5 Cover Letter Tips for One-Term Enlistees Separating from the Military

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(U.S. Air Force/Airman 1st Class Kate Thornton)

For soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who joined the military at age 18 and will soon be separating after one enlistment, drafting the first resume and cover letter might be daunting. There just may not seem to be enough skills and experience to fill an entire page.

Depending on the job to which you are applying, that's probably all right. Everybody has to start somewhere, and you're off to a great start with military experience. You are competing with other people at your place in life who may not have much work experience at all.

You will be putting your best foot forward in your first cover letter, a well-crafted document that will sell you, your skills and strengths, and shows the value you'll bring to their company as an employee.

Here are just a few tips to help you flesh out that critical document and land the interview.

1. Start strong.

Remember that you're selling yourself for an entry-level position to an employer who might be looking at recent college graduates most of the time. Let that person know you have skills and experience that fit the position and, if you have education in the field, include that in the first paragraph, too.

This is especially true if you're pursuing a job that was also your military specialty. Just because you might be essentially starting over doesn't mean you don't have work experience in a shop or office. Be sure to include the position to which you're applying as well.

2. Gather as much information as possible.

You might be familiar with the industry, the company or the specific position to which you are applying. If you are able to gather some insider information about what the job or company is looking for in a candidate, use that information in the cover letter if it applies to you.

Networking, previous or current employees, and even alumni groups will often have information about how the company does things, what kinds of experience they really need or if they have any alumni of your college or unit who might give you some insight on what to include.

3. Your skills should match the job's responsibilities.

While the cover letter is definitely a sales pitch for yourself, and the employer has to like you and the idea of hiring you, you will still need to perform the job functions expected of you. Look at the job description and the day-to-day responsibilities of the position. Tell the employer why your skills are a perfect fit for those roles.

If the job requires the use of Excel spreadsheets, describe to the employer how you used spreadsheets in your military work. If it requires work on a specific part of a plane or vehicle, tell them how you worked on those parts of the vehicle. You are trying to show your competence in the workplace and ability to do the job.

4. Use keywords from the job description.

Just as important as speaking to a human being about roles and responsibilities is getting past the computer that will be analyzing your cover letter for certain words and phrases. Just like in submitting your resume, if you can't pass this computer algorithm, human eyes may never see the letter.

It's looking for certain words and phrases as a filter to make sure that applicants who do get considered by a human are actually qualified to do the job. Those words are usually included in the job description and are often the skills, certifications and education required for the position. Be sure your cover letter includes these phrases, too.

5. End with a call to action.

Be sure to thank the employer for considering your application, then end the letter with a thank you and include the best ways to contact you for setting up an interview. It might also be nice to include something about your excitement at the idea of working for their company, specifically. After all, no HR professional wants to be filling the same job a year later.

-- Blake Stilwell can be reached at blake.stilwell@military.com. He can also be found on Twitter @blakestilwell or on Facebook.

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