Good Cover Letters, Thank You Notes, and Reference Lists Are Crucial – It’s Not Just About The Resume and The Interview

by | May 31, 2023 | Blog, Cover Letter, Interview

My son was looking for a new job.  I helped him with his resume.  I once taught a class to my pharmacy tech students who were looking for a job.  I helped them with their resumes and other job-acquiring tasks.

Resumes are easy to craft.  Aside from the many books on resumes, I’ve found examples of resumes that I liked all over the internet.  With resumes, a certain format must be followed.  Accuracy is important, too, as is putting all the information in chronological order.

Since I did a lot of hiring as a pharmacy manager, I’ve read a lot of resumes. Thus, I’ve determined that the following things are most important when it comes to resumes:

  1. Nobody reads the entire resume.  Most managers skim resumes. Usually, I read the upper third of the first page of the resume. If I don’t jump out of my chair and say, “Wow, I want to call this applicant in for an interview!”— I move on to the next resume.
  2. The purpose of a resume is often misunderstood. A good resume does not guarantee that the applicant will get the job.  Instead, the purpose of the resume is to make an impression on the hiring manager so that he/she will contact the job applicant and bring them in for an interview.
  3. The resume must look pretty.  Fancy resume paper, distinct fonts, and pretty colored printing does not impress me when it comes to resumes. Instead, I look for resumes that are formatted properly. There can be no typos or mistakes. In addition, an attractive amount of white space on the page is eye appealing and provides a nice appearance for any resume.
Observing The Current Process

As I stated in a previous article, I’m not a fan of the interview process. When it comes to hiring the right person for a job, we hire candidates based on:

  1. How well the candidate dresses,
  2. How well the candidate answers canned questions,
  3. How well crafted the candidate’s resume is, and
  4. The nice things the candidate’s references say about them.

I’d much rather bring in an extern (paid or unpaid) on a trial basis. But this is not always possible in today’s society. So, unfortunately, I’m stuck with the interview process.

Justifying The Cover Letter

Is a cover letter necessary? No.  Should a cover letter be included with a resume? Absolutely.

I’ve always thought that a cover letter was like a movie trailer.  A movie trailer should entice people to see a movie. A cover letter should entice the hiring manager to read the resume. Imagine a hiring manager with many resumes in front of him or her but only one cover letter.  The cover letter should call attention to the resume that it accompanies. It should shout out, “read this resume” to the hiring manager.

I use a specific format for all of my cover letters. However, I am constantly changing the content depending on the job description. I begin my cover letter by telling what job I am applying for.  My first paragraph might read:

A background in Pharmacy management, coupled with a teaching background are key elements in qualifying me for the Pharmacy Supervisor position with your organization.

Next, I would list several strengths which I have, making certain they match the qualifications that the employer is seeking.  For example, if the company wants someone with strong people skills and customer service, I might list the following strength:

Displays a positive outlook while providing clear and concise information to the customers.

Conversely, if the job description is seeking an individual with strong computer skills, I would provide the following strength in my cover letter:

Knowledgeable about a wide range of computer programs which allows me to produce detailed spreadsheets, reports, slides, and videos.

The last paragraph of my cover letter contains my contact information. It is stated as follows:

I would welcome the opportunity to speak with you about the contributions I could make to your company.  Attached is my resume.  Please email me at [email protected] or phone me at 908-555-1234.

Almost never does a hiring manager use an email to contact a prospective candidate to come in for an interview.  A phone call is usually made to set up an interview with a candidate. Thus, the phone number should be a current one. It should be a phone number that the applicant will answer. Or where an employer can leave a detailed message and have the applicant return the call.  

There are two things I do not understand. The first is a candidate who does not return phone calls. Why? The candidate is seeking a job with the company.  The hiring manager wants to bring them in for an interview. The hiring manager has called the candidate and wants to set up an interview. So why hasn’t the candidate called back?  

The second thing that baffles me is when individuals (seeking employment) list an incorrect phone number. Or one where the mailbox is full or hasn’t been set up yet.

Deciding Upon Thank You Notes

Since I was the pharmacy manager, I was also my department’s hiring manager. I always found thank-you notes amusing. I was never impressed when I received a thank you note after an interview.  Most of the time, I threw them in the garbage.  But I did pay attention when I hadn’t received one.  Thus, I always recommend sending a thank you note.

