Aside from a resume, your cover letter is the most important job searching tool you must develop. A cover letter introduces you to potential employers and gives you the opportunity to draw the reader’s attention to particular skills and experiences. Done right, a cover letter can move your resume to the top of the pile. If you are not sure how to make your cover letter stand out, here are seven secrets that will get you started in the right direction.
- Make it personal. Do not address a cover letter to a generic being, such as “hiring manager.” While finding the correct addressee might take a little work, finding that person is well worth the effort. Call the company and ask to whom to send your resume. If the company will not give you a name, try to find out through other means, such as current employees or corporate Web site. Putting a real name on your letter will make it look more like an important piece of correspondence and less like junk mail.
- Get to the point. Your cover letter should never be more than one page, and once you include your return address and the company address, you do not have much space. That is why you need to let the reader know why you are writing immediately. If you are responding to an ad for an open position, mention that ad and position in the first line or two. If you have been referred by another individual, let the reader know that right up front.
- Show off your company knowledge. One way to get a hiring manager’s attention is by demonstrating that you have done your homework. Before you start writing your letter, research the company to learn about recent news and events, its financial status or any mergers or acquisitions. You can then incorporate this knowledge into your letter, particularly in the first paragraph. For example, you might start by mentioning a recent story you read about the company’s success expanding into an international market and express your interest in utilizing your experience in international business relations to help further the company’s position overseas.
- Answer their prayers. You can and should use your letter to give the company exactly what it is looking for. This means paying attention to job postings and descriptions and advising that you have the desired skills and qualifications. If the company has indicated it is seeking candidates with budget management experience, make sure you talk specifically about your experience, such as “I have experience in managing budgets of approximately $5 million and consistently achieving departmental financial goals.” Use your cover letter to point out exactly why you are a good fit. The best way to do this is by making it easy for the reader to come to the same conclusion.
- Show, don’t just tell. One mistake many people make on cover letters is saying they have certain qualifications without including any evidence to back up their claims. Are you positioning yourself as an individual with strong customer service skills? Include specific examples that speak to those skills. This may mean pulling out one or two accomplishments throughout your career and writing about them in detail in the second or third paragraph.
- Promise to take action. A cover letter is like any other aspect of job hunting – the squeaky wheel always gets the oil. Wrap up your cover letter with a promise to contact the company, and then back up your statement with action. Your cover letter is too important to end by just saying “I look forward to hearing from you.” Take the initiative by telling the reader, “I will follow up with you in the next week to schedule a convenient time for us to meet.”
- Read and read again. Are you tired of working on your cover letter? Do you feel like you have read it 100 times already? It’s always a good idea to read it just a couple more times to ensure that you do not have any typos, spelling or grammatical errors. Once you have exhausted yourself in the editing process, give the letter to a friend or family member to read. Sometimes, a fresh set of eyes can pick up on things that have been missed for ages.