Cover letter strategies
In a nutshell, your cover letter should say, "I'm the right person for the job. I have unique skills and experience that will help your company right away. I hope you're as excited about this as I am".
The accompanying resume should then prove your case.
Put another way, the cover letter is the advertisement for your resume.
An effective cover letter establishes an immediate bond between reader and job applicant. It should demand attention and arouse enough curiosity in the mind of the reader to ensure that your resume is read thoroughly.
Six things you must do in your cover letterTo get your resume read, and to get that job interview, your cover letter must do the following:
- Focus on the needs of the employer and how you would solve her problems, contribute to her bottom line, etc. Employers have problems. That's why they're hiring! Your cover letter should say (although not in so many words): "I'm the answer to your problems."
- Display knowledge of the hiring company. With the wealth of company information now available on the Internet and most public libraries, you should be able to drop one or two facts/names into your cover letter that show you've done your homework on the company and it's specific products, needs, challenges, etc. Most job applicants simply ask for a job. If you can offer specific suggestions that will work right away for a company, they will call you.
- Briefly state your best qualifications AND achievements. Don't spend a lot of time rehashing your resume. But do include enough tidbits to generate interest in the mind of the reader. Because cover letters and resumes do get separated (I know this from experience!) it's important to write a cover letter that will make readers want to pick up the phone and call you even if they've never seen your resume.
- Show your enthusiasm about the job you want. Avoid sounding like 90% of applicants, who say (not in so many words): "Give me a job where I can advance and make more money." Instead, convey this sense: "I'm excited about the possibility of brining my skills and expertise to work for you." This should be the main theme of your cover letter.
- State that you will follow up to schedule an interview. This is not considered rude by employers. Far from it. If you politely inform the reader that you'll be calling within a few days to answer any questions and schedule an in-person interview, you set yourself apart from the crowd with your determination and confidence. Your persistence will pay off, eventually, in an interview for the job you want. And an interview is the goal of every cover letter.
- Keep your letter short and focused. This is perhaps the biggest challenge of all. Most cover letters, even those done by professional resume writers, ramble on in excruciating detail for one or even two full pages. Show respect for the limited time your reader has and limit yourself to four, five or six paragraphs at most.
Four mistakes to avoidTo avoid being tossed in the "circular file", there are some things your cover letter should never do.
Here are four of the most common mistakes to avoid:
- Don't start off slow. Far too many cover letters take one, two or even three paragraphs to warm up. Start yours with a bang, like this: "I'm applying for the position of Caretaker at the Troy location of White Tower Apartments, as advertised in the Daily Tribune." Here's an easy way to find your best opening. First, write a draft copy of your letter. Second, look down the page for a concise statement that gets right to the point. Now, cut out the preceding text. Voila. You now have a powerful beginning for your cover letter.
- Don't talk about your career goals. Avoid statements like, "I seek a position where my skills will be utilized and recognized with further advancement." This selfish attitude will turn off more readers than it will ever impress. Besides, if you've done your homework, you'll only be applying to companies that recognize and promote ability. Don't waste the reader's time by making demands before the two of you have ever met.
- Never, EVER mention salary. Even if the classified ad requests a salary history. Reason? Employers use salary histories to screen out candidates who are too expensive or not experienced/sophisticated enough to have made enough money previously. Including a salary history can only hurt your chances. It can never help. Solution? Include these five magic words near the end of your letter: "My salary requirements are negotiable".
- Never mention why you left a previous job. Some people feel compelled to explain why they stayed so long (or so briefly) at prior jobs. Don't. Prepare your answers for any hard questions about your employment history... then save them for the job interview. This is no time for confessions. Don't include anything in your cover letter that could result in doors being closed.
Printing your cover letterWhen it's time to print your cover letter (using a laser printer only!) feel free to use standard white typing paper. That's what I've done for my clients since 1995. While you use heavier stationery that matches your resume, the cover letter is really a different document doing a different job. As such, it's perfectly acceptable to use a different, lighter paper.