Maximizing your cover letter’s power

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resume_yeahLike peanut butter and jelly or bacon and eggs, résumés and cover letters go hand-in-hand. Although both pieces are valuable on their own, they pack the most punch when served together. But while all job seekers know the importance of a well-organized résumé, many don’t understand the power of a strong cover letter.

In addition to reinforcing key skills and experience, a cover letter demonstrates your desire to work for the employer and the specific ways in which your expertise can benefit the firm. More importantly, it helps differentiate you from other job seekers and provides incentive to contact you for an interview.

Even if composition isn’t your forte, you can still create a killer cover letter. Here’s how:

1. Know your stuff.
Before you begin writing, learn as much as you can about the potential employer. Visit the firm’s Web site and scan industry publications to familiarize yourself with recent news about the company, such as quarterly earnings, and to learn about future plans, like expansion into new markets. The more you know about an organization, the better you can tailor your cover letter to the firm’s needs.

2. Personalize it.
Never begin a cover letter with “Dear Sir or Madam” or “To Whom it May Concern.” Correspondence with generic salutations often signal to potential employers that you lack the initiative to locate the appropriate contact. If a job listing does not include the name of the hiring manager, call the company’s receptionist and explain the position you are applying for to see if he or she can help you fill in the blank.

3. Start strong.
A good cover letter begins with a powerful opening paragraph. Your goal is to briefly describe how you heard about the position and why you’re interested in it. Skip cute introductions: “Teamwork is my middle name” or “I am smart as a whip,” for example. A “catchy” opening can appear stilted and insincere and offers little, if any, value to the piece.

4. Offer an enticement.
The body of the letter should expand upon — not simply repeat — the key points in your résumé. Highlight those skills and experiences most relevant to the job opening and provide concrete examples of how you can benefit the company. For example, if you are applying for a management position, share how turnover within your department decreased by 20 percent during your tenure. Or communicate how your attention to detail and ability to adapt quickly to new environments allow you to deliver first-rate client service.

5. Be bold.
In addition to expressing gratitude for the hiring manager’s time and interest, close your letter by outlining your next steps. Be proactive by stating when you will contact him or her to follow up. Doing so is a great way to reinforce your enthusiasm for the job. However, don’t forget to include a phone number or e-mail address where you can be reached in case the firm wants to get in touch with you first.

8 Comments
  1. MSW with over 20 years experience in mental health, hx of working as a med/surg social worker, emergency room trauma social worker, child welfare experience, criminal justice experience, mental health delegate for the City of Philadelphia for approimately 14 yrs, supervisor for social service dept at large inner city psychiatric hopital,
    Dutied include: psychosocial assessments, casemangement, discharge planning, crisis intervention, manning the suicide crisis hotline,maintaing accurate case notes, being a member of multi disciplinary treatment teams, developing individual treatment plans, coordinating mental health court cases, approving/ denying 302 involuntary commitments, having a knowledge base of community resources, networking with community agencies to obtain collateral data, facilating individual /group therapy , searching for full-time /part-time position a a hospital, nursing home, adoption agency , mental health centers. – health benefits not needed.

  2. I fully agree with the content of your post.

    I have been defending the value of a cover letter for 15 years now, but since the arrival of email sendings it has become even rarer.

    Regards,

    Luis

  3. Pingback: Do Mistakes on Résumés and Cover Letters Matter? « Customer Service Jobs

  4. I work in the aerospace defense industry (waged-labor type work).

    I’ve found that though most of the contractors with literally 1000s of jobs across the nation are very good at publicly posting them on their individual corporate websites via their career recruiting pages, these same contractors are notorious for blocking access to the names of the actual recruiter within their organization to whom the job to which you are after has been assigned as part of their “account.” Great lengths are gone to.

    Now, even once your resume makes it to one of these in-house recruiters via ATS, often enough, he or she, possesses not the actual hiring authority.

    Whereas it varies from contractor to contractor, the hiring decision or even the decision to look further or interview, can be made by a Recruiting Dept Head Senior to whom the account recruiter has deferred by policy.

    Oftentimes, the decision-making process is passed onto the actual site at which the work (job) will be performed, bringing other executives from program managers to the Site Manager into the process.

    The above diatribe is the reason access to names are blocked. I can see why. Imagine the chaos to the poor managers, executives, etc. if they were not protected. Nevertheless, I can also see the powerful impact a personally addressed CL can have for the seeker.

    What to do? What is truly realistic? What is being sold as gospel for resume writing/career services industry sales.

    It seems, obviously enough, the best and really impressive way to accomplish the goal of a personally addressed CL is to get it from someone who knows where the “buck” stops, and is willing to be named in you CL as your source of referral.

    I wonder what percentage of reality this turns out to be. My guess is a liberal 5%. What does that say for the rest of us?

    There are those who I know who will rage against this, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told by decision makers that they don’t even read CLs. They have their reasons, but most tell me that they don’t tell them anything of value, and they would really rather just get to the resume.

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  6. what gets me is what a big GAME the whole job search is. Its not about what kind of dedicated, hard working, policy abiding employee you are, its merely about how you talk yourself up on paper and what kinds of words to use to ‘peak’ the potential employers attention. I know alot of people who talk themselves up on paper but turn out to be the worst kind of employee, or have the most negative, condescending attitudes I’ve ever seen. Its too bad people have to be dishonest when there are plenty of modest, unegotistical people out there looking for a job who put 120% into every single day working for a company.

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