Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Cover Letters That Work Today

Why Write A Cover Letter?

Even if the job advertisement does not specifically ask or require a cover letter, you MUST (MUST MUST MUST!!) still write one or you are doing yourself (and your job search) a great injustice. You also don’t want to send off a generic cover letter to each position, but take the time to make it specific for each opportunity. A cover letter has many purposes:

- It shows the reader that you can write and communicate effectively and professionally, which is important to just about every field. Don’t put the term “Excellent communication skills” on your resume – SHOW it in your cover letter!

- It proves that you take the opportunity (and the reader) seriously and aren’t just blasting off hundreds of resumes to anyone holding a paycheck (even if you are)

- It gives you a chance to quickly communicate your specifically valuable attributes and interest in the position and/or company, and to mention anything that your resume may not

- It makes you stand out amongst those who did not take the application process formally enough to do a cover letter, and right now you need any advantage you can get to be noticed

Keep it Short and Get to the Point

Recruiters and hiring managers are being bombarded by 100’s of resumes for every job posting they put out there. It’s not like the good old days where you can spout off a 6 paragraph long essay and have it actually be read. It likely won’t. You also don’t want to give off the impression that you’re long-winded and will bore your manager and coworkers to tears, do you? The keywords nowadays are efficient, concise, and focused. Three small paragraphs are usually enough: Intro, Qualifications, and Conclusion.

Address it to the Hiring Manager

Whenever possible, find a way to hunt down the name of the person who will be receiving your resume. Search Google.com or LinkedIn.com. Call the company and ask (politely!). If the hiring manager and a rep from Human Resources are both receiving resumes, send them separate cover letters and resumes. The point here is to prove that you go above and beyond in diligence, pay attention to detail, and are very serious about this opportunity. It also gives you a contact to follow up with should you be able to find it.

Add Passion (But with a Grain of Salt)

Write your cover letter from the company’s perspective – what can YOU do for THEM. Why would THEY want YOU? That said, if you do have (or can come up with) a very passionate reason on why this is the one and only place you’d ever want to work, use that as an opener. Leave YOUR interest there only, and continue the rest of your cover letter focusing on what you can offer them.

Examples of some passionate openers:

“After seeing your posting for the Electrical Engineer position on Monster.com, I had to send my resume immediately, as your location is less than a mile from my home and I match the qualifications perfectly.”

“Being that I took care of my mother with MS, I found the Executive Assistant position with The MS Society an extremely rewarding opportunity, and have attached my resume in consideration.”

“Since I already eat, sleep, and live baseball, I can only imagine that being able to work as an Accountant for the Oakland A’s would complete my life.”

Spoon-feed Your Qualifications

DO NOT use the second paragraph of your cover letter to reiterate your entire resume or summary of qualifications. The hiring manager is already receiving your attached resume. Use this space to respond directly to the qualifications and desires the company communicated within their job advertisement. Pull out the ad and highlight the keywords they have chosen to use within it. Use these words when carefully crafting your description of why you’re the perfect candidate. You want to spoon-feed to them quickly and efficiently that you have the skill set and experience they are looking for. Also, DO NOT acknowledge any shortcomings in your skills or experience. Save it for the ‘weakness’ question in the interview, and leave it out of your cover letter completely.

The Closer

The conclusion paragraph is very simple. You want to add in a sincere thank you (“Thank you for your valuable time and consideration.”) and a follow-up.

If at all possible YOU want to become the one to follow up (especially so in ‘pushy’ fields such as sales or marketing). To do this you will need to 1.) Have (or obtain) a phone number or permanent email address for the hiring manager; 2.) Close your cover letter by telling them you will follow up within a few days to ensure that they received your resume; and 3.) Actually perform the follow-up as you said you would. If you promise to follow-up and don’t, you’re showing a lack of follow-through and organizational abilities, so if you’re not 100% sure that you will follow up, don’t say you will.

Obviously with the current employment market being so crazy, many employers are trying to hide their identities like they are ex-mobsters under the witness protection program, doing everything from posting blind ads and using one-time only email addresses. In this case, you may not have the option to follow up despite your highly developed (or not so) online sleuthing skills. A quick, “I am available at anytime to discuss further how I can contribute to your organization, and look forward to hearing from you.” Usually does just fine.

Proofread, Proofread, Proofread!

When you’re a hiring manager who gets 300 resumes for one job opening, the first thing you’re looking to do is narrow them down immensely, and immediately! Don’t let a small spelling or grammar mistake get your resume sent to the trash pile. I don’t care how great you think you are at writing, have a friend (or two or three) look over your cover letter and resume for you. I’ve seen spelling and grammatical errors on letters coming from editors and technical writers, so it can happen to anyone!

A second set of eyes can really mean the difference between the interview and the trashcan. If you’d like for me to look yours over, I can do so as well. Just make sure to email me your completed cover letter in .doc file format, as well as a link to the job you are applying for. It’s our pleasure to provide the service from the Livermore Public Library to you.

1 comment:

  1. Great post indeed about cover letter.proofreading is very important. thanks.