Though it’s exciting to think about the possibilities in a new role or at a new company, job searching is a challenge. It’s daunting to comb through job boards, looking for positions that match your skill set and companies that match your values. It’s exhausting packing your calendar with networking events, engaging in small talk to make connections. And, it’s tricky to present yourself to a potential employer on paper. How can you portray your unique personality in neatly organized paragraphs not exceeding one page? It’s possible. And, it’s not nearly as hard as you think. 

Let’s start with a cover letter. Yes, you do need to write one, unless it is explicitly stated within the job posting that it’s not necessary. Failure to include a cover letter will likely automatically reject you from further consideration, because recruiters want to see candidates that follow directions. I read each and every word of the cover letters that come through the door at Design Workshop. Combined with your resume and portfolio, I can get a good sense of whether or not you’d be a match for the hiring manager and the job functions. It’s important to not simply repeat resume details on your cover letter too. Here’s what I look for.

Strong Writing Skills: Not only does a well-written cover letter helps me understand more about you, it’s a good demonstration that you have the necessary skills to communicate effectively in the work place. It is essential that you have strong writing skills and are able to communicate effectively. Writing emails, proposals, and other professional collateral will be a significant part of your daily work, and effectively writing is essential. Skip the prescriptive opening sentence from online samples and dive right into an attention-grabbing statement that tells me why you are the right person for this role. If you’re having a hard time getting started, try a brainstorming exercise. The thoughts will come together more cohesively with a visual of your preliminary ideas.

Keep the cover letter to one page. Read the letter aloud to listen for fluency in your thoughts. Keep your language simple and concise; if you wouldn’t say it aloud, don’t write it that way either. Don’t forget to proof-read!

Personalization: Reference the name of the company to which you’re applying, and do some research to find the name of someone to whom you can address the salutation. It’s as easy as calling the company and asking or doing website research to find the name of the CEO. Don’t forget to change this information when you send the letter to multiple companies. Nothing bugs me more than a generic cover letter, or one with the name of a competitor on it. Why are you interested in our company? What about our company excites you? Is there a company project that inspires you to be part of their team? Speaking of which…

Understanding of the Role: The best way to do this is through research. Spend some time on the company website so that you understand the challenges facing the organization, and don’t stop there. Connect with the company’s social media and follow leadership’s posts on LinkedIn. Check out sites like Glassdoor that can reveal more information about what it’s like to work at the company. Read through the job advertisement and/or job description. When you sit down to write your cover letter, you’ll be able to connect your education and experiences to what the role entails and what the company needs.

Express Yourself: Ask not what this role can do for you, but what you can do for this role. What professional or personal experiences have led you to wanting this job? If you have less experience or are just starting your career, what technical and soft skills do you bring with you? Highlight all of this! Never apologize for skills that you don’t have during the application process. Instead, focus on your strengths and create a compelling story around your candidacy.

Excitement: Showing enthusiasm for the role is one way that you can convey your personality through paper. Is there a certain project or value at our company that fires you up? What about the work that we do aligns to your passions? How do you see your own value proposition within ours? What do you respect about our organization? Companies want to hire people who fit within their own mission and vision. It’s a clear indicator that the person will seamlessly onboard and integrate with the company. Note that while showing personality is good, it’s advisable to keep your language professional. Also, toe the line between flattery and kissing you-know-what. Authenticity is your best bet.

We spend too much time at work to not love our jobs, and loving your job comes from applying and acing the recruiting and interviewing process at your dream company. Approach your career search with enthusiasm and apply only for positions where you can see a long-term cultural fit within yourself. Focusing your energy on the jobs and companies that you really want will be more fruitful than sending stock cover letter and resumes all over town. Try to enjoy the process and take pride in marketing yourself. Good luck!


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For more than four decades, Design Workshop has provided landscape architecture, planning, urban design and strategic services to clients in North America and throughout the world. We are committed to creating special places that meet today's needs and that are sustainable environments for all time. We believe that when environment, art, community and economics are combined with the dictates of the land and the needs of society, magical places result—sustainable places of timeless beauty, significant value and enduring quality, places that lift the spirit. We have developed a methodology called DW Legacy Design®. This proprietary process seeks to imbue every project with a balance between environmental sensitivity, community connection, artistic beauty and economic viability that demonstrates measureable results.

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Comment by J. Robert Wainner on April 24, 2017 at 5:43pm

Back in 1977, approx. 3 months before I graduated from Texas A&M University.....I got together with my Dad (who, at the time, was a very gifted and talented Advertising Artist & Graphic Designer.  I explained to my Dad, that I needed to come up with a great Resume', to apply to LA firms for my first job as an entry level LA.

My Dad was exceptionally "creative"....I have to give him full credit for coming up with an "out of the box idea" for a very creative and eye catching Resume'.  My Dad believed that way too many people use the standard 8-1/2" x 11" format standard single page Resume'.  Most of them end up in a file basket....they all look alike.

Dad came up with the idea to create a "Poster style Resume'".  It was the size of a standard Movie Poster we see....it was about 1/3 smaller.  We went with a light beige textured paper style.  I was good then and now with calligraphy style writing...so, instead of a "typed style resume'"...I wrote all of the text (in a couple of different sizes of calligraphy writing.  It really gave my Resume' a personal touch.

I used one of my best "graphic drawings" from Texas A&M to add to the Poster Resume'.  I came up with a clever statement that described WHY I wanted to be a professional Landscape Architect.....as I had just been Honorably Discharged from the U.S. Navy...I was ready to be back on land and put my roots down.  So, integrated with this bold calligraphy text, I drew a stylized Tree...with a realistic looking root ball.  

Along the right side of this Poster Resume', starting at the top, I had a small photo of myself.  Then, all the way down the Poster, written in hand calligraphy, I wrote Resume' type information about myself....qualifications, etc.

Then, I purchased about 50 bright white "mailing tubes".  Inside of each "mailing tube" I inserted ONE of my "Poster Style Resume's".....that I had printed.  Then, I chose 50 different LA firms in various parts of the U.S....mostly throughout the South (from Coast to Coast).

The idea - concept here is....that, when an LA firm received my "Poster Style Resume'"....it would be "eye catching" and have a creative appeal.  And, it wouldn't fit in that file basket with all of the other standard Resumes'.

About 10 days after I mailed out those 50 "Poster Style Resumes'".....I was at a Senior LA Class picnic with all of our LA Professors.  The Head of our LA Department was Don Austin (who was once a Partner with EDAW)....he was the "A" in EDAW.  At that party, Don Austin came up to me to tell me, he received a phone call from one of the Partners @ EDSA in Ft. Lauderdale....he called Don Austin to ask about me and to tell him that he was very impressed with my very creative Resume'.  Don Austin told me, that I was on the "short list" for an entry level position at EDSA.  Well, turns out, 2 other young LA grads were chosen over me.....but, my Resume' definitely got EDSA's attention.....and, at that time, EDSA was considered to be the #1 LA Firm in the World.

I also got some very positive feedback from other LA firms....about my Resume'.  I rec'd a phone call from Lane L. Marshall's LA office in Sarasota, Florida.  At the time, Lane Marshall was the President of ASLA....and he wanted me to travel to Sarasota, Florida to interview for a job.  I went for the interview and was offered the job.

J. Robert (Bob) Wainner

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