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Cover letters FAQs

From Military.com

Too often, job seekers treat cover letters as afterthoughts or ignore them altogether. By including a cover letter with every resume you send, you'll add an important element to your job search arsenal that could make the difference in whether you get the interview. Before you write your letter, read this guide to frequently asked questions:

Q: I've heard employers don't bother reading cover letters, so aren't they just a waste of time?

A: Some busy hiring managers don't read cover letters on the initial screening. But others will read the letter - if not initially, then on the second pass. So the cover letter can definitely help you, and it certainly won't hurt you. It's a great opportunity to sell your unique qualifications and present your value proposition.

Q: What if the ad doesn't request a cover letter?

A: You should always include a cover letter, even if the job posting doesn't request it. First, it's just good business etiquette. Second, it helps hiring managers quickly surmise the position you're applying for. Third, and perhaps most importantly, a cover letter gives you another opportunity to sell your credentials.

Q: Can I repeat what's in my resume on my cover letter?

A: It's a mistake to simply copy information from your resume into your cover letter. Your resume's telegraphic writing style (where personal pronouns and articles like "the" and "a" may be omitted) is not appropriate for a cover letter. In fact, a cover letter gives you the opportunity to demonstrate your writing skills.

Q: Do I need to customize my cover letter?

A: Spending a few extra minutes customizing your letter for each job application is recommended. You'll certainly want to make sure the correct company name, job title and contact name are included in every letter you send. It's also a good idea to take note of requirements or desired qualifications mentioned in job ads and use your cover letter to bring out your matching skills and credentials. Try to read between the lines when reviewing job postings to get important clues about what's most important to the hiring manager. For example, if the ad mentions multitasking as a desired skill, be sure that your cover letter contains a sentence that demonstrates your ability to simultaneously manage multiple projects.

Q: What if I don't know the hiring manager's name?

A: When a job posting doesn't give you a specific contact name, avoid using the overly formal "Dear Sir or Madam" or "To Whom it May Concern." Instead, try calling the employer to find out the hiring manager's name. If the employer's name is masked or if the ad specifies "no phone calls," use "Dear Hiring Manager" or "Dear Recruiter" if a recruiting firm is handling the initial screening.

Q: What should I say about salary requirements if mentioned in a job ad?

A: The best strategy is to acknowledge the request in your cover letter without going into specific detail. Providing hard numbers now weakens your negotiating power later. And if your requirements fall outside the position's parameters, you may not even be considered for the job. It's best to indicate in your cover letter that you would be happy to discuss salary requirements once a mutual interest has been established. Or if you really feel pressured, provide a broad range: "My salary requirements are in the $60K to $80K range, depending upon the specific scope of responsibilities."

Q: How do I email my cover letter?

A: Follow the instructions given by the hiring manager. If there are no instructions, copy and paste a plain-text version of your cover letter (and resume) in the body of an email message and attach your resume in MS Word format. This article gives step-by-step instructions on how to email your resume and cover letter.

If you happen to be having trouble writing your resume too, consider having one professionally written for you.

VA still 'marching forward' on homelessness goal

As the chairman for VA's Advisory Committee on Homeless Veterans (ACHV) and a devoted Legionnaire, George P. Basher has an important perspective and a great deal of influence on VA's goal to end veterans homelessness by the end of 2015. With only 13 months remaining, Basher says that the effort to get every veteran off the streets remains as strong as ever - even after VA's crushing health-care scandal this summer.

Since 2005, Basher has held his position with ACHV, which Congress chartered in 2001 through 38 U.S.C. § 2066. Per Congress' mandate, the ACHV is charged with providing advice to VA and its secretary on homeless veterans issues and services. In so doing, the 15-person committee gives guidance on policy and programs that VA should implement in order to help keep veterans off the streets.

As a longtime member of Melvin Roads Post 1231 in Rensselaer, N.Y., Basher credits The American Legion, both nationally and locally, for helping VA make the significant progress it has made toward its goal. Though, he says the Legion's continued advocacy - and assistance from private enterprises - is crucial for VA to realize its ultimate goal of eradicating veterans homelessness.

Basher recently participated in a question-and-answer session with The American Legion, giving his thoughts on the progress of ending veterans homelessness, how that goal is met in the next 13 months and how posts and Legionnaires everywhere can get involved in the fight.

Q: From 2009 to 2013, VA saw nearly a 24 percent decline in veterans homelessness. What do you attribute that to?

A: One of the things is the (Housing of Urban Development and Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing) program that the committee has over the years recommended to VA.... Early on, we recognized the most effective way to get homeless veterans off the street is to make sure they actually have a place to go....

