How to Sell Yourself and Make Your Cover Letter Stand Out with Rohisha Maharjan
In episode 14 of Think Big, I share a short conversation I had with Rohisha Maharjan about how you can connect your past experiences to make your cover letter stand out.
Rohisha was a previous client of mine and I meet with her to record a testimonial but she also shared so much valuable information that I wanted to turn it into a short podcast episode for you all to listen to.
In this episode I discuss
✨Some of the key mistakes I see in cover letters
✨What I always feel is missing and how you can reframe how you look at last experience and different cultural perspectives Rohisha shares:
✨Her experience with writing her cover letter
✨Key things that she did that helped her cover letter to stand out and land her a job
✨What she would say to someone in her position
✨ Follow me on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/archienglishteacher
✨ Connect with me on LinkedIn Tara Cull
Ready to take action to speak up and share your voice?
In November 2021 we are starting the very first ArchiEnglish practice - a group coaching program to get you confidently express your words. Come and join me and other professionals in the built design profession to share your voice and speak up with more confidence. ArchiEnglish Practice Course
rectify - fix
generic - not specific
tailor - make something specific for a purpose or need signposting language - language that helps the flow
insightful - interesting
meticulous - detailed and methodical / systematic
thoughtful - considered
sophisticated - having, revealing, or involving a great deal of worldly experience and knowledge of fashion and culture.
well-rounded - fully developed in all aspects.
What clause type of noun clause (or a free relative clause) that begins with the word what.
do your homework - find out more information about something
make an impression - to cause someone to notice and admire you
reading between the lines - look for or discover a meaning that is implied rather than explicitly stated.
Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 00:00
You're listening to think big episode 14
Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 00:15
Hello big thinkers and welcome to episode 14 of Think Big English for architects. I'm your host Tara Cole, landscape architect and Communication Coach for ArchiEnglish. As part of my work at archy. English I coach people in the built design profession, who speak English as a second language to build outstanding communication skills, and to feel more confident to speak up, you can learn more about my coaching programmes at archienglish.com. If this is the first time that you've listened to the podcast, I suggest you go back to the beginning to find out what this podcast is all about. In today's episode, I want to share some of the things that I've learned. After reading several cover letters. Over the last 18 months, I'm going to share some of the good things that I've seen, but also some of the common mistakes that you can easily rectify to help your cover letter stand out. I also wanted to say before I started that I've really appreciated all the people who've reached out to me so far to say hello, and tell me how much they've been enjoying the podcast. So thank you very much for all your messages, I really appreciate them. And it's also very encouraging. It helps me to see that what I'm doing is really helping people out there. In today's episode, I'm excited to share a conversation I had with Rohisha Maharjan, about how you can connect your past experiences to make your cover letter stand out. Rohisha was a previous client of mine. And I met with her to record a testimonial. But as she was speaking, she was sharing so much valuable information that I wanted to turn it into a short podcast episode, so that you could listen to some of her ideas and what she was talking about. And I think you'll take a lot from this short conversation, especially if you are applying for jobs at the moment, or you are looking to it in the future. Now before we get into that conversation, I wanted to share some of my thoughts about some of the things that I see with cover letters, and what are some of the things that I think that you could include in your cover letters to make them even better.
1. Address them to the right person
So the first thing that I noticed with cover letters is that it's not addressed to the right person, or it's quite generic. So often I read letters where they address or the person they're addressing is 'To whom it may concern, or Dear Sir or Dear Madame. Now instead of being polite, like I know the person intended. What this actually says to me is that this cover letter is quite generic. So my suggestion to you would be to do your homework, call the company, or send them an email and ask who can I address my cover letter or my application to? So the more you do this, the more it gives you practice on the telephone but also understanding more about the company and what the company is looking for. So if you get somebody on the phone in that process, you might be speaking to the person in charge of the hiring of this person. So you can make an impression with this person. Now, if you're not sure, if you really can't find that information, try something like to the hiring manager of this practice. So it looks like you have made that effort to tailor your cover letter to this particular practice.
