If you think no one really reads cover letters, think again. First impressions count, and youris usually your introduction to a company. If your cover letter is not written well, chances are you will not get a second chance to make a good impression.
Cover letters can tell a prospective employer a lot about a person. The cover letter reveals:
- Your communication skills
- A brief overview of your experience and qualifications
- Some indication of your personality
- Your attention to detail (i.e., are there errors or typos?)
Before you can make a good first impression, you need to be clear on your ultimate goal. The goal of writing an effective cover letter is to help you stand out from the crowd. Simply put, you want yourto be among the four or five plucked from the stack of resumes on the hiring manager’s desk. The following tips should help make this happen.
Make the Letter Personal
“The likelihood that the reader will get past the salutation is very slim, particularly if ‘he’ is a she,” says Pam Hoey, human resource manager for Cambridge, MA-based Product Genesis. Hoey placed this one at the top of her list of cover letter “no-no’s.” Women make up a significant part of the workforce. They don’t want to be discounted.
If you are unable to find out the name of the hiring manager, then keep your salutation generic. Try starting off with “Dear Sir or Madam.” This way you will have covered all of your bases.
Keep It Brief and to the Point
Megan Caradonna, regional human resource manager for ATC Associates Inc., headquartered in Woburn, MA, has seen a lot of cover letters in her day. Her advice to job seekers is to keep the cover letter brief and to the point. Caradonna recalls receiving a three-page cover letter. “I don’t have time to read someone’s life story,” says Caradonna. Guess in which pile that person’s resume landed?
Avoid turning your cover letter into your resume. Because space is limited, don’t try to respond to every item on the employer’s wish list. Caradonna suggests that job seekers use the cover letter to clarify any discrepancies they may have between experience and the job requirements.
It’s About the Company’s Goals
Emphasize what you can do for the company, not what it can do for you. Cite successful projects that you have worked on that parallel those listed in the posting. Your goal and objective are to show how you can help the company meet its goals and objectives.
Ego Versus Confidence
Don’t be modest. Actively sell yourself and your accomplishments. Tell the company why you are the best candidate for the position. Don’t worry about being too egotistical – just convey yourself as confident and capable.
Avoid the Pitfalls Up Front
You want your cover letter to stand out – but not because of a mistake. Be sure to avoid these common errors:
- Get the company name right. Hoey recently received a cover letter with the company name spelled wrong and didn’t read “past the first sentence on that one.”
- Proofread your work. Spelling errors guarantee your letter gets tossed aside. “In this day and age there should be no typos in your cover letter and resume,” says Caradonna.
- Check the grammar. Grammatical errors are another sure way to wind up in the wrong pile. If necessary, have a friend review your letter.
- Keep the letter length reasonable. A very short “Hi there, here’s my resume” will indicate that you are lazy. Conversely, a painfully long letter will never be read. Neither type of letter conveys the appropriate impression.
- Don’t tell the reader you will be stopping by next week. Show some respect for people’s time. Don’t come in without a scheduled appointment.
A strong cover letter does make a difference for your job application , so be sure to take this part of your job search seriously. A strong cover letter will help you get interviews. Interviews will help you land a job that you are interested in. And that is the ultimate goal of any job search.