In my last article we discussed essential tips for your resume. Let us now discuss the dreaded cover letter…possibly the most stressful part of getting an employer to notice you prior to reviewing your resume. What do you need to do? For starters, you need to engage the employer, in the most professional manner, into noticing you. At the same time, you need to tell the employer what makes you a candidate worth interviewing. The cover letter, if done right, can get you to the next stage.
So, what makes a winning cover letter?
- Knowing how to address the letter. Too often cover letters contain the basic greeting “To Whom It May Concern.” This is unimaginative and anonymous. Do you even know this is going to the person who can make a good decision for you? Take some time and do some research. It could pay off in big way for you. Take the time to find out where to send the resume, and who is in charge of filtering your application. Address your letter to that person. You will already be ahead of the “To Whom It May Concern” crowd. Also, you will have shown initiative in tracking down the department and the person in charge. If you cannot find out the name, then simply state, “Dear Hiring Manager” and put the particular job you are looking for as a heading such as Re: Position for Executive Assistant. Taking some time with a cover letter could get you the job.
- Introduction. This is a tricky thing to navigate. You want to attract the employer’s attention but you do not want to sound either boring or arrogant. So do not put in “I am the best candidate for this position” or “Look no further than me for this job.” Really? This type of statement is unprofessional, arrogant, and suggests that you may be a problem when it comes to training, coaching, and teamwork. You want to be straightforward and professional. You should open by stating the obvious: “Please accept this cover letter and resume as application for the XYZ position currently opened with XYZ.“ Then you can state who you are currently working for and why you would like to apply for this job.
- Key Words. Do not try to frontload your letter with every keyword that you think the employer wants to hear. Just try to be yourself. Describe your talents and experience and do not waste anyone’s time.
- Points of Interest. What makes you the best candidate for this job? What are you bringing to the table? This is where you want to include about six or seven bullet points regarding your attributes and qualifications that will establish you to be the candidate of choice for an upcoming interview.
- Recognized for managing multiple concurrent projects
- Track record in supporting the efforts of executive-level staff, including presidents and senior management
- Inclusive problem-solving skills including analysis, troubleshooting, reporting, and follow up.
(Those are just a few, but obviously you have covered a lot of information without having to explain everything in a long-winded paragraph.) Also, you have been direct and straightforward. If those skills fit with your experience, the employer will be interested and will move on to your resume.
5. Closing the Sell - Yourself. Do not seize failure from the jaws of success. Be yourself. Do not be repetitive. Do not beg or plead (even if you have been out of work for a long time). Remember, you are supplying value to the employer. Do not repeat all your contact information which the employer already has. Instead, you should end your letter with the following: “In closing, I believe an interview may assist you in exploring my qualifications and experience further (or words to this effect). Thank you for your time and consideration.” Be precise and to the point.
So, you have your cover letter complete. There is probably so much more you want to put in, but remember that ‘less is more’. Do not inundate the busy employer. It should be just enough to whet their appetite. Remember, your resume has additional information and, if you are brought in for an interview, you have a chance to give the employee even more.