2. Not emphasising your opening sentence or paragraph enough
The next thing that I noticed is the opening sentence really misses that opportunity to connect with the practice straightaway or connect with the main person that is going to be looking at your application. Often I read opening paragraphs that state, I'm an architect or landscape architect, and I have this many years of experience. And I'm excited to apply for the position of architect or landscape architect. Now, this is probably what you read on the internet. And this is what you've seen in examples. But this is not going to make you stand out. It's exactly the same as what everyone else says. So what we want to start with is a sentence that's going to really create that connection to the practice straightaway in a way that makes you sound like a human and not a robot. So in the interview that we're going to do in a moment, Rohisha shares this perfect example of how she connected with the practice and I hope she doesn't mind me sharing An opening sentence that is slightly different to the one that she talked about, because, of course, she had tailored her cover letter for different practices. So I'm going to share this example with you.
I have always been fascinated by the simple residential dwelling and traditional architecture of Nepal, that plays with functionality, art and rich history, which drew me towards studying interior design. I grew up in a small town in Nepal with minimal knowledge of design. But arriving in Australia gave me a distinctive view on how design celebrates vernacular materials with this personal connection to your commitment to natural materials, and the local vernacular...
And I'm just going to leave it there. So I love that opening paragraph in her cover letter where she really tries to share an aspect of her personal story, and how it connects to the practice that she's applying to. And you can list all the other things underneath that. But that first paragraph is supposed to grab the attention of the practice that you're applying for.
3. Don't just recount your CV
The next thing that I noticed that happens very often is just the recounting of the CV. So in this recounting, there will be simple sentences with no insight or no learning. Now, in English speaking countries, we tend to be more explicit. So we really like to use signposting language. And we point things out very clearly. And very obviously. Now, this can be difficult to get your head around if you've come from a culture, which is much higher context. And when there's more reading between the lines, so often, I will hear things like, well, that's on my CV, so I thought that was obvious. It's already on my CV, why do I need to mention it again.
Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 06:53
So the thing that we need to be able to do in your cover letter is to, yes, state the obvious, but add a little bit more to that obvious. So that could be for example, a simple statement in the past or the present. And then follow this by more information. So let me give you an example:
I worked on various multidisciplinary projects at this office, or I have worked on various multidisciplinary projects, then follow this sentence with a what cause so that you can add more information. So in the show notes, I've got some examples of some what causes and what causes a good for this situation, because it's quite explicit. And it helps you to really emphasise what you're trying to say. So what that's what a what cause will do is that it places the emphasis at the beginning of that of the sentence.
What clause examples
So for example,
what this taught me was, or
what I gained or took from this experience was.... this helped me to understand, or this helped me to see that.
So these are good. These are good examples of how you can add more information to that the simple aspect of adding the information from your CV.
4. Not emphasising how your previous work experience helps you stand out
Number four would be not including how your previous experience helps you to stand out from others. Now, obviously, for a lot of the people that I work with speaking a second language is a big obvious to me. Some people don't necessarily see it as a positive, they can see it sometimes as a weakness. And they don't want to highlight this as an obvious weakness. However, the way that I see it is that you have this ability to speak another language. So it means you are adaptable, you can navigate life in another culture. And this already demonstrates to me that you have key skills that are really sought after. And that's things like determination, flexibility, productivity, and resilience, and also emotional intelligence, which is such an important 21st century skill. When you move to another culture, you understand the importance of language learning connected to emotion. So definitely try and see a way that you can use that past experience, use those past aspects of your life and how you can bring that into your next role. And we saw that in that example, that was in rubbishes cover letter.
