8 Cover Letter Writing Mistakes That Might Be Ruining Your Career

A cover letter is absolutely essential in finding the job you want. There’s no question about the fact that there will be plenty of people with a similar CV – you’d need similar levels of education and experience to apply for the same job. However, the cover letter is your chance to really make an impression. You can show your passion, enthusiasm, and even some of your personality in this letter. As you only really have this one chance at a first impression with most HR managers, it is important to stand out from the crowd and avoid the 8 mistakes listed below.

1.     Looking Unprofessional

This means paying attention to font, using proper colours, and checking that your email address reflects your professional persona. If you have an immature email address, register for a new one and make sure that’s the one on your CV.

2.     Failing to Use the Right Format

This is a letter, and so it should look like a letter, with an addressee, a return address, and a date. It shouldn’t look like you’ve printed an email, it should very obviously be in letter format, and addressed to the specific employer, with the name of the HR manager if you know it.

3.     Not Sending a Plain Text Version of Your Letter

You might have some cool graphics, logos, or banners on your cover letter, but you do not know whether or not your employer is using an automatic resume scanner – at which point your fancy elements will become a jumbled mess. Keep things simple to ensure there’s no margin for technical error.

4.     Not Paying Attention to Editing or Proofreading

When you’ve spent hours working on a cover letter, it’s easy to assume that your effort will have resulted in the perfect piece of writing. However, this is rarely the case, and many people submit their cover letters without properly proofreading, only to later spot mistakes and errors that look sloppy. You need to appear as competent as possible, and avoid any mistakes at such a crucial time. Fortunately, there are some online tools that can be a huge help when it comes to proofreading or editing your text.

  • Ginger is a great app that improves your writing in a holistic way, by checking spelling, grammar, and even offering to translate or read aloud what you’ve written.
  • Hemingway App is a tool that many writers rely on to strengthen their content and pick up on mistakes that a person might not notice.
  • Readability Score monitors the level of your writing, which is essential if you’re applying for a high level position and want to be sure that your cover letter isn’t too simple,
  • Paper Fellows helps with getting started, which is often the hardest part of writing. This is made easy with all of the advice and support available in the forums here.

5.     Failing to Provide an Example for Everything

If you want to say that you have a skill on your cover letter, then you need to provide some sort of evidence to back up your claims. You can’t just ask an employer to believe you when you say you have skills, experience, or competencies – back this up with examples, experiences, or qualifications.

6.     Including Filler Content

You may be worried that your letter isn’t long enough, and be tempted to pad it out with extra words and phrases and complicated sentences – this is a bad idea. A HR Manager doesn’t have time to try and find the good parts of your letter, they should be obvious.

7.     Sending the Same Letter to Every Employer

It is imperative to get specific about each job if you want to stand a chance competing against other qualified applicants.

8.     Be Clear

When applying online, make sure every file includes your full name, explain job titles, and make sure your email matches your name. Explain any lapses in time between work, and use a structure that is easy to follow.

Writing a cover letter is a stressful time, but avoiding the above mistakes can help boost your confidence and your chances of success.

A Students’ Guide to Making the Most of Field Placement

planning-for-success

Being a social work student on my final placement before I graduate, I know how daunting and challenging they can be. From my own student perspective, I have put together some tips that I hope will help you make the most of your placement.

All social work degrees in the UK require students to undertake compulsory placements. In Northern Ireland, where I am based, students must complete two placements of 85 days and 100 days in practice, respectively.

Once you have received your placement, the nerves may start to creep up on you but try not to let them affect your enthusiasm!

First things first, do your research. Read up on the area/specialism that you will be working in as this will provide you with knowledge about what to expect and what the role might entail. Although, social work has no set role and changes depending on what area you are in, so it is important to bear this in mind. Our expectations of how we view the social work role can negatively impact how we perceive our placement so it is best to stay positive and keep an open mind!

In Northern Ireland, we are required to arrange a pre-placement visit. This is just a meeting with your practice teacher to talk through the logistics. If your university does not require this I advise thinking about organising one anyway. They allow you to meet your practice teacher, the team and to get a real understanding of the environment you will be working in. This can be a good way to minimise anxiety!

Every placement is different. As students, we sometimes have an idea of the area we want to work in when we graduate. This is good but don’t let it put you off other placements! You may find that your mind changes with your experiences!images (1)

Be organised! Keep and maintain a diary that sets out your working hours. Do you have assignments? Make sure you know when they are due. You need to time-manage effectively. Some placements will allow you to complete assignments during your working hours, however that depends on the service users. They are your priority!

Make full use of supervision! Supervision is vital regardless of whether you are a student or professional, so don’t waste the opportunity it provides. This may be your only time with your practice teacher. Prepare what you want to talk about and set an agenda. They will be impressed if they know you are motivated, proactive and thinking about practice.

