A well written cover letter can determine whether you get an interview or not. Many job seekers struggle with writing cover letters. The following information may help you learn and perfect the skills of writing a GREAT cover letter that will stand out and increase your chances of getting an interview in this highly competitive market.
BEFORE YOU BEGIN WRITING YOUR COVER LETTER…
1. Understand your purpose – “The purpose of a cover letter is to provide an engaging personal introduction, to connect your unique qualities to the specific qualifications for the position, and to pique the employer’s curiosity enough that they want to look at your resume.” (Ed Hallenbeck, career consultant). Why should this company hire you?
2. Create a “diagram” of ideal skills and attributes – It can be difficult to “organize you thoughts about why you are applying and what makes you a good fit for each and every cover letter you write.” (Meghan Godorov, director of career development) A “Venn” diagram is one way you can determine which of your skills and attributes align with a specific job or employer. Draw two circles next to each other partially overlapping. Label one circle “YOU” and the other “EMPLOYER”. Now, fill the “EMPLOYER” circle with key words and phrases that are listed in the job description that describe their ideal candidate. Now, fill in the “YOU” circle with your skills and attributes. This exercise will help you identify which of your skills and attributes align with those of the “EMPLOYER”. Now place those items in the portion of the circles that overlap. These items will serve as the content of your cover letter.
Another “diagram” you can use is a simple list using three columns. In the first column write down a list of the ideal qualifications the company is looking for in a candidate. In the second column make note of how you meet or exceed each qualification. In the third column write a “story” of accomplishments that provides evidence of your skills. These “stories” can serve as content for your cover letter.
3. Research, research, research! – “Your resume is customized to a career, your cover letter is customized to a position.” (Hallenbeck) Putting time into researching the company and specific position is crucial when writing a cover letter. Showing that you have done your “homework” goes a long way in the application process.
DURING THE WRITING PROCESS…
1. Be specific and show initiative – When writing your cover letter, address the company formally and outright. Direct your cover letter to a specific person (you can use the internet or call the company directly to get the contact person’s name and title.) This will show the employer your initial interest in the position and your seriousness as a candidate. Remember, the point of a cover letter is to persuade the employer that you are the best candidate for the job so be clear and concise when asking for an interview. Providing detailed contact information is key to clinching your spot as a viable candidate and assuring an interview.
2. Use key words and phrases when referencing your qualification and past experience – When writing your cover letter, identify the key words and phrases from your “diagram”, the research you did on the company and its job postings. Incorporate these key words and phrases in the descriptions of your skills and experience of your cover letter.
3. Avoid over-selling yourself – Your cover letter should portray you as a skilled candidate and show how the company will benefit from your expertise. You want to come off as confident, not cocky. Rephrase most of your sentences that begin with “I” so that they reflect the company instead. You want your cover letter to reflect the needs of the company, not yours.
4. Address the company’s values – Companies want to hire someone who will be a good fit and can help them attain their goals. They want to know why and how you will add value to their company. Customize your cover letters to every job application using the research information you acquired to focus in on that companies specific goals, mission statement, etc… In doing so, you will be expressing how you will address their needs and not fulfilling your own needs.
5. Scrap “generic” phrases and be original – Remember, your writing represents you, so choose your words carefully. If you take the time to be creative about the words you use, it’s a reflection of your writing and your attention to detail. In today’s competitive market you need to use “alternative” ways (when appropriate) to make yourself stand-out from the rest. The use of social media, blogs, marketing events, links to online profiles (Linkedin), videos, testimonials from previous employers, can all be used on your cover letter.
Cover Letter Checklist:
WONDERING IF YOUR COVER LETTER IS THE BEST IT CAN BE…? CAN YOU ANSWER YES TO THE QUESTIONS BELOW…?
• Does your cover letter have a strong opening paragraph, communicating your job target and key strengths within the first few lines of text?
• Does your cover letter conform a standard business letter format?
• Is your cover letter addressed to a specific individual?
• Does the body of your cover letter express how you would benefit the employer if hired?
• Do you avoid starting every sentence with “I” or “my” so you can focus on the employer’s needs and not your own?
• Do you demonstrate your expertise by using industry specific language and key word and phrases (discussed above)?
• Do you include example of your accomplishments so employers can see you have a proven track record?
• Is the content engaging and relevant to the employer’s needs? • Is the cover letter succinct, containing just enough information to entice the reader to review your resume, to interview you?
• Did you include all information that was requested in the job posting?
• Does your cover letter sound genuine? Does it reflect your personality and make you seem likable and approachable?
• Is the content unique and original?
• Did you proof-read your cover letter to ensure that it is free of grammar, spelling, syntax and formatting errors?
• Does the writing style and design coordinate with your resume?
• Did you provide an easy way for employers to contact you, such as direct phone line, email address and links to social media (if applicable)?
• Does your cover letter end with action, confidently requesting an interview?
• Did you remember to sign you letter if mailing a hard copy?