5. Not connecting your skills to the practice
Mistake number five would be not connecting your skills, to the skills that the practice is looking for. So the thing about that is too we often will start the cover letter by saying this is how great I am. This is what I'm good at doing. And we might forget to put that information about what you can offer to them. And again, this is really important. For us to be able to use signposting and explicit language. So you've got to try and imagine that nothing is obvious. So imagine that the people that you are, that are reading your application letters, they, they need you to point these things out to them. And they need you to pinpoint exactly how your skills fit what they are after, and how you might fit the work ethic and the work culture that they are looking for. Now, you might not be able to hit the mark every single time. So you might not be able to connect to every single practice. But the more you do it, the better at it, you will become. The other thing that you can do to make sure you connect to the practice is to use more persuasive and emotive language. So when I say that, I mean, using more powerful adjectives, so insightful, meticulous, thoughtful, sophisticated, imaginative, as well as using powerful adjectives, you want to try and use as many powerful verbs and adverbs as possible. So for example, verbs dedicated, developing, building, transforming shaping, and adverbs thoroughly, but unbelievably ambitiously, and incredibly.
6. Cover letters show you care - include them
And finally, before we get into the interview with Rohisha, cover letters, for me really show that you care. Personally, I believe a cover letter, it shows that you care. Even if it's similar to an email, it shows that you have carefully considered all of your options. And you have made a really well-rounded application. So I think if you're not including a cover letter, you're missing out on a key opportunity to sell yourself. In that cover letter, you need to make sure you connect to their mission. You describe your personal story, your personality, and how it connects. And then also describe how your drive and your passion resonates with the company that you're applying for. The thing is, is you never know who is paying attention to what you have to say. And you'll see exactly what we're talking about in Rohisha's interview. Because it sometimes the most important thing is that you be yourself because it could be your next future opportunity. So let's get into the interview with Rohisha.
Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 12:28
Okay, well, thank you, Rohisha for joining me today. I absolutely appreciate you coming to share your experience. And yeah, sharing a little more about you. So thank you. Oh, good. My pleasure. All right. So before we start, can you let us know? Who are you? Where have you come from? And where are you now?
My name is Rohisha Mahajan. I came am from Nepal. I came to Australia in 2014. To study and I'm still here seven years.
Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 13:01
You lost it. You want to stay? Yeah. Yeah. Seven years? Yes. Okay. And before you came to Australia, what was your experience with English?
Um, experience with English, I used to watch a lot of English movies. And in my school, we had this rule where we had to speak English. In we had this captain in each class and in front of the captain, we always had to speak English. If otherwise, if the person caught us speaking Nepali, they would just write our names and give it to a teacher. And we will pay five rupees every time. Five rupee that was like a, it was like a punishment. But now I feel like that was actually good. And actually, I actually speak better because of that.
Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 13:53
So we've been speaking English, since we were kids. Okay, and so yeah, you feel confident when you speak English or, or you at least felt like you had a good background in English before you came to Australia.
Before I came to Australia, I thought I was good in English. But when I came here, maybe because of the accent, I was kind of scared to speak out. So I was always very low. And even at my work or university, everyone will say you were very quiet, you have to speak up. I was like, in my head I was speaking up. It's just that I was insecure about my accent or if I said something wrong, then they would they would be like, Oh, she doesn't really know what to say. So I would just be like very quiet and only speak when I have to speak but as time went by, and my practice just got better and better. Yeah. So when before you started, before you came to me, I should say, How did you feel about your English so what what is your degree in for example? My studies Bachelor's in interior design.
Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 15:05
Okay, so you had just finished your interior design
before? Yeah, I think before, before I met you, yes. Yes. Actually only finished. And I joined the architect project.
Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 15:18
And this room. Yeah. Okay, great. And so how did you feel about your professional English? I guess before you met me?
Professional English. Not so good. Even even in, in my uni. Because we had to do presentations, every single assignment. Even in the presentations, I used to be very scared. I did. We used to do presentation for each assignment. Six, three assessments, each unit three units each semester, but I was still not very confident doing all those presentations. For three years. I was still I was still doubting myself, I should say. Yeah. professionally. Yeah. Professionally speaking, like, design wise. I was still doubting myself. Okay.
Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 16:13
So when you came to me, what was your objective? What did you want to improve?
