by Paige Miller
Hiring managers generally look at cover letters and resumes for just a few seconds, so how do you get them engaged and wanting to call you in for an interview?
Your cover letter should probably be only one page, and it should not reiterate everything in your resume. While your resume provides specific information about your work experience, your cover letter should expand on that and tell a story. Cover letters let hiring mangers know why you are particularly suited for their company, and why your experience has landed you – the ideal candidate – right on their doorstep. Unless you are applying for an internship, your cover letter should not articulate what you hope to get out of a job. Your cover letter is your opportunity to explain what hiring managers can get out of you as a member of their team.
Personalize your letter.
Make it look like you genuinely want the position and didn’t simply cut and paste a cover letter template from google. Do some research to determine who the hiring manager is (if you have been working with a recruiter or HR manager, you can even ask him or her, if you feel comfortable doing so). Then, address the cover letter to Mr./Ms. [last name of hiring manger] along with the company’s name and address at the top left of the page.
Use the same approach with the salutation: It sounds a lot better to start your cover letter with “Dear Ms. [hiring manager’s last name] as opposed to something generic like “Dear Hiring Manger” “Dear Sir/Madam” or “To Whom it May Concern.”
Customize everything, and be genuine.
Intro paragraph: short and concise
Briefly explain how you heard about the job, if this information is relevant. If not, leave it out. If you just heard about the job on idealist.org, you’re wasting space (unless they specifically ask you to indicate how you heard about the job). If you heard about it through a company employee, colleague of the hiring manager, or associated professional organization, make sure to mention it! Broadly explain why you are applying for the position. Hopefully you’ve done some extensive research on the company’s website by now. What core beliefs/principles/themes guide their company, and how do those apply to you and your ideal career path?
Body paragraphs: deliberate and convincing
Take a look at the job description and identify the responsibilities that are central to the position. Then, look at your resume and pull out your own experiences and skills that apply to these responsibilities. Explain how you will use your past experience to excel at the position.
Final paragraph: strong and confident
Is there anything you haven’t said yet that you need to say? Do you have a particular personality trait that would enhance your performance at the position? Let the hiring manager know.Finish your cover letter with confidence, but don’t be boastful (“I am confident I am an ideal candidate” is a preferable attitude to “I am the ideal candidate”).Thank them for reviewing your application. Don’t let them know you have references upon request (of course you do). You also don’t need to let them know when you will follow up (actions are stronger than words – rather than telling them you will follow up, just follow up in a week or so). Make sure to include your phone number and email address on your cover letter to make it easy for them to contact you.
Double, triple check.
Applying for multiple jobs?
- Make sure you’re using the correct company name and position title in each cover letter (it’s a common yet fatal mistake to mix these up when writing multiple cover letters for different jobs).
- Save your cover letter and resume to PDFs – We’re all operating on different versions of Word these days, and things can get corrupted easily. Not to mention, PDFs look nice and crisp and can make typos and errors more visible during your own review process.
- Have a trusted friend or colleague in your industry give you feedback.
- If the application deadline is tomorrow, but you want to submit it tonight… don’t do it. Get a good night’s sleep and review your application one more time before sending (a fresh mind can do wonders).
More info: Check out April and November 2014 posts: “3 Things to Leave off Your Resume” and “3 Tips for Job Hunting in the Digital Age”.