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5 Ways to Improve Your Cover Letters

AT&T gets over a thousand resumes everyday, so Jim, who is a human resource manager there, shared this insight with us. "Today, so many people can't communicate well. That's why a well-composed cover letter is influential. In fact, a well-written letter can grab an interview just on its own merit. It's too bad many job hunters are so lazy they don't write one."

That's a mistake no savvy job candidate wants to make.

In the Winning Cover Letters book we published a survey of over 600 hiring managers, outlining the proven formula for writing an effective cover letter and detailing key mistakes to avoid. Here are five ways to get you started today on improving your letter writing skills.

  1. Don't lose them with your first sentence. Typical opening sentences such as, "I'm applying for the job I saw on your website." OR "I really want to work for your company." are ineffective according to our survey results. The cover letter and resume only get a 15-second glance, so your first line either grabs the reader's attention or loses it. Hiring managers overwhelmingly report that you must use a powerful first sentence that summarizes the top skills and experience you can bring to the job. For example, Five years experience as project manager, with a proven track record of being on time and within budget, is the background I would bring to your position.

  2. Sell! Sell! SELL! 97% of the hiring managers surveyed agreed that they want to see SPECIFICS -- not generic form letters. Mike, a vice-president of human resources, said, "Candidates that stand out for us provide evidence of their past achievements and their talents, and with concise sentences support the kinds of contributions they would bring to our company. To me, the cover letter is more influential than the resume, because it is a truer sample of the candidate's communication skills, assuming they most likely wrote it themselves." When you write your cover letter, be sure to stress your applicable background experience and highlight your accomplishments in a few bullet points to capture the interviewer's interest immediately.

  3. TELL them you CAN do it. "Applicants who do not address the qualifications requested in the job listing make a huge mistake. And it seems that many don't address the employer's needs at all, they just upload their standard cover letter and resume file and hit SEND without thinking," said Kelly, a CFO with extensive hiring experience. The better strategy is to address each specific qualification and state the related experience and skills you possess to perform that task or function so the interviewer has no doubt that you can do the job.

  4. Format and layout matter. Your letter must be easy to read -- that is essential! Microscopic type is a bad choice -- small font sizes can make addresses, phone numbers and emails illegible. Arial is a good font choice, size 12-point, especially when faxing since the type often is blurred in the faxing process. One human resource specialist sent us a real cover letter that had no address or phone number on it. She sarcastically wrote, "Don't you just love this? We couldn't contact this person even if we wanted to."

  5. Don't let careless errors destroy your chances to land that dream job. Stephanie, a human resource manager, who has hired over 500 people revealed, "Once I see a typo I know that this is NOT a person we want to hire into our organization. People can avoid this fatal mistake if they very carefully proofread everything before they send."

- Robin Ryan

Copyright 2007 Robin Ryan. All rights reserved.

America's most popular career counselor, Robin Ryan, is the author of four bestselling books: 60 Seconds & You're Hired!, Winning Resume, Winning Cover Letters, and What to Do with the Rest of Your Life. She's appeared on over a thousand TV & radio shows including Oprah, Dr. Phil, and has been published in most major newspapers and magazines including USA Today & the Wall Street journal. Contact her at 425.226.0414; email: info@robinryan.com.

www.robinryan.com

Copyright 2007 Robin Ryan. All rights reserved.