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Tips to Improve and Create Cover Letters that GET an Employer's Attention

Lately human resource folks and hiring managers are telling me that people have stopped writing cover letters, yet employers LOVE them. "Cover Letters are very influential," says Jim, a Cingular human resource manager, "and a well-written letter can grab an interview just on its own merit. It's too bad most job hunters are so lazy they don't write one. That's a mistake no savvy job hunter wants to make."

In my book, "Winning Cover Letters," we published a survey of over 600 hiring managers to learn exactly what makes a cover letter a standout. Here are of few of the noted guidelines.

  1. Don't lose them with your first sentence. Imagine yourself with 300 resumes to sort through and 295 start their cover letter this way: "I'm applying for the job I saw on your website." According to the survey results, a 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 prefer you 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'd bring to your position.

  2. Sell the meat. "I'm convinced when I see a meagerly written or generic form-letter that the applicant hasn't done anything that can help us, so I never even look at the resume," stated one human resource manager. Over 90% of the hiring managers agreed that SPECIFICS sell! Mike, a vice-president of human resources, said, "The cover letter is the very first thing we see. Candidates that stand out for us used short powerful evidence as they wrote sentence after sentence detailing past achievements and the talents and 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, since they most likely wrote it themselves."

  3. "Applicants who do not address the qualifications requested in the advertisement or job listing make a huge mistake. And it seems so many don't address the employer's needs at all, they just hit send without thinking," said Kelly, a CFO with extensive hiring experience. The better strategy is to address each specific qualification and state the experience and skills you possess to perform that task or function.

  4. Don't let careless errors torpedo you. 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 carefully proofread before they send." Good layout and presentation that is easy to read are essential. Microscopic type is a bad choice since small font type 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 along a 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."

    - Robin Ryan

    Source: "Winning Resumes" and "Winning Cover Letters" Books by Robin Ryan.

    America's most popular career counselor, Robin Ryan, is the author of four bestselling books: 60 Seconds & You're Hired!, Winning Resumes, 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.

    Copyright 2009 Robin Ryan. All rights reserved.