Question: Does anyone actually enjoy job searching?
The answer: probably not.
While there can be some excitement for both the hiring committee and the job seeker, (the hiring committee has an opportunity to expand or complete their work team and the job seeker could be finding their dream job!) the process can still be excruciating, to say in the least. If you are amongst the lucky in search of this “dream job”, especially in the field of international education, put yourselves in the shoes of the hiring committee. As international education grows in popularity and more positions become available, the candidate pool comparatively grows more saturated with resumes from all walks of life. As more individuals study abroad and attend college, the more your resume and experiences will have to speak for themselves in order to win you a spot amongst the ranks. For example, it is not uncommon for an entry-level office position to receive more than 200 applications within one week of advertising for an open position.
So what do you do? Give up? Certainly not. You polish up your resume, taking longer than thought necessary because you don’t want to take the next step. That next step, being the writing of yet another dreaded cover letter. You think to yourself: “Now is a great time to do the laundry I’ve been ignoring. By making my resume outstanding, I’ll be free of the anxiety of whom to address, what to include, and how to best represent myself in an additional document.”
If this is you during your job search, putting everything into the resume for the sake of forgoing the cover letter…think again.
Recently Dr. Christopher Lee, author and leading authority on higher ed searches, said: “Contrary to popular opinion, the purpose of a resume is not to get you a job. The purpose of a resume is to get you an interview.” If that’s the purpose of a resume, then what is the purpose of a cover letter? In my experience, the cover letter is what tells your background story. It fills in some of the blanks and adds color to the black and white details of your education, job history and skills.
While it’s true, many hiring committees may read only resume in an effort to confirm that you meet the basic criteria for the position, don’t blow off your cover letter! If I’m on a review committee and I’m on the fence about the merit of a resume, you can bet I’ll turn to the cover letter for additional information. Asides filling in some of the “gaps” left in a structured resume, a cover letter helps us to better see you as a person, at least enough to want to meet you for an interview. Take these five tips into consideration the next time you sit down to write a cover letter for your dream job in international education:
1. Show us your experience
On your resume, you may briefly outline internship experience, where you studied abroad, and if you studied a second language. Your cover letter is the place where you can tie it all together. That being said, don’t wax on poetically about your love affair with Spain; but with personality, tell me how your experiences abroad will add to my organization. Connect your experience to the job position and show me what’s important to you at the same time. This is often the hardest part to write because you probably have a lot to say, but remember to save some for the interview!
2. Be specific
When writing your resume, it’s important to find the right action verb for a job entry: Managing, creating, supporting, and so on. When writing your cover letter, you can expand on those bullet points. Choose one or two specific examples of a transferrable skill that was mentioned in the position description and explain it more fully–though taking care to be concise in your examples.
3. Use the right vocabulary
When position descriptions are crafted for advertising, the hiring manager is essentially reviewing the position and posting an employee “wish list”. Look for clues on what is recommended versus what is required. Match the verbiage in the position description to what you’re offering in your cover letter as that is what it is there for! Does the job require advising experience? Coding? Human resources? Don’t ignore it, talk about it and tie it into your own skills.
4. Do your research
In your resume, you’re merely showcasing your own history: education, job experience, certifications. In your cover letter, take a moment to highlight what you know about not only the position available, but also the institution and field. Are study abroad numbers rising? How many international students are at the given institution? Take what you’ve gleaned from Google and connect yourself to the information.
5. Express your enthusiasm
Are you excited about this job? Say so! While you look for your dream job, the hiring manager is looking for the best fit. If you’ve done your job in the cover letter and your qualifications are a match, then there’s a good chance you’ll land yourself a phone interview. Sign off with a positive note on how your look forward to hearing from them, potentially working in the field, etc.
6. Last but not least: proofread
Nothing moves an application off the table faster than a cover letter addressed to another hiring manager at a different institution. Please don’t forget to proofread! In addition to double-checking the logistical info (job title, location, hiring manager), read the letter aloud or have someone else take a look to make sure your letter flows and your points are effective. Having strong writing skills will take you a great distance in essentially any field, regardless of what position you may be applying for.
While there is no perfect formula for moving from job application to job offer, take these tips to heart and hopefully they will give you a head start on your job search!
Kelly Holland is the Associate Director of Study Abroad at Towson University. She first left the U.S. at age 20, and spent a semester in Granada, Spain with the American Institute of Foreign Study (AIFS). She returned several years later to teach English for the Spanish Ministry of Education in Andalucia. Kelly holds a M.Ed. in Comparative and International Education from Lehigh University, and a B.A. in International Business and Spanish from Moravian College. She currently resides in the state of Maryland.