November 12, 2014
The purpose of the cover letter is threefold; to introduce yourself, demonstrate your interest and motivate the reader to interview you. Keeping the letter clean, clear and to the point is ideal, it is your first impression after all and so it has to be good. Here are some basics for every cover letter.
1) Sweat the small stuff – Your cover letter must be error free. Spelling and grammatical errors are the easiest way to land your cover letter and resume in the physical or virtual trash bin. When an employer has a big stack of resumes and cover letters to look through, any help to eliminate unworthy candidates is a plus. When you typed “witch” instead of “which” (spell check won’t catch this error) it communicates a lack of attention to detail. It leaves the employer saying, “No thank you, next.” Read it out loud, read it backwards from the bottom to the top, read it ten times, have a friend read it. It has to be great.
2) Personalize passion – Communicate your passion and excitement but remember that this process is not about you; it is, however, about what you could do for the organization. You will have to tailor the letter to reflect the needs of each employer. Share your enthusiasm for the work and the organization for which you are applying. Focus on how your skills or successes could translate to their bottom line and why you would be a great fit.
3) Strike a balance – Writing enough for the reader to be interested but not so much that boredom begins to set. One way to ensure this is to resist the temptation to repeat your resume. Begin by introducing yourself with a few relevant strengths and then state which position you are interested. Next, pick one accomplishment; pack it into a SOAR (Situation/Obstacle/Action/Result) story that explains why you would be a great fit.
Lastly, present a quick summary of why you are qualified, show your enthusiasm while tactfully asking for an interview and then thank them for their consideration. Two – three paragraphs is a maximum and visually will break up the page so the reader will see some spacing and not just one large block of text.
4) Get a name – Find the name of the hiring manager, “To Whom it may concern” and “Dear Sir/Madam” will not do. Don’t be lazy or afraid to do some sleuthing around and get the name. It will show a level of commitment and resourcefulness that you took the time to get what you needed to do the job correctly. Try looking to the company website or LinkedIn for starters. If all else fails use “Dear Hiring Manager.”
5) Follow business-writing convention – Spell things out, stay away from abbreviations and acronyms. Do not use slang or industry specific jargon from previous work that may not carry over to the jargon of the potential employer.