Cover Letter Best Practices 2012

Ah, writing the dreaded cover letter. The vital piece of the job hunt that almost no one enjoys. How can you possibly convey to an employer the depths of your awesomeness in just one page? Or, more importantly, what can you write to keep the reader engaged for the minute plus it takes to skim through one?

While writing great cover letters takes effort and practice, it’s imperative that you get that practice by a) including a cover letter with each application, and b) changing it for each job. No two jobs are exactly alike and therefore your cover letters should not be either. By tailoring your letter to the job you demonstrate to the reader both your understanding of the position as well as your desire to fill it. Speaking of the reader, always remember to address the letter to a specific person. Call the company, or check LinkedIn or the company site to avoid a generic greeting.

As a career coach, I always tell my clients that the key to writing a powerful cover letter is perspective. You have to put yourself in the position of the reader and think about what the employer needs to see in order to prove your value in the role. While you are writing, always keep this perspective in mind. Use the job description, both in terms of style and content, as well as other research on the company and position to suss out exactly why you are the perfect candidate. The following outline will make sure your cover letter actually contains this pertinent info:

1. First (short) paragraph–WHO are you?

This paragraph should grab the reader’s attention and announce your qualifications right away, e.g. “As a curator with over 10 years of experience building, producing, and executing art shows for my own gallery, I was inspired to see the MOMA’s posting for [X] position.” If a specific person referred you, make sure to drop her/his name in the first line. Getting a personal reference is the most important way to assure that your letter (and attached resume) will be read. This paragraph contains a quick sentence or two summing up your elevator pitch, e.g., “My extensive management training combined with a strong sales track record will allow me to immediately add value to your team.”

2. Second (longer) paragraph-WHY this job/company?

Here’s where you tailor the letter to demonstrate that you know why you want this particular position. Most job applicants skip this part completely! No employer will hire someone who can’t articulate what makes the job desirable, e.g., “Working as an engineer for [your company] would provide the exciting opportunity to innovate in a staid industry.” If you don’t express why you’re applying for this specific job, the letter will seem formulaic and have less of an impact. Even if you’re perfectly qualified for the position, the reader wants to see why YOU want this job. Explain to the employer how this job is suited for you as well as vice versa.

Do your research on the company and the particular role offered. Glassdoor and LinkedIn are helpful resources for research, but also read articles, talk to your network, and do your due diligence. This also ensures that you don’t waste your time applying to a job you never wanted in the first place.

3. Third (longest) paragraph-WHAT makes you a good candidate?

The real meat of the letter is in this paragraph, which communicates why you’re the best fit for the role. Remember the adage about writing, “show, don’t tell”? This portion is the perfect application of it. Instead of just listing your accomplishments, SHOW that you understand and appreciate the intricacies of the position by giving specific, translatable examples from your prior work. Something like, “By designing and orchestrating [x company’s] social media relaunch, I increased user engagement by [X] percent and drove traffic up by [X] page views. Some ideas I had for [your company’s] brand redevelopment include….”

Before you get started on this section spend some time carefully reading through the job description as well as any other ancillary research you’ve compiled on the employer and the job. Sometimes even highlighting the description line by line and taking notes about your correlating experience can be a productive starting point. Be sure to include the key terms mentioned in the listing.

4. Fourth (shortest) paragraph-SALUTATIONS and follow up details

The final section is where you summarize your qualifications, e.g., “Throughout my career, I have taken on diverse challenges and proven my ability to deliver positive results. I would be thrilled to further discuss the possibility of doing the same at [X].” In addition, be sure to offer references or other materials, state that you look forward to hearing from the company.

Now, about those resumes…

This article was originally published on GoGirl Finance.

Photo: markusspiske / Pixabay

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Given the rising popularity of online job applications, it is debated as to whether the cover letter is still necessary. You may not think so, especially if the job description doesn’t ask for one, but for career advisors and HR pros the resounding answer is yes; in a competitive job market the cover letter should not be overlooked. No matter what, your first step should always be to read carefully and follow the directions stated on the application. Following the rigid guidelines advised by your last career counselor, however, may not be exactly what hiring managers are looking for. If the directions aren’t specific, here are some essential guidelines to follow when sitting down to write your cover letter.

The Basic Structure of a Cover Letter

  • Start with an opening sentence or two describing why you are contacting the person, how you found them, and what position you are interested in (include a link if possible). If you have a connection to the company or were recommended for the position, this is the place to mention it. Never, ever use a generic salutation such as “Dear Recruiter” or “To Whom It May Concern” (or any of the 7 deadly phrases). Search the company’s homepage or LinkedIn for an appropriate contact. If you still don’t know who to contact, make a quick phone call and ask the receptionist for the name of the hiring manager.
  • State the top three reasons why you are right for the position. Keep the job description in mind as you are choosing your points and focus on what skills you know they are looking for. Find ways to highlight those skills using the experience you’ve acquired and list your most relevant accomplishments. Check out this example if you’re stuck at the first line.
  • Put in a little bit of personality but resist the temptation to tell a story. Too much fluff will put the reader into scan mode. Think of what skills you possess and include a link to your LinkedIn recommendations. Do your research and see if there are any connections that you can make with the hiring manager. For instance, if they attended the same university as you, a simple signature saying “Go Bobcats” could be enough to transform your cover letter from uniform to unique.
  • Wrap it up with a strong closing statement and the correct contact information. This is your chance to emphasize your interest in the position and to show off your enthusiasm.

 

Email Etiquette

Now that your cover letter is ready to go, make sure that it will be received properly. Certain conventions carried over from printed hard copy days don’t translate to email. While logical to attach your resume and cover letter as two separate documents, your cover letter will be better off pasted into the same document as your resume. Your application will probably be reviewed by a team of people, passed along via email, and the more attachments your application includes the more likely it is that some information will be lost.

Final Considerations

In some situations, especially if they did not ask for a cover letter or you’re applying to a smaller company, the best choice is to simply write an email cover letter. Given the choice, most hiring managers will open the resume before the cover letter which can lower the chances of your letter being read. Recruiters in particular are notorious for going straight to the resume and giving it a ten-second scan. So if you’re worried that some of your credentials are not evident qualifications for the job, be strategic and place your cover letter where people will see it!

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