Just like the resume, first impressions really count. Your cover letter is intended to complement your resume in selling your brand; your professional background and experience so it will entice the employer into calling you for an initial interview. It formally introduces you and quickly tells your story.
In fact, the cover letter is the “instruction” page that tells you where to find the nuggets in the resume; it guides you to the spots in the resume that truly highlight your experience, knowledge and skill set that specifically match up to the job. That’s why it’s so important to have a well written cover letter; an art often lost in today’s environment.
You should think of a cover letter as a tool created and designed to accomplish three key things:
- Explain how you match up to the job opportunity – the how and why you match to the position and want to join the organization in this capacity;
- Illuminate and reinforce the key points in your resume; the key achievements that illustrate your match to the job and how you are the one to meet their needs; and
- Convey your communication skills and abilities: particularly your writing ability.
Much like the resume, the cover letter can be a powerful tool when properly written. It also requires a special effort in crafting and absolutely must be tailor-made for the specific position. Generic cover letters that aren’t customized can work against you. A generic, impersonalized letter demonstrates your lack of understanding, effort, true interest and enthusiasm, and conveys an inability to clearly articulate your point of view.
The cover letter allows you to customize your presentation to the specific job and employer by highlighting and reinforcing critical information in your resume. It’s your opportunity to underscore the key achievements in your career that will be of interest to the employer and will assist in getting an interview.
It also demonstrates your communication abilities. In an informal communication age where writing skills and style are often a lost art, a well written cover letter implies excellent communication skills; something that often translates into good speaking and presentation skills; a critical component in any job.
Your letter must be well written, look good and pleasing to the eye, and inviting and easy to read. Also, it’s a good idea to avoid using too many personal pronouns or sentences starting with “I” (i.e., I did this, I did that, I have, I this, I that, etc.). It’s a common mistake job seekers make starting nearly every sentence with “I.”
What’s more, you should work to limit your cover letter to one page or a concise two page document. Seldom is it necessary to go to two, but do so if appropriate. As a general rule, as long as you are clear and succinctly addressing key points, you may use additional pages if you have many, many points that require addressing.
To successfully compete in the job search today you must be able to demonstrate how you stand above all the others. The old business adage, “give the customer what they want” holds true in the job search effort.
The employer demonstrates what they need and are searching to “buy” (the product that best meets their needs) through job descriptions and performance objectives. In this case, you – the brand product – must sell the customer on your brand. To do so, you must produce a cover letter that achieves the three objectives previously stated in combination with your resume and other personal brand marketing materials as may be applicable.
To understand what the employer is seeking to buy, dissect the job description. The job description tells you exactly what the employer needs and is shopping for in the ideal hire. So it’s important to break down the job description and identify the key duties and responsibilities, as well as the required qualifications.
It’s pretty clear what this employer needs and wants to buy — a qualified candidate that can fulfill these duties and responsibilities. In an era when the number of applications pile high, keep in mind employers are looking for a shining sparkle; diamond in the rough, needle in the haystack, whatever metaphor you would like to utilize. A well written cover letter helps to show you as that unique individual and works to elevate you to the top of the pile.
So first and foremost, your cover letter must clearly and succinctly point out how you match up to the duties and responsibilities associated with the position. You can do this by reviewing how your professional background, experience and developed skill set address their specific needs.
To accomplish this, begin by identifying the position you are seeking and briefly explain how and why you believe you are a good match. Use the first paragraph to address the issue of why you are writing, which of course is in connection with the job (state the specific job you are applying for).
You might also explain your knowledge of the organization, its business, a comment on a timely issue of relevance to the position or company, or share an outstanding fact about your background that illustrates your abilities and connection to the business that would be particularly appealing to the employer.
At the outset you have stated your purpose for writing. It should also pique the reader’s interest in your background and desire to know more about you. Now move on to illustrate the key experience and achievements you have stated in your resume that also closely match up to the position. The subsequent second and third paragraphs should further explain the first paragraph by telling the employer what you have done and are capable of doing for their firm.
Don’t be solely limited to written paragraphs. If you believe several concise bullets will help illuminate or provide insight matching you to the opportunity, feel free to include those as well.
Use your last paragraph to sum up and invite the employer to talk with you so you can further explain how you match up and how you can specifically make a difference working for them. A good trick or rule of thumb is to stand back from the document for a moment. Think about it from the perspective of a third party reviewing it and matching it to the requirements of the job description, advertisement or performance objectives.
Finally, read your letter out loud and ask yourself if it reads well, sounds clear and does it accomplish the three main objectives stated above? And always proof read it yourself; don’t rely on spell checker. Typos demonstrate a lack of attention to detail. Make the final edits as necessary and feel confident you can send it off along with your resume. Then follow up within a day or two with the employer to see if you can arrange for an interview.