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Writing “Killer” Cover Letters...It’s Not as Hard as You Think
Don’t get hung up on style; focus on the content. Does the text make the
reader want to continue past the initial 30-second screening? With that
concept in mind, an effective cover letter should adhere to the following
- Never lose sight of your objective: Concentrate on writing in a way that suits the occasion and reflects your personality. Write the way you speak. Say exactly what you have in mind. Everything else is embellishment.
- Give your cover letters the attention they deserve: Job seekers often give cover letters minimal effort. According to one recent study, 50% of the hiring managers at Fortune 500 companies utilize cover letters as writing samples.
- Be professional: Always address the person in your letter by his/her last name and title, unless you personally know him/her and you’re on a first name basis.
- Don’t use a generic salutation: Send your letter to a specific person. Human resource professionals and hiring managers receive so many letters addressed to “Dear Sir/Madam” or “To Whom It May Concern” that when they receive a letter personally addressed to them, they take notice. This is why savvy job seekers take the time to call and find out the hiring manager’s name.
- Use a subject line to address blind ads: When you’re not certain to whom to address your letter, you can leave out the salutation entirely and use a subject line, for example: “Subject: Director of E-commerce Position”.
- Don’t rehash information already on the resume: A cover letter should compliment a resume, not be resume-redundant. A resume gives potential employers the facts; a cover letter gives them the person.
- Customize your letter: Make sure your cover letter is tailored for each position and each company. A cover letter that is all things to all people won’t score the points you want to make.
- Be efficient: When formatting your cover letter, don’t use long paragraphs; they’re overwhelming to the eye. Instead, use four short
paragraphs to convey your message.
- Know about the company to which you’re applying: There is no harm if your letter tactfully reveals that you’re acquainted with the company or know someone who works there. Also, if you discovered something interesting about the company while doing research, mention it in the letter.
- Don’t include salary requirements: Premature request for salary is a common screen to contend with. To avoid the salary history trap, don’t include it, even when requested. But don’t ignore the request, either; it could be viewed as a failure to comply with one of the company’s first information requests. A better approach is to explain that salary is only one of many criteria with which you will evaluate a new position.
- Personalize your classified ad letter: When responding to want ads, address each requirement using exact words and phrases from the newspaper ad that closely match your abilities to the company’s stated needs.
- Avoid mini-lecture leads: Be careful not to use phrases such as “You may not realize it, but...” or “In today’s competitive business world...” or “Never has managing costs been so important….” All these phrases have the potential of talking down to the reader.
- Be brief: That which is well said is briefly said. Keep your cover letter no longer than one page, with no more than four paragraphs. Avoid detailing your work history in your cover letter; save that for the
- Avoid fluff words and phrases: Words such as “feel,” “believe,” “hope,” “think,” “high energy,” and phrases such as “I’m a people person,” “results-oriented individual,” and “excellent communication skills” mean nothing if the applicant failed to illustrate any of these attributes with an example.
- Don’t admit shortcomings: Some job seekers, hoping to fend off an employer’s objections to their lack of experience, will call unnecessary attention to this fact in their cover letters by using statements such as “although I have no related experience.” This is a major mistake because the letter is now emphasizing your flaws, rather than your strengths. Instead, emphasize valuable skills, transferable experience, and company knowledge.
- Omitted signatures: This may sound obvious but don’t forget to sign your cover letter. A potential employer might interpret this oversight as carelessness. Your signature in blue or black ink allows you to personalize your letter. Don’t miss this opportunity by using a script
font or a signature program on your word processor. Additionally, note
“enclosure” several lines down from your signature to indicate that your
resume is enclosed.
By following these guidelines when developing your cover letters, you can
be the proud owner of “killer” cover letters. With some luck, you will be
called in for an interview and with even more luck, they will hire you.
- Joe Hodowanes, Career Strategy Advisor
J.M. Wanes & Associates