A lot of other programs have helped, like Supportive Services for Veterans With Families (SSVF), which is more of a prevention tool. We recognized early on that the way you keep the number of homeless veterans down is to keep them from spiraling into homelessness. That’s really a challenge for VA because now they are looking at a way to not only help veterans, but also veterans and their families. SSVF is really one of the first programs VA has ever created that has addressed that need and met it.

Another thing that has made a big difference is a change to the policy of 'housing first.' Back in the old days, if you were going into the VA clinic looking for transitional housing, the first thing you had to do was have 90 days clean and sober. That closed the door on a lot of folks. Since then, VA has adopted this 'housing first' model. They get people into housing and then go after them with treatment. It seems to be pretty effective.

Q: With new VA Secretary Robert McDonald taking over, has anything changed regarding the goal to end veterans homelessness?

A: So far we haven’t seen it.... There was a lot of concern early on when the new secretary came in that there was going to be some big changes made, but he has told (his staff) to continue to march and that this is still a top priority for VA. You probably won’t see as much publicity or visibility because he has some other fish he really has to fry to get Congress off his back, but I haven’t see any diminished resources or diminished prioritization from the administration.

Q: What is the plan for the next 13 months?

A: The plan is to continue to march.... We are going to continue to look for more and better ways to do prevention…. (McDonald’s) goal is to get more involvement from philanthropy and private enterprise to help partner with VA which would really be a change for VA because most of what VA has done to date has always been kind of been with a ‘fortress VA attitude.’

Q: What can a local Legionnaire or post do to help?

A: Host a 'homeless stand down.' A stand down is a VA-sponsored event to the extent that VA puts up money and helps organize them and helps with some of the logistics. But mostly it is volunteer-driven. What you need is a place big enough to have a 'stand down' and a parking lot big enough to hold the people who are there volunteering, and a way to make all that stuff come together.

Around the country, a lot of Legion posts are the center of that whole activity. A post near my home post has, for years, put on a regional stand down which gets a couple hundred volunteers and typically sees 200 or 300 veterans over a few days.

 

Posts or Legionnaires interested in hosting a VA "homeless stand down" should visit VA's homelessness website and begin the application process to receive funding to host one. Alternatively, they may inquire with the National Coalition For Homeless Veterans for assistance or guidance on hosting a 'stand down.'

2014 Fall Meetings resolutions available

While convened at National Headquarters in Indianapolis in October for the 2014 Fall Meetings, the National Executive Committee passed 30 resolutions. Those resolutions are now available to view in the Legion’s Digital Archive; see the collection here.

The Digital Archive continues to be updated with new collections and features, from archived magazine issues to press releases from National Headquarters. Visitors can refine or filter a search by title, date, format type and author.

Legion College to host its largest class

On Oct. 26, The American Legion National Headquarters in Indianapolis will welcome its largest National Legion College class in 15 years. The 2014 class of 57 Legionnaires, representing 31 departments, will gather for six days in the National Executive Committee room on the fourth floor of the headquarters building where they will learn how to:

  • Write a resolution on any topic of The American Legion.
  • Become an effective leader and mentor in the Legion.
  • Develop a department-level Legion College.
  • Run a district meeting.
  • Create brand awareness.
  • Promote Americanism programs at the local level.
  • Use mylegion.org effectively.

Click here to see the list of Legion College students.

Your job interview is a 'two-way street'

The single most important thing to know about interviewing is that two interviews should be happening simultaneously:

The company interviews you for a job.

You interview the company to determine if you want to work there.

The company does not have all the power and is not the sole decision maker. Many people turn down jobs because they don’t offer the right environment or cultural fit. You’re going to spend a huge amount of time at work, so it must be with a company you respect and with colleagues you admire. If not, you’ll be looking for a new job tomorrow.

Some of you may be desperate. Perhaps you’ve been looking for a long time, are in a tough financial situation or have other demands. If that’s your situation, take the job and do what you need to do. It’s OK.

Conversely, though, if you’re in a situation where you can wait to find the right job with the right company, acknowledge that you have as much power as the company does. Go into the interview with confidence and know that half of the decision is yours.

Some of my favorite interview tips include:

  • Bring questions. Inquire about the company, the position, the culture and more. Respond to interviewers’ questions with poise, clarity and substance, but demonstrate your interest by coming prepared.

  • Ask about performance requirements. What do they expect, and what could you do to exceed those expectations? What a great message of performance that communicates.

  • Engage your interviewers. Ask what they like best about their jobs. This can give you valuable information.

  • Ask for the job. If the interview has gone well and you want the job, ask for it. It’s so simple, yet rarely done.

  • If the interviewer is not ready to make an offer, ask what’s preventing it. Once you know the objections, you can immediately respond to and eliminate them.