So when I first came to talk to you, I was actually looking for a job straight out of uni. And I joined the attic project, like I said, and there was this one person, I forgot his name. But he did say that you were like his mentor, and you're very good. And you also helped him with resumes, and everything. And I wasn't very sure about my cover letter and resumes. my cover letter and resumes. They were just, they looked really like a photocopy of something you find on the internet, so it was really not good. So I actually wanted help with that initially. So yes, that's when I approached you
Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 17:07
on LinkedIn. Okay, great. And what did we do together to help you improve your cover letter, improve your CV, and also prepare for an interview?
Um, I think I wrote one first. And then you corrected me you, I actually, you helps me bring Authenticity in the cover letter, I have to say. So, when I first wrote it, it was just like, just playing out of the internet. It was it just didn't sound anything like me. It was just like, English words to me. But, but you actually helped me express myself better in covered in the cover letter, which showed my actual personality instead of just just words, that sounded professional. You helped me bring myself in the cover letter, I should
Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 18:05
say. And you feel more like your cover letter. Now, if you send your cover letter out. It's more your personality.
Yeah, I think so. I think so. Now, when I read my cover letter, I think I actually wrote it myself. That's great. I was I was actually, yeah, I was actually even scared of writing the cover letter. But I specifically remember you saying that. My authenticity is actually a cost point. I used to think that me being an international mean, not being like an English speaker, would be like my minus point. But you helped me realise that I will never forget that. But you helped me realise that that's not my negative point. That's my positive point. And I have to include that. So when I started writing, I'm from here to here. And this was my childhood. I used to live here. So that's when the flow started. So I just started writing, all the things in the cover letter was very good. That's great.
Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 19:12
I mean, that's what I hoped for. That's what I want to see. Because, like you say, a lot of people think that that is the negative point, or that's the challenge for them. So we're trying to kind of flip it around and and help you to see that. That's part of who you are. That's part of your story. And it kind of adds richness to your cover letter.
Yeah. Yeah. I definitely used to think that was my that was a negative point. Hmm.
Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 19:38
So were you able to find a job?
Yes. Good. Yes. Congratulations. Thank you so much. They actually say that my cover letter was they I apply for one position, but they had already feel that and I think about three weeks later, they get back to me They said we really enjoyed a cover letter. He seemed like a very interesting person. So they actually gave me a job that they weren't even hiring for. Or maybe they just wanted me. Yeah. They just wanted me in their, in their company. And they hired me to do just like pricings and everything first, just like a bookkeeping first. But yeah,
Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 20:24
I got in. That's amazing. I mean, that's what I tell everyone, you know, you don't realise how important your cover letter is. Because it can be so memorable that people come back to it. And they if they want to hire you for something, they will come back to you. Yeah.
I think one most interesting thing that I wrote in that specific cover letter is I said, I told them that I love coffee. Yeah, yes. So we want to be one of the people who were in the interview, she specifically said, I loved that you wrote that you loved coffee. Because everyone here we love coffee. We have really big coffee culture here in this company. So I really love that you expressed otherwise, like, before, I wouldn't think about writing Oh, I love coffee in cover letter. I would think it doesn't really sound professional, you know, before, but then just expressing yourself. And that's what attracts people, I
Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 21:27
think, what gets them to see that you are a human as well as somebody with skills on their own, as well as the skills that you need for the job. You actually have a personality, which is great.
And a resume, not just Yes, skills, but you're actually someone who can, you know, add to their team,
Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 21:52
I suppose. Yeah. And is it? Is it true? Is it a coffee culture where you're working now?
Yes, we have the coffee machine. Everyone drinks coffee. There are only two people who don't drink coffee, I think. Yes. Just two people. And, yeah. And the director, he always brings coffees for everyone. In the meeting? Very Yeah.
Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 22:16
It was clearly the best thing you put in your cover letter then wasn't it?