Not everyone hits the ground running, and it’s okay to have doubts about your placement and/or your own abilities. I doubted myself during my first placement, but don’t let one placement dictate your view of social work. Some placements can be challenging, but there are things you can do to make it that little bit better!

Find a staff member that you can work alongside. For my first placement, I wasn’t placed in a statutory setting, so I did not work with other social workers. This can be daunting, but you are not alone. There are many other members of staff more than willing to help you! Find one who you can communicate with and who you think could give you good ideas. Staff members know the service users, so don’t be afraid to ask questions as they may have knowledge you can utilise that you won’t find in a textbook.

Know yourself. Sometimes, as students, we get so overwhelmed by what all our friends are doing that we worry whether we aren’t getting a good experience. When you have spent many semesters reading pages upon pages, once you get out into the real world of practice, we sometimes have expectations set too high. We have thought about what we want and what we hope to do, but placements can’t change to our way of thinking. We need to adapt to theirs. Changing your mindset about how you view your placement can help you understand exactly what you need to achieve and how.

In the UK, there are evidence criteria that have to be met during placement. Usually these are listed in a huge table in a 288 page document. Break it down. Go through each standard, either on your own or with a team member, and jot down ideas as to how to meet it.

Placements aren’t meant to be easy. Social work in general isn’t easy, but don’t overcomplicate it. You can only work with what you are given. Adapt work to suit your placement and your learning needs. Think of things in the context of your own placement, this makes it easier to understand exactly what you need to do.

If you need to, talk to someone. Never keep an issue to yourself. Social work requires us to be available, physically, mentally and emotionally. We cannot work with people effectively if we are worn out or stressed. Talk to your practice teacher, or a university tutor as chances are the issue will have arisen before with other students and they will know exactly how to help!

Honesty is the best policy! As students we sometimes have the dilemma of, if we see something in practice that we don’t agree with, should we challenge it? Weigh up the risks. You are going somewhere on placement that some people may have worked at for years. An ethos can be drilled into an organisation and change is not a quick thing. However, don’t be afraid to ask why things are done a certain way and if you don’t feel comfortable doing this publicly, mention it in supervision. Supervision is a ‘safe place’ and a place for you to critically reflect on your practice.

Self care is important because placements can be tough and draining. Look after yourself! Do things that help you relax, maybe yoga, reading or exercise. Listening to music really helps me zone out but I would also recommend adult colouring books! These are great for alleviating anxiety and just channeling your energy for a while and there are also free apps too if you want to try it out!

Lastly, have fun! You are on your way to becoming a qualified social worker. This may be one of the last times you can do social work without the heavy case loads and the safety net of university! Be open to it, seek out your own work and view everything as an opportunity.

Be Anything You Want to Be and Learn How To Define What You Want

White House Summit on Working Families-Panel on Career Ladders and Leadership
White House Summit on Working Families-Panel on Career Ladders and Leadership

From the time we had our first memories, many of us can still remember what we wanted to be when we grew up. Childhood was a time when dreams did not have boundaries and were not obscured by societal challenges and barriers many of us would come to know as we got older. Somewhere along the journey from childhood to Adulthood, we stopped asking ourselves “What do I want to be”, and we began asking ourselves, “What can I do” under the circumstances.

Recently, I had the distinct honor and pleasure of listening to a panel of powerful women discuss their journey in climbing the career ladder and the challenges they faced along the way. I hung on their every word while trying to gain some insight into my own path and future career aspirations. What was it they did, what were their commonalities, and what were the resources these women had access to that catapulted them to the top of their fields?

There were lots of nuggets and jewels of profound wisdom that were left on the ears of the participants in the room. However, one of the statements that resonated with me the most came by way of Debra Lee who is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Black Entertainment (BET). Debra Lee stated as a child, she was always taught that she could be anything she wanted to be, but she didn’t know how to define what it was she wanted. Lee stated that she had always accepted what was given to her as a result of her hard work. Unlike her male counterparts, she didn’t seek out opportunities to advance her career.

She had reached the ceiling of her current position as Chief In-House Counsel for the network, and there was no higher position for her to aspire as an attorney. It wasn’t until the former CEO presented Lee with an opportunity to move into a newly created Chief Operating Officer position that the ceiling she was previously under was removed. Before the position had been offered to Debra Lee, three men had already gone to the CEO seeking the position to be created for them.

