are like wish lists. It is not expected for an applicant to have every single skill or experience posted within it. Usually a willingness to learn, try new things, and a genuine interest in the company or industry, are great things to demonstrate when applying for a job.

Here is a chart which deconstructs three specific duties which are mentioned in the sample job description:

SPECIFIC INSTRUCTIONS MY EXAMPLES
Assisting Campus Recruitment
  • Exceptional people skills used to engage students in Work Integrated Learning recruitment events such as Discover Co-op and Open House.)
  • Variety of successful experience in team-based projects (ex: Participated in a group project for a previous Business class, in which my team worked to create a marketing plan for a small company),
  • Experienced in contacting/liaising with people of different positions (ex: Contacts many W.I.L. staff members on a daily basis-email, phone, in person-regarding event and marketing plans at Work Integrated Learning.
Generate Job Postings, etc.
  • Strong writing skills, demonstrated through essays and article development for the web
  • Experienced in professional correspondence via email, letters, etc
  • Excellent attention to detail would be helpful when proofreading job descriptions, contacting interviewees, employers, etc
Organize and participate in career fairs, etc.
  • Past volunteer experiences (i.e.: Organized timelines, sponsor tables and worked on the marketing and communication team to design all materials for events such as Career Days and Backpack to Briefcase
  • Participation as a presenter in other Work Integrated Learning events (i.e.: Confirming event times and locations and speaking at events like Discover Co-op)

Organizing your past experiences into this table format is a great way to reflect back and organize your experiences so that your cover letter speaks directly to what the employers requirements are. By listing as much detail as you can in the chart, this then becomes the outline of the body of your cover letter.

Requirements/Qualifications
In order to successfully deconstruct a job description, it helps to locate a foundational skill set mentioned within it. Here, terms like organization, assistance, and communication are repeated. If a term is repeated more than once, you can bet that skill or aspect will be an integral part of the position! Notice the line Skills and interests in recruitment/staffing and project management. Never been a project manager? Dont panic. The keywords here are skills AND interests. If youre at least interested in trying project management and have some skills that you could transfer from another experience, then go for it! Also, a working knowledge of Microsoft Office is essential. Again, this does not mean you need to be a pro with the software. If you demonstrate a willingness to learn and use it more frequently, then you are just as qualified as the next applicant. The moral here is to always read everything carefully.

By taking a careful look at the job description, you will be able to not only get a better sense of what would be expected from you, but you will also have a much easier time selling yourself when you write your cover letter. If you know your stuff, show your enthusiasm and personality and youll get that interview in no time. Good luck!

Beyond the Article

Book an appointment with your Co-op Coordinator, Co-op Student Advisor or Career Services Student Advisor for feedback on your cover letters.

 

Posted on November 11, 2012