What is the purpose of a cover letter? I can tell you what it ISN'T. It isn't to convince the hiring manager to read your résumé because you are a good person and need to work for them. The cold, hard fact is that hiring managers read résumés because they are required to if they have a job opening; they don't like reading through hundreds or thousands of résumés to find that one perfect person for the job.
A cover letter should be a Master Marketing Tool. It should leap out of the stack and let the hiring manager know that HERE is a person who knows the company, and can do the job for the company better than anyone else can!
How can your cover letter do that? Here are a few suggestions for writing a cover letter that will get read--and will get you the interview. (Of course, your résumé will need to reflect the experience they need too!)
- Research the company you want to work for. Visit their Web site, or go to the library and find out as much about it and its product or service as you can. Mention one or two things in your cover letter that lets them know that you are familiar with the company.
- Do you know of some challenge they are facing that your previous experience can help them resolve? Tell them so! But don't just "say" you are an expert. Give them a specific example of how you have helped a past employer solve that same problem. Expend some effort into offering a "free" solution. Simply stating that you "could" solve something IF they hired you will not get you an interview.
- Make a bullet point list of two or three of your most significant accomplishments and achievements. Be specific and brief. That sounds like a paradox, eh? Do it anyway! Don't just cut and paste these from your résumé. Choose the ones that are highly relevant to the company you are applying to.
- Show your enthusiasm about the job. Avoid sounding like 90% of applicants, who say (not in so many words): "Give me a job where I can advance and make more money." Instead, convey this: "I'm excited about the possibility of bringing my skills to work for you."
- State that you will follow up to schedule an interview. If you politely inform the reader that you'll be calling within a few days to answer any questions and schedule an in-person interview, you set yourself apart from the crowd with your determination and confidence.
- Keep your letter short and focused. Most letters ramble on in excruciating detail for one or even two full pages. Show respect for the limited time your reader has and limit yourself to four, five or six paragraphs at most."
That ideal company that you'd really like to work for is the same company that a hundred others are sending résumés to. Keeping these tips in mind as you prepare your cover letter may mean the difference between having it read or having it filed in the "round file" along with your résumé!
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This article was submitted by Terri Robinson, the President of Robinson & Associates, a woman-owned recruiting company that specializes in sales and marketing professionals. Terri has been published in Arizona Women's News, Arizona Reporter Online News, Phoenix.About.com, interviewed by Recruiting Trends' Newsletter for their Extreme Recruiting column, and by SmartMoney Magazine.