 

Wendy Enelow is co-author of “Expert Résumés for Military-to-Civilian Transitions” and “Executive Résumé Toolkit.”

A 'once-in-a-lifetime opportunity'

Attending Major League Baseball World Series games as a part of an American Legion Baseball World Series-winning team is by no means a new experience for Brooklawn, N.J., Post 72 Head Coach Dennis Barth.

Barth was Brooklawn’s assistant head coach in 1991 when the team won its first Legion World Series crown. As head coach, he led the team to titles in 2001, 2013 and, most recently, last August – earning him and his team tickets to Games 1 and 2 of this year’s MLB World Series in Kansas City this week.

But the thrill never grows old for Barth, who now doubles as the head baseball coach for Rutgers University-Camden. Nor does he take it for granted.

“It’s a different experience every time,” said Barth, who also guided Brooklawn to six Legion World Series appearances as head coach. “We’ve been to four different places (each time), and they set up different trips for the kids – something to do with American history or baseball, or a combination of both. So it’s always really neat.”

Barth, his Brooklawn coaching staff and 17 of his players were honored on Kauffman Field Wednesday night before Game 2 of the World Series. They were presented a plaque by former New York Yankees Manager Joe Torre less than a half hour prior to Game 2’s first pitch.

Eight players from Brooklawn’s 2013 World Series team were back this year and already had taken in the MLB World Series experience. But Brooklawn’s Eric Becker was making his first trip to a World Series. “It’s everything you imagine and more,” he said. “It’s just unbelievable.”

Steve Mondile, who played on the past two Brooklawn World Series champs and now plays for Longwood University in Virginia, already had set foot on an MLB World Series field before Wednesday night. That didn’t matter.

“It’s (still) a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I’m just so happy to be here with the guys,” Mondile said. “It’s my second time getting to do this, but it’s just unbelievable, and I can’t even explain it in words how awesome it is to go out on the field on such a big stage.”

Playing for Gloucester Catholic High School, where the majority of Brooklawn’s players come from, Mondile was a part of three state titles. But winning a Legion World Series is different.

“(Winning the Legion World Series) is a lot longer of a road,” Mondile said. “It’s almost that whole month and a half. You’re traveling a lot more. And I think it kind of means a little bit more. That’s a national thing, and you’re with (your teammates) longer. It says a lot more, I think, to win that (Legion) World Series).”

Ironically, the MLB World Series already had a hint of Brooklawn. Former Brooklawn player Casey Fahy is now a Kansas City scout, while John Barr, San Francisco’s vice president and assistant general manager, was a Brooklawn player in the 1970s.

“When you wear the (Brooklawn) shirt, there’s a history behind it,” Barth said. “We’ve won so many state titles. There’s a storied history, so to be a part of it, it feels like an honor, something special and something to live up to.”

Playing for The American Legion also means a bit more to the players. “You represent a post – people who fought in a war for us,” said Brooklawn’s Eric Grafton. “It’s an honor to be playing for them. When we step out on the field and we're called Brooklawn Legion Post 72, it’s representing a really good cause.”

Becker agreed. “It’s more than just playing a game of baseball,” he said. “It’s more of just playing for the cause of The American Legion and everyone who served in the military.”

Approaching the job search as an older vet

Are you 45, 50, 60 or older? If so, do you think your age is having a negative effect on your job search? There’s plenty you can do to minimize that and make yourself a more attractive candidate.

Don’t include all your work experience.

A résumé is not an autobiographical essay of your entire work life, but a document that showcases the most recent and most significant highlights of your career. That job from 1978? Gone. It simply doesn’t matter at this point in your job search.

It’s OK to highlight notable achievements from long ago. If you have a few select ones from decades ago, include them. Put them in a short section – a paragraph or a few bullet points – at the end of your “work experience” section. Highlight your success, but don’t include dates. In fact, you might not even include company names or a military branch if not related to your current goals.

Don’t date your education.

So many job seekers work hard to mask the number of years they’ve been working, then include the date they graduated from college, OCS or other important training. The result? You’ve defeated the purpose of consolidating your education. A résumé is not an application; you’ll be able to share that info at a later time.

Don’t include personal information and objectives.

One way to instantly communicate that you’re an “older” job seeker is to include an objective statement or personal information – birth date, marital status, hobbies. It’s old school and will instantly age you in the reader’s eye.

Include an email address. I just interacted with someone who did not have one. Her job search will go nowhere since that’s how people communicate, network, invite you for interviews and more. It’s nonnegotiable, as is a LinkedIn profile.

 

Wendy Enelow is co-author of “Expert Résumés for Military-to-Civilian Transitions” and “Executive Résumé Toolkit.”

