Cover Letters That Get Results
An effective cover letter can make or break your chance of landing a job interview and getting your foot in the door. If you want to maximize your job search efforts and minimize the time it takes to find a job, you need a strong cover letter.
The Value of a Strong Cover LetterWe've all heard that old adage you never get a second chance to make a good first impression. This couldn't be more true when it comes to getting an interview and landing a job. Your first impression is often what determines whether or not you'll even have the opportunity to tell your story and present your value proposition to prospective employers. Your first impression usually beings with your cover letter, so make it a good one.
Even if you've lined up an interview via an on campus recuiting center, or by networking through contacts, you're cover letter still counts. Prospective employers will review both your resume and cover letter prior to your interview to form a initial opinion about you. Some people believe that your resume and cover letter just aren't that important any more. This couldn't be further from the truth. At some point, a live person will review your resume and decide whether you're worth interviewing. A good cover letter will also help ensure that you're resume makes it on to someone's desk and isn't tossed in the digital waste basket.
True, some recruiters don't pay any attention to cover letters, but most do. Some recruiters won't even consider your resume if a cover letter isn't attached. Developing a strong cover letter ensures you're doing everything possible to land that first interview.
When a Cover Letter is CriticalWhile it's always a good idea to include a cover letter with your resume, there are situations where it's critical. Below we'll explore a few situations where you most definitely should use a cover letter.
When a Resume Isn't Sufficient
The first, and arguably most important situation where a cover letter is required, is when you need to communicate vital information that shouldn't be included in your resume. Resumes need to follow specific formats and rules. It's typically not a good idea to add explanations or personal information (relevant or not) to a resume. In addition, most hiring managers will only spend a few seconds reviewing your resume. Any additional information on your resume that falls outside of the norm is likely to be missed, or ignored.
The following are few examples of situations where it's important to include a cover letter:
- Career Transition - When you're making a career transition a cover letter can mean the difference between landing an interview and getting your resume thrown in the trash. Recruiters are always receiving resumes which are not relevant or qualified for the position. For professionals making a career change, it's vital to include a strong coverletter that explains the purpose for the career change and identifies transferable skills.
- Gaps In Employment - Resumes with big holes in employment history can leave a recruiter wondering. When you've been unemployed for an extended period of time, or out of the work force, a cover letter can explain why, and let a recruiter know that you've kept your skills up-to- date.
- When it's Requested - Sometimes employers will specifically request that a cover letter be submitted. If this is the case, you better submit a cover letter. Most employers aren't going to bother interviewing someone who can't follow directions. When submitting a cover letter at the request of a hiring manager or employer, make sure it includes the specific information they requested.
Our recommendation? When submitting salary requirements via a cover letter, do your research. The internet is now full of reputable websites that offer data on pay figures for professionals working in just about every industry, position and location nationwide. Find the average salary for the position you're applying to in the region where you plan on working, then provide a salary range that is slightly higher and lower than that figure.
Remember, salary information should be included in your cover letter, not in your resume.
When Referencing a Contact
A cover letter is the appropriate and ideal place to reference a mutual friend or contact you have at the company. Attempting to introduce a network connect via your resume is pointless. Resumes are reserved for specific, fact-based information relating to your work experience, achievements and qualifications. When referencing a network connection, it's appropriate to do so in the opening paragraph of a cover letter.
If you're interested in providing a hiring agent or interviewer with a list of professional references, put together a reference sheet that is separate from your cover letter or resume. This can be given to the interviewer following your initial interview. In your reference sheet, make sure to include the first and last name for each reference, the company they work for, their title and their contact information. You may also be interested in providing letters of recommendation. These can be provided to the hiring manager AFTER you've completed your initial interview.
When You Want to Show Sincere Interest
Cover letters are a great way to show an employer that you're really interested in working for their organization--and that you've done your homework. A well thoughout cover letter can go a long way to demonstrating that you're truly interested in a position and not just another job-seeker submitting your resume to every job posting. Before creating this type of cover letter, make sure to research the company and position you're applying to. Be as detailed as you can when addressing what interests you about the position and the company, as well as you're fit for both.
Developing a Cover Letter that Gets ResultsOnce you recognize the benefit of using a cover letter, you need to know how to develop one that gets results. How do you develop a cover letter that opens doors? What are the pitfalls you want to avoid? The following are simple, yet powerful, tips for developing a winning cover letter.
- No errors! It goes without saying that your cover letter must be free from grammatical errors. However, we suggest going one step further. Have someone else review and edit your cover letter. You may even consider having it reviewed by more than one person--especially if you're not the best writer. Errors in grammar or poor will greatly diminish (if not kill) your chance of an interview.
- No longer than one page. Your cover letter should be printed and extend no longer than one page in length. Be clear, succinct, and to the point. If you can't make your point in one page, then it's not worth making. If you're submitting your cover letter electronically or in the body of an email, make sure it can be read with minimal scrolling.
- Include qualifications. While you want to be brief and to the point, you also want the reader to come away with a desire to learn more about you and review your resume. Regardless of the specific purpose of your cover letter, make sure to work include your achievements and qualifications. We recommend including a few examples of things you've accomplished professionally that are directly relevant to the company and the position.
- Customize it. Generic cover letters are the worse type. In fact, obviously-generic cover letters can do as much damage as they do good. The best way to develop a customized cover letter is to start by learning everything you can about the company. If you can, find out who it is that will be reviewing your cover letter (usually a hiring manager or department head) and address the letter specifically to that person.
- Call to action. An effective cover letter ends by requesting a interview. Obviously you want an interview, but being proactive will move you closer to this goal. Also, asking for an interview when you've made a positive impression and have the full attention the hiring manager, allows them to mentally commit to giving you further consideration.
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