There are several things I garnered from this anecdote and other insights from the panel of women that I would like to share with you, and here are the most important:

1. Know Your Value

We live in a society where we are trained to want more for less. Jobs want to offer part-time work or unpaid internships for the possibility of earning full-time employment. Even though you are set to work a certain amount of hours, the expectation is for you to work in excess to prove your worth. This makes sense when its a symbiotic relationship where the employer is investing in your development instead of only extracting your skills and abilities as cheap labor. How many of us stay on abusive jobs because we fear a worse outcome or a bad recommendation to keep you there? How many of you are waiting for someone to acknowledge your hard work, worth, and value with a raise, time off, or promotion? What is this doing to your self esteem? Self-esteem and self-worth, is the difference between “what I want to do” versus “What I can do” under the circumstances.

2. Identify Your Challenges and Barriers

Challenges and barriers are very real no matter where you fall on the socioeconomic scale. However, those challenges may be exacerbated by the lack of resources, opportunities, and education at your disposal. Before you can change your situation, you have to identify the barriers and challenges you are up against. Admitting that your skin color or being a woman is a barrier in obtaining leadership positions is not playing the race or gender card, but its the unfortunate truth. Once you acknowledge your barriers and challenges, you can develop strategies, create partners and allies, and skills to reduce the impact of those same barriers.

3. Mentorship Is A Necessity

After listening to the women on the panel and other speakers, there was a re-occurring theme of mentorship and re-investment into creating other leaders that rang throughout the day. Not one person took sole credit for their own success. They all acknowledged someone or several someones who invested into their growth which inspired a symbiotic relationship of loyalty and hard work in return. These days, mentorship is harder to find as we continue to evolve into a “What’s in it for me” society.

More and more people who are in leadership positions aren’t necessarily there because they have the requisite skills and abilities rather than the availability of more access and opportunity at their disposal. In the past, we have expected mentorship to happen organically and naturally occurring from jobs, schools, and internships. Today, you must be more purposeful in seeking out mentors to assist your career aspirations. But, there are some pitfalls you may want to avoid on your quest to find mentorship.

Breathe…success may not happen overnight, and there may be many barriers on your path to success. However, you must keep in mind that your journey is preparation for when your moment arrives.

Welfare: The Business of Misfortune

Corporate Welfare vs Social Welfare
Corporate Welfare vs Social Welfare

I’ve dreamed of one day moving home again to have my future children surrounded by their family, but I also fear living with those who constantly reject my deepest held values with the continued disinterest in my chosen career as a social worker.

The fact that many people receiving public assistance work harder in a day to keep their families safe than some work in a lifetime has been turned into a misleading truth equating most welfare recipients to lazy blacks or people who don’t pay into the system.

It’s not the abandonment of the sense of patriotism and responsibility towards our fellow Americans that has me up at night writing about these concerns. However, it might be the fact that most of our tax monies don’t even go toward welfare programs, yet this tends to be the only focus from conservative leaders to control federal spending.

“The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Havard University published a study entitled “The Welfare Queen Experiment” in which Black and White participants watched news clips about a “lazy welfare recipient” named Rhonda. Separate test groups watched news stories that showed a photo of either a black Rhonda or white Rhonda for a few seconds. Each group was also given a survey to measure attitudes toward race, gender and welfare.

White participants showed a 10% increase in anti-black sentiments when Rhonda was Black and surprisingly, an increase of 12% when Rhonda was White. This suggests that the Welfare Queen archetype and the distorted view of Black Americans on welfare is well-entrenched in the White American psyche. The majority of welfare recipients are non-urban and White. The majority of food stamp recipients have jobs or are children, so comparing paychecks to food stampsmakes no sense.” Read More

When I see anti-welfare and anti-government memes being shared by my loved ones, I wonder do they know what I do for a living and what I’ve committed my life to? Do they understand how I’ve sacrificed, at times, my own financial and mental well-being to be a social worker?

Social workers are consistently ranked among the lowest paid and most depressed professionals in our community. Do they care? Posted and re-posted on Facebook by my parents and others who love me, I think how disconnected it is from my reality.

When I was in school pursuing my MSW, it was made possible by welfare and a Stafford Loan which helped me obtain my bachelors degree. I often had professors who talked about working ourselves out of a job, and the idea that our goal as social workers is to cure the ails of society. No children abused, no family hungry, no woman raped, only then would our profession no longer be needed.

Until that time comes, there will be a collection of inspired hearts whose basic promise is to fight to the end for the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters. I guess you could say we’re in the business of misfortune. Sounds like a dirty job, but it’s not. I have no shame in saying that I make a career out of working for the lesser blessed.

As far as my family, I’d be honored if they tried to figure out why welfare jokes don’t make me laugh. Although I may not explain what I do at family dinners, my work as a social worker matters especially to the people you’d least expect walking into that clinic, hospital, advocacy agency, or human services office. We’re all grateful public services are there when it’s our time to ask for help. Anyone drawn any unemployment lately?