Yes. Yeah. When our coffee machine broke a couple of weeks ago, I think. Yeah, I think a couple of weeks ago, a coffee machine broke and our manager was was not happy. I can
Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 22:35
imagine. Yeah. Okay. Well, it sounds like it sounds like sort of understanding more about your story. What are your positive points really helped you to? To see what what you really deserve in a job as well? Which is great. Yeah. Good. Okay. So something that we've spoken about. So we, we did a couple of sessions to help you with your job, finding job and selling yourself. But something that we spoke about a lot is you you do a lot of writing to help you improve your expression and how you feel about things. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
So basically, I'm an over thinker. So yeah, I think a lot. And so after I, after I graduated, I couldn't really find a job in design. So I was not really very healthy, I should say. So I started writing morning pages. There was a book I forgot what the books name, but it actually recommended writing three pages every single morning. Even if you don't like writing, just write it down. First few times, I actually really enjoyed it. And then after a while it started it was like it started becoming like a chore to me. But I still I still wrote it. So even if I don't have anything, even if my mind is empty, which is right, my mind is empty. I can see a cup in front of me. This paper is yellow, random stuff like that. Just random. And I would just feel three pages. So doing those three pages. Helps me clear my mind first thing in the morning. Even before I do anything, just get up and start writing no phones, no nothing. Three pages just helped me express myself more. Even if it's in Nepali sometimes sometimes even if I if I don't feel like writing in English. Just building that habit. Got me to writing every single day, three pages. And does that help with your expression when you're having conversations with people? Definitely do nailing because before I would be like jumbled a lot, I would want to say something. But then I would be like, I don't know how to say that. But then when you write it, you take your time while writing, you think of something. And then you can stop. It's not like talking to a person. And it's like quiet in the middle. When you're writing. If you don't know what you want to write, you can just stop. It's not like you're speaking to a person. So it's just writing it down. And then building that habit of writing, it actually helps you kind of talk, and it just flows. That's what I think that's that's my experience.
Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 25:42
Yeah, yeah. Well, for me, because you we spoke about this, as I was saying to you earlier, I was like, Yeah, I need to do this too. And I started doing it. And I've really started to see a difference as well. It's like, you write down your thoughts? Yeah. And the more that you do that, the more that it comes out naturally when you're speaking. And then sometimes I'm speaking, and I'm like, How do I know how to say that? It's because I've written it down. And I think, yeah, it's practice. And you've got to be I think you really have to not not be so strict, but be consistent. I think you just
be consistent. Even if you don't want to write three pages, just write at least one paragraph. Yeah. That's what
Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 26:29
I think that's been super helpful. So I'm very thankful to put to you for making that suggestion. Rosie tried it. And it worked for you, too. It totally works. My French teacher likes it too. She says, Well, I can see a difference.
Oh, that's great. Yeah, amazing.
Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 26:45
can I help you too?
Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 26:47
You did? You did? Well, I always say, my clients, I always helped me I always feel inspired. Or, you know, we share our stories, our experiences, and that helps each other. So speaking of speaking of helping other people, if you had to give somebody advice, who was in your situation, say wanting to look for a job, and not really knowing how to express themselves. And and also thinking about your writing, what would you say to them? What are some of the things that they could do to improve?
Improve, like improve in English or good? Yeah, yeah.
Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 27:27
Yeah. Like John looking for a job if English is their second language, and they're not as confident.