I had an open position for a full-time pharmacist for the day shift in my hospital. I interviewed several candidates and narrowed it down to three applicants.  Actually, of the three, I had a pretty good idea of which person I was going to hire.

After I conducted my part of the interview process, I always had my staff interview the candidate. After all, I may like the applicant and think they are qualified to perform the job. Even my assistant manager may like the candidate and think they are qualified to perform the job. But it’s my staff who had to like the candidate because it is my staff who had to work with that person day in and day out.

Thus, when it comes to the interview, I speak to the applicant. Then my assistant manager speaks to the applicant. Then my staff speaks to the candidate.  I gather everyone’s comments and use them to make a decision.

I interviewed the three candidates for the pharmacist position.  Several days later, I received a thank you note from two of the three candidates.  The third person sent a thank you note to me, my assistant manager, and the six staff members who she interviewed with. She wrote and mailed eight thank you notes to me and my staff! Furthermore, they were all worded differently!

As previously stated, I was going to hire her anyway.  But you can only imagine the commotion in my pharmacy department when all of us received a thank you note from this person.  My staff became her prime advocate and wanted to know when I was going to hire her. Her thank you notes surely made an impression on my staff.

Defending Thank You Notes

It’s apparent that I feel a thank you note should be sent to everyone that a candidate speaks with. Furthermore, all thank you notes should be worded differently.  Can you imagine what would have happened if each of my staff members received a thank you note that was worded the same way? It would have hurt the candidate rather than set the candidate apart.

The applicant should also collect business cards from everyone that they speak with.  That way, they will have the correct spelling of the person’s name and their job title.  If an interviewer doesn’t have a business card, then the applicant (not the interviewer) should clearly print the interviewer’s first name, last name, and title so they have it for the thank you note.

People notice when their name is misspelled. I’ve gotten many letters to Daneil Schifren that I’ve just tossed in the garbage.  A candidate can write a gorgeous thank you note, but if they spell my name incorrectly, it doesn’t matter what it says.

Thank you notes can be emailed or sent by mail. They can be handwritten or typed.  Thank you notes should be sent within 24 hours of the interview.

Demonstrating The Absurdity With References

I never like the concept of references.  I’m about to hire a person.  I get a list of names and contact information supplied by the applicant.  I call these people, and they say wonderful things about the applicant. Was I expecting something different?

My Human Resources representative would never hire a candidate unless she contacted two of their references. Did my Human Resources representative think they were going to call the applicants’ references and they [the references] were going to say lousy things about the applicant?  Did my Human Resources  representative think that the references would leak some juicy negative information about the applicant so that I wouldn’t hire them?  Of course not.  Reference only says good things about their candidates.

But until something better comes along, I guess I’m stuck with references.

Contacting References

A candidate preparing references should have a separate sheet of paper containing three or four names and contact information. This sheet of references should be kept separate from the resume.  This sheet should not be given to the interviewer unless the candidate is offered the job. Thus, if the interview is over, and the interview hasn’t asked for the candidate’s references, chances are that the applicant didn’t get the job.

When compiling references, a candidate should always ask an individual if they would become their reference. If the individual agrees, get their name, title, company, address, phone, and email.

Most times, an interviewer will contact the reference by calling them.  Thus, always ask the reference what is the best number to call in order to contact them. A cell number is often preferred over an office number or the general facility’s number.  But that’s up to the reference to decide which phone number is best.

Quite often, a reference will not remember that they agreed to be an applicant’s reference. Time may have passed, and they have forgotten. Therefore, when an applicant begins searching for a job, they should contact the reference and remind them that they previously said “yes”.

When an applicant has been offered and accepted the position, they should call their reference. Unfortunately, in today’s society, people do not answer their cell phones when a strange number appears.  Thus the applicant should contact the reference at this point of the hiring phase. This will alert the reference to respond to the phone call because the employer may ask them to speak about the candidate.

Final Thoughts

Resumes and interviews are important when it comes to getting a job.  However, every applicant concentrates on these things.  In fact, most candidates pay so much attention to the resume and interview that they forget about other aspects of the hiring process. By focusing on cover letters, thank you notes, and references, a good candidate may separate themselves from the field of applicants. This will put them in a good position to land the position.

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