Legion to connect with vets in Los Angeles area

The American Legion will conduct a town hall meeting for veterans Oct. 27 in Long Beach, Calif., to discuss the quality of health care they are receiving from Department of Veterans Affairs facilities throughout southern California.

The town hall meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 27, at American Legion Post 496 on 5938 East Parkcrest St. in Long Beach. The meeting is open to the public and veterans are encouraged to attend, especially those affected by VA delays in medical care or benefit claims processing.

The American Legion will also conduct a Veterans Outreach Center (VOC) at Post 496 from Oct. 28 to Oct. 30. Services provided will include VA appointment scheduling, assistance with benefits claims, grief counseling and help with enrollment in VA health care.

Operating hours for the outreach center are 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Oct. 28, and 8 a.m.-8 p.m. October 29-30.

Members of the Legion’s national staff, along with local Legionnaires, staff from VA facilities and volunteers from other organizations, will be on hand at the VOC to assist veterans and their families.

Verna Jones, executive director of The American Legion in Washington, said the organization is conducting VOCs “because many veterans and their families have been affected by serious delays in getting access to their VA health care, and in getting decisions made by VA on their disability and other benefits claims.”

Hiring Our Heroes gears up for monthly virtual job fair

Modern advances in technology, which allow content streaming and put the world at our fingertips, are benefiting transitioning and unemployed veterans and spouses across the nation through the Hiring Our Heroes Virtual Job Scout, a free online career fair platform that includes all the resources and opportunities of a live Hiring Our Heroes job fair.

Sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation, the Virtual Job Scout puts all the benefits and resources of a Hiring Our Heroes career fair in virtual format, avaialble to military-community jobseekers and recruiting employers.

Since its inception in August, more than 500 employers and 5,500 veterans and military spouses have signed up to use the site. While on the site, applicants can create personal, professional profiles and showcase their skills all while accessing job postings and interacting with recruiters.

Hiring Our Heroes hosts a Virtual Job Scout job fair monthly, allowing new and current site users to interact in live chats with recruiters.

The next virtual job fair event is October 29 from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

Such virtual events grow in necessity as more statistics on unemployed veterans come to light. Although the Department of Labor reported a marginal decrease in the unemployment rate in 2014, more than 200,000 veterans from all eras are still finding it increasingly difficult to translate their military job skills into gainful civilian jobs.

For more information, visit www.virtualjobscout.org.

Back at the World Series

Longtime Brooklyn, N.J., Post 72 assistant baseball coach Mike Brown wasn’t in Boston last year for Game 1 of the World Series with the rest of his team. While Brooklawn was being honored for winning The American Legion Baseball World Series, Brown was back home with his son, Cody – a former Brooklawn player who had been diagnosed with cancer.

Cody not only recovered, but he is now playing baseball for Central Connecticut State with his twin brother, Casey. And Mike was back with his team Tuesday night, this time at Kansas City’s Kauffman Field for Game 1 of the 2014 World Series between the host Royals and the San Francisco Giants. Brooklawn won its second-straight Legion World Series title in August to secure a second trip to Major League Baseball’s Fall Classic.

“This is a real cool experience,” said Mike, an assistant coach for Brooklawn since 2006. “A lot of the kids got to go last year, too, but I didn’t because of my son. It’s just great to be able to be here with the team this time.”

Brooklawn’s coaching staff and 17 players arrived in Kansas City midway on Tuesday and will head back to New Jersey on Thursday. Today, they’re headed to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and then to lunch at Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue. Tonight, they’ll be honored on the field before Game 2 of the Series.

Most of the players spent Tuesday day rooting for the Royals, who lost 7-1. But it wasn’t just about the outcome.

“I’m speechless right now,” said Brooklawn pitcher Rocco Mazzeo, now a freshman at Rowan College in New Jersey, as the two teams were in pregame warm-ups. “I would never have imagined coming to a World Series game. I’m just taking it in. I’m really excited to be here.”

Brooklawn’s starting shortstop, Phil Dickinson, now a freshman playing baseball for Wagner College in New York, has been to multiple World Series games – including last year’s Game 1 in Boston with the rest of his Brooklawn teammates. But that didn’t take any of the excitement away from Tuesday night.

“It’s always exciting to see a new ballpark,” Dickinson said. “(Kauffman Field) is different from any ballpark I’ve ever seen. Every stadium you go to at any time is a different atmosphere. You get a different atmosphere with the crowd. You can see different places.”

Dickinson said he’s been playing with many of his Brooklawn teammates since he was 12 years old. “We’re a very close-knit team, and I think chemistry is the biggest thing about winning,” he said. “A lot of coaches think best players, best talent … but (Brooklawn manager) Dennis Barth goes for chemistry. And I think what has he helped us the past two years was our chemistry.”

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