Applying for an Administrative Assistant Job: Cover Letter, Resume Do’s and Don’ts
After choosing a field you love and getting the education and skills you need to succeed, how do you show employers you’re the perfect candidate?
1. Your Cover Letter
For starters, you’ll need an impeccable cover letter. Typically an employer gives each applicant’s resume and cover letter a 30-second glance before deciding to consider it or throw it in the trash. Be sure your offering conveys your skills, talents and background.
Your cover letter is an essential part of your application. You want to make it memorable as well as straightforward and to the point. A key point to remember: you have to fit a lot of important and captive information on just one page!
A general cover letter is a great start, but you need to tailor your cover letter to each reader. Visit your potential employer’s website and read up on the company to learn more. Use your cover letter to demonstrate how your skills and experience can benefit the company.
DO NOT forget to highlight your biggest accomplishments and skills. You want to be sell yourself — don’t be shy! For an admin job, it’s important to point out any office skills you have, your teamwork attitude, previous administrative experience, education, etc. Make your skills stand out by using active verbs and descriptive adjectives. For example, instead of saying “I know Microsoft Excel from my previous job” say “I developed a strong background in Microsoft Excel from working three years in a multi-million dollar sales firm.”
2. Resume Do’s
If you want your resume to have a good chance of actually being read by prospective employers, you have to think about its content and its design. First, it needs to look good and be well organized, with no more than two fonts and at least two-inch margins.
Be Specific: Employers need to understand what you’ve done and accomplished. For example, you:
- Worked with employees in a restaurant setting.
- Recruited, hired, trained, and supervised more than 20 employees in a restaurant with $2 million in annual sales.
Both of these phrases could describe the same person, but details and specifics in example in the second bullet grabs the reader’s attention.
Write a Strong Objective Statement: Employers do read your resume’s objective statement, but nobody’s going to pay real attention to vague phrases like “Seeking a challenging position that offers professional growth.” Give employers something specific and, more importantly, something that focuses on their needs. For example: “A challenging administrative assistant position that allows me to contribute my skills and experience in organizing and operating a small company.”
Use Action Verbs: Avoid using tired phrases like “responsible for.” Instead, use action verbs: “Resolved user questions as part of an IT help desk serving 4,000 students and staff.” Check out this list of action and power verbs to help you out.
Lastly, highlight accomplishments, not duties: It’s easy to slip into a mode where you simply start listing job duties on your resume. For example:
- Attended group meetings and recorded minutes
- Worked with children in a day-care setting
- Updated departmental files
Employers, however, don’t care so much about what you’ve done as what you’ve accomplished in your various activities. They’re looking for statements more like these:
- Used laptop computer to record weekly meeting minutes and compiled them in a Microsoft Word-based file for future organizational reference.
- Developed three daily activities for preschool-age children and prepared them for a 10-minute holiday program performance.
- Reorganized 10 years’ worth of unwieldy files, making them easily accessible to department members.
3. Resume Don’ts – Things to avoid in your resume
Typos and Grammatical Errors: Administrative assistants are supposed to be detail oriented and have good writing and Word skills. No one will hire you if you have typos in your resume. Read it out loud to catch errors, perform a spelling and grammar check in Word and someone who writes well read it over. It never hurts to check it twice — or three or four or five times!
One Size Fits All: Whenever you try to develop a one-size-fits-all resume to send to all employers, you almost always end up with something they toss in the recycle bin. Employers want you to write a resume specifically for them. They expect you to show how and why you fit the position in their specific organization.
Going on Too Long or Cutting Things Too Short: Generally speaking, you usually need to limit yourself to a maximum of two pages. But don’t feel you have to use two pages if one will do. Conversely, don’t cut the “meat” out of your resume just to make it conform to an arbitrary one-page standard. One page, however, remains a safe bet.
Visually Too Busy: If your resume is wall-to-wall text in five different fonts, it’s going to look like a headache. So show your resume to several other people before sending it out. Do they think it’s attractive? If what you have is hard on the eyes, revise.
Incorrect Contact Information: Another downer to both you and an employer. The phone number and address on your resume should be correct for two reasons. One, you must prove you can keep track of all the details and two, once the employer contacts you to offer you the job, they need the right number!
Free Career Advice and Resume Help
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