By Karen Silins,
Fay Wong wanted to apply for a job as a conservation officer at her local municipal authority. She told her recruitment advisor that she’d been working in her local parks department for two years and that she had an associate’s degree in ecology. She’d started volunteering with an environmental group six years ago, when she was just 16.
The recruitment advisor examined the job description and compiled a list of the employer’s requirements:
- Four years of experience
- Two years or more of college education
- Knowledge of general environmental issues
- Familiarity with local environmental needs
- Experience with team and budget management.
She asked Fay to list a proven skill or task that demonstrated she could meet (partially or fully) each of the needs:
|Company’s Needs||My Experience|
|Four years experience||Two years of experience.|
|Two years college education||Completed associate’s degree in ecology.|
|Knowledge of environmental issues||Associate’s degree courses covered all important environmental issues.|
|Familiarity with local environmental needs||Volunteer work exposed Fay to local issues.|
|Experience with team and budget management||Acted as secretary of local environmental group, with responsibilities for finance. Current job includes leading a team of four.|
Two things are clear from this list. The first is that skills and achievements don’t always come from paid work. Volunteer experience can be invaluable. When explaining to an employer that you can meet his needs, highlight the parts of your past that show you can do the job.
If, for example, you’re applying for a job with a building firm, the fact that you voluntarily assisted in the management of several major building projects for your local ASPCA indicates you’re familiar with building codes, inspections, architectural plans, contractors and subcontractors, and putting “hammer to nail.” The fact that you didn’t get paid for it doesn’t really matter. You have the skill the employer’s looking for and that’s what does matter. As long as the experience you’re relaying is relevant to the job description, it belongs in the letter. Exactly the same is true of any job and any skill.
The second point to take from Fay’s list is that she doesn’t have the length of experience the employer desires. But lack of experience isn’t always an impossible problem. When an employer says he wants someone with a certain amount of experience, he’s really saying “I want someone who knows what he’s doing. There are certain skills that you can only learn by doing, and those are the skills I need my new employee to bring to the job.”
The questions an applicant lacking experience should ask are: “What are the skills that the employer wants to see?” and “How can I demonstrate that I possess those skills?”
In Fay’s case, her recruitment advisor assumed that when the employer said he wanted four years of experience, what he really wanted was maturity proven knowledge of local and environmental issues, and the ability to implement that knowledge on the park grounds. The advisor felt all those needs could be met by highlighting Fay’s work as a volunteer.
Even though Fay had only half the work experience the position demanded, she was still called for an interview – and she eventually won the position. The employer felt that her achievements during her volunteer work and her history of local involvement more than made up for those missing two years.
The bottom line is this: if you lack the experience needed, don’t despair. Identify what the employer really wants and pinpoint the skills and accomplishments that prove you can meet those needs.
There’s no guarantee that the employer will be flexible about the job’s requirements, but if you can do the job, there’s no reason not to apply.
That’s exactly why a convincing cover letter can help you get your foot in the door, even if your resume is not necessarily a perfect match for the requirements listed. If there are elements of your resume you feel are weaknesses or that detract from your application overall, the cover letter is your way of saying, “Hey, I’m a great candidate and even though I may lack the experience you’re looking for, I’ve got all the skills to do an excellent job!”
Karen Silins has been a professional resume and cover letter writer for 16 years and is the acting president and executive board member of the Association of Online Resume & Career Professionals
For more information about writing a cover letter that will grab the employerâ€™s attention, please visit: http://www.breakthough-cover-letters.com