I think just build the confidence. I think just just do it without, without really thinking because I like I said, I'm an over thinker, I thought a lot about how to express myself without sounding Nibali. So to express myself without letting them know that I don't know how to speak English. But yeah, just practice and have confidence. Yeah, just say whatever you want to don't worry about how your how you sound, don't worry about your accent. Because I have actually realised, even if I, even now, even if I say something wrong, people don't really make fun of me. It's just in my head. It's just, it's just like, if I say something wrong, they will make fun of me, they will think that I'm not smart. But it's not like that people will, they will just understand and do would just go on with the conversation. So before I used to be afraid, now, even if I see something wrong, and like I say something wrong, not a big deal, because I'm Nibali, I'm not my first language is not English. So I, I'm okay, I should be okay to make mistakes. So when I think that, then I'm not afraid. I'm afraid to express myself. Even if I make 123 mistakes, I just speak. And then when I speak, even with my mistakes, people don't really see that that's a mistake. People just continue the conversation without stopping and saying, Oh, you said something. So yeah, that's I've learned that. Especially in this job, I tried to explain a lot of things even if something comes out of my mouth, which is not right. I would just say, I'm sorry, that wasn't right. I was doing better. So just don't be afraid of making mistakes. Don't be afraid of having a having an accent, I should say. Yeah. And in terms of getting a job. Like I said, authenticity is very important. It's actually it's actually a plus point. It's actually something that gives you your personality, your character thing, I think, displays where I work. There are no foreigners. Everyone is Australian. Well, one is American, but he's still Yeah, he speaks English very well. So it's just me. And, and I actually feel like, um, you know, like I add something to the team, I add diversity to the team. So, yeah, that's what I would suggest. Don't be afraid to speak confident. Don't think about anything, just be yourself and just speak and speaking even with your mistakes, that will just build up your confidence. And then you will keep practising. And that will get you better.
Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 30:34
Yeah, great. I love what you're saying. There's a couple of things, for example, you know, just communicating, communicating doesn't have to always be perfect and correct. It's just about getting your message across. And I think that's important when people are not really thinking, Oh, she said that wrong? Or she said this wrong? Why is she saying it like that? We have to kind of build up that trust with people to be able to, you know, be sure that what we're saying they're understanding, and that's okay. You know, that's, that's part of the process. And the second thing is the authenticity, isn't it? The be yourself and be proud of who you are where you've come from.
Yes, authenticity is important. Yeah, absolutely.
Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 31:19
I mean, that's, that's why, you know, when we first started speaking, and I, I wanted that to come through in your, in your cover that I wanted to know more about who you are. And as you said, Not, you know, not copied and pasted from the internet. Not that you did that. But you know,
not really no, I had that as an example on the side. And then I started typing, but I sounded very much like, the cover letter that I found on the internet. But yeah, I remember you, you seeing that, where I come from? And my background is very interesting. Sounds like maybe these interests? Yeah, sure.
Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 31:55
And I try to encourage that in a lot of people, we all have unique stories to tell. And it's about drawing upon those experiences and how you can connect them, you can get your past experience with your new experience, and I can add value. So I think that was really good.
People are always interested. If you're not like them. If you're like, different to them, then it's always I think it's always interesting to people. Yeah. You're thinking to understand. Because if you're not same as them, they want to know more about you. They want to know something new. So I think it's always, it's always good. Yeah. Okay, well,
Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 32:44
I think that that really helps to sort of explain how we work together. And also, how you feel now. Do you feel like now you've taken a lot of what we spoke about during our sessions, into your job
now? Yes, yes, it's good practice. Being confident having that authentic authenticity, not being afraid to speak out and explain what is in your mind, especially with being in this industry, especially being in design. A lot of it is expressing your ideas. So so I have to, you know, I have to be outspoken, I have to speak about things, and I have to explain things I have to talk about my ideas. And it's very important to be able to express. That's what design is. So
Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 33:39
yeah, yeah, so, so true. Well, I'm so grateful that you shared your experience. I think people will get a lot out of this actually. It's actually a great conversation for me too. Nice to hear how people feel afterwards and what it helps him get. So thank you very much. I appreciate it.
No problem. I hope people will like hearing me speak. I think they will, they will love it. So thank you very much. No problem. Thanks, Tara.
Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 34:09
Thanks again, Rohisha for the wonderful conversation. And for all the insights that you shared as well. I think it will be very useful for some people who are in a similar situation to you. And also thank you for agreeing to let me put it onto the podcast as well. If you enjoyed today's episode, please make sure you share it with somebody who might find it useful. And I look forward to sharing my next conversation with you very soon.
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