The job market is very competitive, with many determined applicants competing for the same job openings. Employers won’t even consider reviewing your resume, if your cover letter doesn’t grab their attention.
Your cover letter is the first thing potential employers see and if your cover letter is not interesting, concise, and error-free, it will be the last thing they see; they won’t even bother glancing at your resume. You have just a few seconds to make a good first impression, so do not submit lengthy, rambling cover letters to prospective employers and headhunters.
Your cover letter should be three to four paragraphs. The first paragraph states the specific position that you are applying for and mentions where you heard about the position. The next two paragraphs summarize your unique qualifications for the position, and how your accomplishments and achievements will benefit the company. In the last paragraph, explain how you plan to follow-up with the potential employer, and the best way they can contact you. Close the cover letter by thanking the prospective employer for their time and consideration.
1. Tailor Your Cover Letter for the Position
Avoid using a template form letter and only changing the company’s contact information on your cover letter. If you do this, you will be one of many people using almost the exact same form letter, and your generic cover letter won’t stand out from the other letters.
Instead, determine the job responsibilities and explain in the cover letter how your experience, achievements, and education are relevant to the position. Also, if possible, address the letter to the person who reviews the resumes, not “To Whom It May Concern.”
Don’t use humor unless appropriate for the position. If the job description asks you to highlight specific information about your qualifications in the cover letter, make sure this information is easy to find.
2. Share Your Experience
A cover letter lets you really show your personality and put your experience in context. Your cover letter should read almost like a short story about why you are a perfect fit for the position and company. Make your letter enticing by using words and phrases that evoke imagery and emotions. By adding some personality, your cover letter won’t come across as a form letter.
Don’t overstate your abilities or embellish your work history; write honestly about your relevant experiences and your ability to do the job.
3. Highlight Relevant Skills & Experience
In this tough economy, many individuals have branched out, applying for jobs outside of their normal area of expertise or industry. Show the interviewer how your past experience can help you perform at the company.
For example, an employee can learn the jargon and ins and outs of an industry, but the employer might not have time to teach a new salesperson how to sell. If you currently work as a lumber sales representative and you apply for a sales position in electronics, your cover letter should demonstrate to the potential employer why you have deep experience selling, instead of highlighting your experience selling lumber. You can learn more about a potential employer and the industry by taking the time to research companies.
4. Do Your Research on the Company
When you research the company, you can gain insight into their mission, products, services, and strategic goals. This information helps you answer the inevitable question, “Why do you want to work for us?” Explain in detail how you, your experience, and education can add value to the company, and how and why you will be a good fit.
5. Bring Attention to Your Resume
Your cover letter must encourage the person reading the letter to read your resume. So subtly tell them to read it (e.g. “The classes I have completed are outlined in my resume”). Give one or two cues in the cover letter that send the reader to your resume. You’ll also want to learn how to write a great resume.
Use spell check but remember that it does not catch the misuse of words (e.g. to vs. too vs. two, whether vs. weather, and write vs. right). Have a family member or friends proofread your cover letter for errors and provide you with feedback on the overall flow. Before you send the letter, take a break or sleep on it. That way, when you return, you can review your cover letter with a fresh perspective.