Writing Values & Experience-Based Cover Letters
I recently sat in on an employer panel that included a CEO of a charter school here in Chicago. When asked about the importance of cover letters, he responded by saying, "If a cover letter isn't targeted to my school specifically, I won't read it."
Even as a career advisor, I was shocked by the seriousness with which he stated this, and I immediately took note of how I could stress this important message to every teacher job candidate coming across my path. The steps below will help you transform your letter into a relationship builder.
I always tell my candidates: Your resume is about you; your cover letter is about the employer. More specifically, your cover letter is how you fit in and relate to this employer.
To do this, consider these steps:
- First thing's first: Identify your career values. Not sure what your career values are? Take this free online career values inventory or visit your college/university career center to talk through your questions about career values. Knowing your values will help you in step 4.
- For each particular school district or job application, you will be writing a different cover letter. So, this step is to prioritize your applications beginning with your most ideal school district/job and working your way down. This will allow you to put the most energy into your top choices.
- Starting with your top priority, research the heck out of the district's mission, vision, values, curricula, staff/teacher profiles, anything you can get your eyes onto! This includes what is happening in the news about the schools in the district (I love using Google Alerts to follow my favorite companies, school districts, and professional hot topics in the news).
- Match your career values and most relevant experiences with what you found in your research. Remember, you are writing a different letter for each district. This means that you will likely match different values with different districts due to the various demographics, resources, and missions of each district. Do you value ethnic diversity in your classroom and want to focus on that in your letter? Then, connect this value with the districts whose demographics are exciting to you. Are you experienced with incorporating technology in the classroom? If so, match your technology experience with the districts that place a high value on it.
- Tell your story as it relates to the district or position. This is typically the most difficult part: finding the words and using transition sentences. The best way I have coached candidates through this process is to have them speak about how they relate to what they found in their research while simultaneously taking notes or transcribing what they say. Once the story is out on paper, it can then be refined and edited as appropriate. This refining process is another opportunity to connect with your career advisor for a review and assistance!
I have said it before and I'll say it again, people hire people! The more engaging and focused on relationships you can be throughout the job search process, the more success you will find. Just like a resume, a well-crafted cover letter will never get you hired. However, a well-crafted cover letter WILL set the tone for your relationship with the reader before they meet you and WILL help you land the interview.
Helen L. Roy, M.Ed. - Follow me @HelenLRoy on Twitter
Career Readiness Advisor
National Louis University