Resume & cover letter questions

msmagooSeptember 16, 2007

I'm hoping that some of you out there are HR people and can help me. I'm looking to change jobs after about 20 yrs. (i'm burnt out and hate what I am now doing with the company, plus it is high pressure/stress). There are 2 jobs listed in the classifieds that I think I'd really like, plus I have experience in both of the fields. My question is they are asking for a cover letter, how long should it be? What should it say? It's also asking for minimum salary requirements. Do I include that in the resume or cover letter and how do I say it? I'd like something around what I am making now but would take a paycut just to reduce the stress on the other hand I don't want to undercut myself.

I'd appreciate any help you guys can give me.

Thanks in advance


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A cover letter should be very short, just a few paragraphs. It should mention the ad you're responding to, why you are qualified for the job, point the reader to your enclosed resume, and have a quick closing about wanting an interview. Here's a sample:

Dear Human Resources:

I would like to be considered for the telephone operator position posted on October 21, 2007 on I am highly qualified for this position because I have more than four years of experience in a health care setting that included answering a 50-line switchboard, assisting callers, and relaying messages.

As you will see on my resume, I also have expertise in data entry and am proficient in many computer software applications. I have been responsible for staff training and supervision and am very familiar with credentials of physicians. As a medical claims examiner, I was responsible for maintaining a high level of confidentiality.

I look forward to presenting further details of my experience in a personal interview. I can be reached by phone at xxxxxxxxx or by email at xxxxxxxx. Thank you for your consideration.



If the ads include the name of the person, use that instead of "Dear Human Resources." And if possible, include any "buzz words" from the ad in your cover letter. For example, if the ad says you need experience in supervising a team of more than ten people, and you have done that, use those exact words in your cover letter.

Don't put anything about salary in your resume itself; but do put it in the cover letter if they request it. A lot of people say never to talk about salary in the cover letter (even if it's asked for) because you want to be offered the job before you talk about money. But in my experience, you run the risk of being what's called "non-responsive" if you don't put it in. They may just throw away the responses they receive that don't include that info.

Of course, only you can decide what your minimum salary would be. How badly do you want a new job? How badly do you want to get your foot in the door at the new place? In any case, you may want to present your minimum salary as a range. Maybe something like: "Depending on the responsibilities of the position, I would require a minimum salary of between $XX,000 and $XX,000 per year." Or, tacking it onto the second paragraph in the above sample letter: "For a position with similar responsibilities, I would require a minimum salary of between $XX,000 and $XX,000 per year."

    Bookmark   September 16, 2007 at 12:54PM
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msmagoo-- I can't help you with this (not much need for a resume in my line of work. Besides, my reputation precedes me!! *pattin myself on the back*).

I did want to come in and wish you the best of luck with this. As much as you want to do this, I know it can be nerve racking, and I just wanted to offer you the best of wishes with whatever you decide to do.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2007 at 7:56PM
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You have perfect advice above so the only thing I'd add is to update your resume appropriate to the job as well. I have mine on word and when I have applied for a position, I am sure to include words specifcially from the job description within my resume.

Best of luck, and don't sell yourself short. I wouldn't hire someone who asked for a salary significantly below what I planned on paying. I would interview someone who asked on the high side, even if I didn't have that in the budget.

I would never accept less than a 10% increase (and I've normally expected more) to change positions. While you think you're leaving stress, you might not be so getting a big better is fair given your risks. I'll add one caviat to that, and that is that if you're changing careers you sometimes have to take a cut. I once took a $40K annual cut to take the job of my dreams. Within a couple years I was back at my old salary, but even without the money it was a position that I'd wanted for years and years and I'd have taken an even larger one to get my foot in that door. (I didn't share this with them LOL)

    Bookmark   September 16, 2007 at 9:25PM
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As a manager, I like cover letters that have the basics (your full name, address (not a POB, your actual address), email addy, the job you are applying to, the exact title as advertised and any job number that is attached), convey a bit about you and show your good writing skills (which are critical to many jobs and in short supply these days). If you are applying for a job at a "hot" company chances are they receive a lot of apps for each position, therefore your cover letter offers you the chance to stand out. A 1-2 page cover letter is not too long, especially if it's pertinent, well written and contains *zero* typos.

Point out how your experience meshes with the job advertisement (especially if your crossing areas, like going from a for profit company to the non profit sector), show a sense of humor (the hiring process does not have to be humorless, really), display your knowledge of the company and their products, growth, history, place in your community, etc. and show that you are not an automaton but a real woman who is enthuiastic and knowledgable about the company and the position.

Close by reiterating your interest and contact info but don't make assumptions ("When we speak I will convey to you my experience, blah blah"), rather, indicate your willingness to meet at their convenience and wish them luck in their search for the right person for the position.



    Bookmark   September 17, 2007 at 9:59AM
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I just wanted to add that seeing as you've been at the same job for 20 years, you'll probably need to redo your resume. I recommend going with a "functional" format rather than chronological. Make a list of your skills and experience, keeping the wording generic if you're switching fields of work. Eliminate any jargon that's specific to your current job. Divide your skills and experience into categories that are relevant to the position you're seeking.

Put your employment history next, listing the company name, address, your position title, and the months and years you worked there. Under that list education (if it's more than high school) including any classes you've taken for your job or certifications you've obtained (only if they will apply to the new job).

If you want to include other information, such as awards, professional affiliations, references, or personal strengths, put them on a separate page.

Keep in mind that your cover letter and resume are intended to get you an interview, not get you the job. Don't worry about providing endless detail. You want to give them just enough information to know that you can do the job, but not so much that they can eliminate you right away.