Until I come to terms with my family’s values, I live away with a supportive partner, sisters who try to understand, and supportive friends. Most importantly, I respect the communities that need our help whose needs give me purpose, whose resilience inspires me, and whose empowerment pays my salary.

Why Wait for a New Year for a New You

New Year
New Year

One of the most difficult challenges a person can encounter is change.  As each new year approaches people make many promises with the hope of making their lives better.  Whether this is career related, family related, or self related.  “This year I will go for that job I have been wanting”, or “This year I will not get angry when my brother visits and takes over the television”, or how about this one for size “This year I will take better care of myself”.   Now, let’s look at what happens.

A month or so into the new year those promises seem to disintegrate.  Is there something wrong with the promise?  Are you incapable of keeping promises?  Is the promise unattainable?  The answer to these questions is no.  It’s not the promise that prevents us, rather it’s the change that needs to occur within us that interferes with our desire to keep our promise. As helping professionals, don’t we strive to empower individuals to change maladaptive behaviors?  Don’t we support individuals in viewing events from a different perspective? Don’t we rely on the stages of recovery and the changes that move a person from one stage to the next?  Change is the obstacle.  The promise is the goal.  Now, we need to move through the cycle in order to change the very things that are preventing us from fulfilling those promises.

In order to take better care of yourself, you need to look at what behaviors you are engaging in now that prevents you from taking care of yourself. Change is hard and intimidating. Change ushers in the unknown, but change is possible.  This year as you reflect on the ways you took care of yourself, there are questions you may want to ask.  Do I take the time to enjoy social activities?  Do I take the opportunity to treat myself to at least one thing for myself each day?  Do I care enough about myself to allow myself to do nothing if I feel like it?  Why are these questions important when seeking how to take care of yourself?  Firstly, if you don’t take care of yourself who will?  Secondly, if you don’t look at ways to take care of yourself, how can you teach others to take care of themselves?

There are differences in all individuals.  As nurturers, we respect this and appreciate the diversity of all, but a common theme we all share regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, regional location, occupation is the need to engage in self-care.  What better way to help others transform than to practice it ourselves. Helping others can be challenging which may require holding a lot on our plates.  Imagine the old vaudeville performer who ran from stick to stick, turning and balancing the plates on top less they would come cascading down and break. Does this sound familiar to you?  If it does, than you will understand that the new year not only offers you the challenge of taking care of yourself, but presents the opportunity to help others learn how to take care of themselves as well.

Before change can occur, even before we can move through the stages of change, we must make a promise to change.  If we are to be agents of change, than we ourselves need to experience all there is to feel about the change process.  When we can do that, we not only model it for others, but truly believe that change is possible. Why wait for a new year, let’s start now!

Dress for Success: Promoting Economic Independence for Disadvantaged Women

For many women, the biggest hurdle to overcome after being chosen for a job interview is deciding what to wear in order to make a good first impression. However, for some women, this may cause added depression and anxiety due to the lack of financial resources to maintain professional attire. Disadvantage women are constantly left wondering how to get the resources they need in order to pursue employment without having the financial means to look the part. This is where Dress for Success is changing lives in helping women on their path to economic independence.

On November 16, 2013 at 10 AM, Dress for Success will be holding a public event sale at Northgate Mall in Durham, North Carolina. According to the Northgate Mall website, “Fashion conscious women looking for great bargains can take advantage of great deals on women’s clothing and accessories”.  For a $20.00 donation to Dress for Success, shoppers can arrive at 9 AM and enjoy a 1 hour early bird access.

Dress for Success was found in 1997 in New York City, and it has grown to an international nonprofit charity offering services to help clients find and retain employment. The charity has served over 700,000 women around the globe and services approximately 70,000 women per year. Nearly 5,000 organizations around the world refer women to Dress for Success for assistance with gaining employment.

Dress for Success describes its services as:

While we may be best known for providing suits to women, it is our employment retention programs that are the cornerstone of the organization. Soon after Dress for Success was founded we came to recognize that finding work is only one step in a woman’s journey towards economic independence; remaining employed and building a rewarding career are essential if a woman is to become self-sufficient.

To meet the need for services that would help women both find and keep jobs, we established the Professional Women’s Group (PWG) program, which offers women ongoing support as they successfully transition into the workforce, build thriving careers and prosper in the mainstream workplace. Once a woman joins the PWG she is a member for life, able to attend meetings at any affiliate throughout the world, and can benefit from additional employment retention and mentoring programs.

Dress for Success also has developed Career Center, an initiative that promotes confidence and professionalism by providing women career guidance, the chance to acquire technology skills and assistance in their job searches. Read More

For more information, go to http://www.northgatemall.com/event/dress-for-success-of-the-triangle-inventory-excess-sale/. Here is a preview from last year’s event.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AbT_QUvy208[/youtube]

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Dress for Success

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