Cover Letters - Make Sure You Have Them Covered!
Like icing on a cake, a shining cover letter can compliment a stellar resume and open almost any door, no matter how tightly it may be locked. But what is this elusive and often misunderstood document? More importantly, how can it be strategically used to leverage your skills?
First and foremost, a one-size-fits-most concept to your cover letter is a sure fire way to end up in Mediocre Ville. Companies want to know what specific skills you bring to the table; unfortunately, they also want you to spell out for them how you are a good fit for the specific job they are advertising.
Having a generic cover letter that never changes cannot begin to paint a picture of you as an ideal candidate for a particular, unique position.
But how does one even begin to write a cover letter? What should be included and what are the basic parts of a cover letter? Let’s examine the answers to these questions.
Step 1 – Preparation
As with writing any letter, the first step is to consider the purpose. That’s pretty obvious, to introduce yourself to the company, to let them know which position you are applying for, and to entice them to read your resume and ultimately to invite you for an interview.
The next step in letter writing is to consider your audience.
You will be writing to a business professional so the letter must be in a professional tone, free of spelling and grammatical errors. Even one misspelling can knock you out of the running! Avoid using gender-specific introductions such as “Dear Sirs” or generic terms such as “To whom it may concern.”
Instead, do as much research as possible to find out the hiring manager’s name or at least the HR representative or recruiter’s name and address the letter directly to them. If that is not possible then an opening such as “Dear Hiring Manager” will do.
Finally, look at the job lead or job description carefully to determine the most important requirements. Look for the things you think are most important to the hiring manager. Remember, read between the lines. Sometimes the things that may be most important to the company are not directly listed in the job lead.
If the need for some type of transferable skill or trait is inherent to that type of position, listing it in your cover letter can be a good marketing tool.
Step 2 – “Why Are You Writing Me?” The Introduction
The first part of your cover letter is your introduction. This first paragraph should list the reason you are writing (responding to an ad for example). The title of the job along with the publication you saw the lead appear in and a job code if one is supplied should also be included in the first paragraph. The last sentence should iterate your interest in the position and your confidence that you would excel in this role.
If you were referred by an employee or some other person associated with the hiring manager, this first paragraph is the paragraph to drop that name in. Let them know that you were referred by Mr. Jones in XYZ department.
Be certain to include the rest of the information above as well so there is no question which position you are applying for. This establishes an immediate familiarity and can greatly boost your chances for an interview.
Step 3 – The Body “What Can You Do For Me?”
One of the most important questions for the body of your cover letter to answer is “How do you meet or exceed the requirements I have spelled out in my job ad?” The company has a need for specific skills.
They have advertised these skills and have told the recruiter to be on the look out for the requirements the job lead spells out. Now it’s up to you to “lead the horse to water!”
One of the most effective ways to do this is to parallel the job requirements with your skills and experience, side by side.
If using MS Word you can insert a 2 columned table with the left column labelled “Your Requirements” and the right side labelled “My Qualifications.”
Take a requirement, whether directly stated or implied, from the job lead and put it in the left column (bulleted ideally). Then in the right column, create a bullet that lists how you meet or exceed that requirement.
Remember to quantify your responses as much as possible stating how much, how many, which one, what kind and to what extent. This will make your statements power-packed.
A good introductory sentence to this method is “My resume goes into greater detail regarding my job history and skills; however, I have listed some of my qualifications to parallel your job requirements.”
Note that this method works best for cover letters that will be faxed or mailed. For emailed cover letters you can dispense with the table and simply list those important skills, one after the other as bullets.
Step 4 – The Conclusion “Don’t Call Me, I’ll Call You”
Keep your conclusion simple. Express your interest in the position and reiterate that you are confident that you are a good match for this job. State that there are other accomplishments in your job history that may be of interest.
Finish by indicating that you will contact the person at a later date (usually next week) to determine next steps. End with a professional closure such as Best regards. Then follow up the letter with a call at the appropriate time.
Remember, your cover letter is an additional tool to entice the reader to want to know more about you, and thus read your resume. That lets the resume do its job of landing you the interview. Therefore, the cover letter should not be a restatement of your resume. Try for a fresh angle with the cover letter.
Use points that may not be as strongly covered on your resume. Use them as a team to back each other up.