I agree with sandyponder about mentioning "your knowledge of the company and their products" but the way many jobs are advertised now, you don't even know the name of the company, just a box number for responses. But if you do know something about the company, by all means include it. Most people just "broadcast" their resume in response to hundreds of ads, and it shows.

    Bookmark   September 17, 2007 at 11:25AM
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Thanks everyone,
As far as minimum salary how much of a range should I give, I was thinking about $4000 as far as $XX,000-$XX,000 is that too much of a range?

    Bookmark   September 17, 2007 at 2:33PM
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Your minimum salary includes benefits. Don't ignore their importance. You might be offered 40,000 from CO A and have to pay $xx for insurance and they do not have a pension plan.

CO B, however, may offer you $38,000, contribute 12% of your salary to a plan and you will pay much less for insurance.

Salary requirements should include salary and benefits.

    Bookmark   September 17, 2007 at 3:11PM
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Sorry, forgot to include my .02 about salaries. IMO companies should not ask for salary requirements in an advertisement, it makes them look cheap and gives the perception that they are looking to find the person willing to work for the lowest money. I would much prefer to see companies screen out employees who are over their pay ranges via an initial phone screening, but that's just me. Some unscrupulous companies ask for this info so they can do a mini salary survey to see what the competition is paying the same positions or so they can offer the least amount to a candidate, so if I were you I would be cautious about this opening. Most "good" companies, large or small, know that salary is but one piece of the puzzle and are usually willing to pay for the right person.

Also, look on the website for the job posting, it may not have the same "submit your salary requirement" wording and you can state in your cover letter that you saw the job on their website, thereby getting around the requirement. Also remember to check websites for any employer in which you are interested, most of the really interesting jobs don't get in the paper. Monster is also a good resource.

For msmagoo, I would say that you might consider one of these options:

If you think the company is just mining for salary data:

"My salary requirements are flexible and I will be happy to discuss specifics at an interview."

If it's a small or start up company and you think they can't afford you, start 5k below your current salary and go to 5k above your current salary:

"My salary requirements are in the $50-60 range, however, career opportunities, benefits and the culture of the organization are as important to me as salary, therefore my salary requirements are flexible."

If you want to be cagey and look like you're loyal, well, as loyal as someone who's applying to another company anyway:

"To protect my current employer I would prefer to discuss salaries until the interview."

Good luck-


    Bookmark   September 17, 2007 at 3:42PM
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I'm involved with hiring alot of people - here's my two cents.

I pretty much ignore cover letters unless I like what I see on the resume - then I may go take a closer look at the cover letter to see about the person's writing skills and attention to detail. If a cover letter is really verbose and doesn't say anything of substance I'm likely to skip most of it - but typos jump right out at me and indicate lack of attention to detail and/or poor writing skills.

We ask everyone for their salary history/requirements. Sometimes people are more comfortable saying what they've actually made vs. what they "require". I'd say you could try to avoid directly answering that question (use one of the non-answer responses above) when you submit your resume but you may have to answer the question at some point. We find it prevents everyone from wasting time if you just cut to the chase and talk about the $. Companies have a budget for a position and you have a range from the least you'd take to what you really want. You may say something like my current salary is X but I'm very interested in this position so I don't want compensation to be a showstopper at this point.

Have you done any research on what the going rate is for the type of position you're considering? Do you think it's the kind of thing that has a salary range comparable to what you're doing now - or is it a "lower level" job?

If you've been with the same company for 20 years (not sure if that's the case) it's possible you aren't paid competitively compared with people who've moved around more - unless you have received some fairly significant increases. It would be nice if you can figure out what the going rate is for the job you want compared with where you're at.

    Bookmark   September 17, 2007 at 8:00PM
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The first salary response in Sandy's post is excellent and exactly appropriate for the cover letter. I worked in HR for years, and while we sometimes asked applicants for salary requirements in their initial contact with us (yes, as a way of weeding out), a lack of specificity was never an automatic "cut". If anything, it showed us that smarter candidates were more interested in first getting a fuller picture of the scope of the job and more detailed information about the company. You can get into salary details at the interview (preferably, towards the end of the interview, unless the interviewer brings it up first), but what you really want is THE INTERVIEW. That's your real chance to sell yourself.

I don't agree with Gibby, as I feel the cover letter is often quite revealing. Generally the resume isn't revised for each job application so it's usually a very polished product. However, if there are typos or misspellings in the cover letter, or if it's a "canned" product that shows no relevance to the position applied for, I won't even bother reading the resume.

I have a really excellent interview tip for you, especially since it's been 20 years since you've been in the interview "hot seat." Make a list of strong "action" words, like MANAGED SUPERVISED ACCOMPLISHED ACHIEVED etc., and use those words to describe yourself in the position you've had. Write down a list of all the skills and talents that you know you bring to the job. Write down your proven accomplishments. Sit yourself next to a mirror with those notes and talk to the mirror as though you were being interviewed. Do it over and over again until you feel comfortable describing yourself in a very positive way. Look online for interviewing skills or tips. Many many times interviewers ask the same questions: What is your greatest strength? What is your biggest weakness? (Never answer that question directly! Always change your weakness into a strength!) The more prepared you are, the more comfortable you'll feel and the better you'll be able to sell yourself.

Good luck! Let us know how things go.

    Bookmark   September 18, 2007 at 11:00AM
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Like Bill, I have nothing to add but good wishes. I'm also glad you posted this because I've learned alot reading the responses - you guys are wonderful, such great detailed replies.

Good luck, msmagoo!

    Bookmark   September 18, 2007 at 9:35PM
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Any recruiters/HR folks care to update this thread for 2010/2011?

    Bookmark   October 28, 2010 at 2:55AM
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