Recently, I was helping out both my daughter and a friend with the job application process. During this period I was reminded of how the focus among most job applicants is almost entirely on the resume or cv. Most often, the cover letter gets lost in the rush to apply, treated as an “annoying” last minute must-have afterthought. I think this is a fundamental mistake that a lot of job applicants make.
After all, the cover letter is normally placed on top of the resume or cv; it’s the first thing the recipient sees. So, if yours is poorly written, shoddily formatted, or obviously deficient in any other way, you have already sabotaged yourself before the reader even glances at your resume. (By submitting a weak cover letter, you’ve already told them something about yourself that is less than complimentary).
A few years ago I put together an article that listed a number of tips to help people write better cover letters. I’ve revised and updated it a bit for the new version which follows…
Remember: resume cover letters are used for one purpose only — to convey a resume or curriculum vitae to a prospective employer. The most common mistake I see in cover letters that are sent to me for editing is that many tend to repeat verbatim almost exactly what the attached resume or cv already contains.
A resume cover letter should be a concise one-page summary that introduces you, explains why you are writing, summarizes your key skills, abilities and experience (as they relate to the specific job at hand), and asks the recipient to get back to you. Its main purpose is to capture the attention of the recipient enough to get that person to look at the attached resume with interest.
When drafting a cover letter for a resume or cv, there are a number of important rules of thumb to adhere to, as follow.
1. Address It To A Specific Person
Even when sending an unsolicited resume to a company you should take the time to find out the name of the appropriate person and write the letter to that person. At least it will reach their office. Resumes sent to “Dear Human Resources Manager” or “To Whom It May Concern” are almost always a waste of time. Name someone specifically and it will at least make it into an in-basket. (Sometimes you will be given a specific name or title to which you should address your letter).
2. Keep It Short and Focused
Remember, your resume already says it all. Keep the letter short and focused and don’t repeat verbatim what is already in the attached resume or cv. NEVER exceed one page in a cover letter.
3. Be Enthusiastic
Express your interest in the job and the new company with enthusiasm. Show that you really want the job, and that you would really like to work for that particular company.
4. Focus On Needs Of the Employer
Throughout your cover letter make it clear that you are interested in the needs of the employer. You are there to help them. You are part of the solution. Try to make this the subliminal message of your entire letter.
5. Show That You’ve Done Your Homework
Demonstrate a good knowledge of the company and industry for which you are applying. A one-liner, or a phrase or two in the appropriate place in your letter that shows you are interested in that company, and you understand the problems it faces, will give you instant credibility (i.e. do some simple Internet research).
6. Use the Appropriate “Buzzwords”
Every organization has its own ways of doing things and its own lingo. Look through key documents such as annual reports, corporate websites, etc. Try to spot key words, terms, and phrases that are often repeated. Every company has them. Use as many of these “hot buttons” as you can in your cover letter – where appropriate, of course. For example, if the “Message From the CEO” in the annual report mentions the phrase “action plan for the future” three times, make sure you work that term into your cover letter in an appropriate place. Don’t overdo it, of course.
7. Summarize Your Skills and Abilities
If possible, without making the letter too long, summarize your overall skills and abilities as strengths; listed in bullet-point form. This can make them stand out in a way that they wouldn’t, if they were buried in the resume or cv. Try to relate them directly to the requirements listed in the job ad or poster.
8. Promise To Follow Up
In the final paragraph, clearly state that you will be following up by telephone in a few days to see if you can answer any questions. Make sure you do this. Industry experts say that over 80% of people never do this crucial follow-up and just wait for the phone to ring.
9. Get It Right
Make sure that your cover letter is free of spelling and grammatical errors. Allowing those types of mistakes to creep into your one page cover letter is a major credibility destroyer. Sloppy and unprofessional are NOT the first impressions you want to give to the reader before they even look at your resume.
The challenge of course, is to try to address all of these points in a four or five paragraph letter. It can be done!
To see a fully-formatted “real-life template” of a resume cover letter, click on the following link:
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