When creating cover letters, a common mistake is to essentially use the same letter every time. Many applicants change nothing more than the name of the company. This is a bad idea and you can be certain that your generic letter is seen as such by those who read it. The other common mistake is in tone. As a general rule, formal is better. But this is not always the case, though it is a safe fall back position.
I’m going to assume you have done your homework and know enough about the job you are seeking to be specific in your cover letter. If you don’t have that information, then get it before you begin writing. You cannot craft a decent cover letter without specifics.
The tone of the letter will be dictated on the position you are seeking. The rule is that the more authority the position has then the more formal the cover letter should be and the more specific. You want the letter to be brief but complete. It’s important to highlight your skills in relation to the specific job being offered and to explain why you are perfectly suited to the position.
Of course you will address the letter to the person doing the interviewing. If you don’t know who this is, then just call and ask. Address him or her formally throughout your letter. Never shorten someone’s name unless given permission to do so. Save the informal and friendly approach for your friends.
When writing a cover letter you want to get your point across as briefly as possible while showing respect to the reader. The tone should always err on the side of formality.
If you were in a social situation, you would not go up to a person and start talking to him or her without introducing yourself. The same is true of applying for a position. Unless a position advertisement tells you to skip the cover letter, make sure you tell the reader who you are and why you are applying in an introductory cover letter.
A cover letter is not a regurgitation of what is on your curriculum vitae or resume. That is why so many potential employers may skip reading the cover letter unless they asked you to list specific information in it such as salary history or availability for work. However, you can grab your reader’s attention by making a bold statement in the first line of your cover letter. Instead of just listing the job for which you are applying and the fact that you are interested in it, tell the reader why the position is important to you. What piqued your interest enough about this position that you are taking time to apply for it?
The second paragraph of the cover letter should outline how your skill sets allow you to make a difference, to be successful in this position. What makes you the best person for this job? It cannot just be experience. Everyone else applying for the position should have relevant experience too. Your experience is already listed on your resume. How can you use your experience in a way to help this company or organization. Will it increase their bottom line, help them to be in compliance, see that they are more efficient?
Lastly, close with a statement on your desire to meet the employer to talk further about the position. Your interest should show strongly in every statement that you make in your cover letter so that an employer will feel obligated to talk to you, as if he may be missing out on the best candidate for the position if he does not interview you.
Cover letters seem to be difficult for people, even resume writers. Why is that? What makes a good cover letter?
Cover letters can be fun to write. There really aren’t many ‘rules’ to writing them. You can let your personality shine through. They allow you to positively present your skills, accomplishments, and credentials in a way that will encourage the reader to want to read even more about you (and then move on to the resume). There are lots of things I can get into in more depth (types of resumes, scope, presentation, who your audience is, etc.) but for now, I am just going to touch on the basics. In future posts, I will dissect cover letters more closely.
Here are some easy ideas to keep in mind when writing your cover letter:
- Make sure your intention is clear. In other words, what is the job you are applying for? Clearly state it. Don’t make the reader guess. You could say something like, “…and this is why my qualifications make me a perfect match for the Sales Management position”.
- Highlight your top achievements. You don’t have to rewrite everything you wrote in the resume, just summarize some of your top accomplishments. Wow them with what you have done.
- Add your relevant skills or qualifications. Let the reader know what you excel at and what you are capable of. This is a great place to talk about any extra credentials or training you’ve had that relate to the position.
- Write toward the position you are applying for. When preparing the cover letter, keep in mind the requirements of the position and add your qualifications that match them.
- Explain what it is you like about the company. Remember, you are trying to woo the company, so tell them what you like about them. Is it the reputation, products/services, location? Let them know why you like them.
- You are not writing your autobiography. Keep it short, simple and factual. You don’t need to go into why the last job didn’t work out, “…my boss had unrealistic expectations of the staff, so I decided to check out my options…:. Don’t air your dirty laundry or obvious dislike of your most recent employer. Keep it professional.
- Double check the entire document for accuracy, errors, and syntax. You don’t want to miss a great opportunity because you wrote, “Dear Hiring Manger”.
Another tip is to save that cover letter, copy and paste it onto a new document, and tweak it for another type of position you may be interested in. I encourage clients to have several “focused” cover letters for different positions they might have in mind. This way, if an opportunity presents itself, you are ready!