Having a resume that shines is only half the battle of getting your foot into a potential employer’s door.
If you want to impress, you’ve got to write a cover letter that makes you stand out as the right candidate for the job. The cover letter is where your personality can shine through and where you can demonstrate your enthusiasm for the position.
Here you can emphasize your best qualities, skills and why you are worthy of at least an interview. At the same time, if writing a cover letter translates into self-deprecating angst don’t worry because you are not alone.
Most job seekers find this self-promotion tool challenging to conquer, but the truth is no one is going to “toot your horn” unless you do it first.
An excellent way to start a cover letter is to have the job posting available for reference. Either print it out or copy it into your cover letter document. As you begin to write your cover letter, try to pick out specifics from the job posting or description and use them.
Companies usually have one person screening resumes, and they are scanning them for keywords. Use the job posting and job description to pull these keywords out and avoid going in the “not qualified” pile.
Pick three things you want a potential employer to know about you and then start building a cover letter that expresses those in a way that is relevant to the position.
To start, let’s talk about architecture. The cover letter should follow a strict construction code: one page and no more than five paragraphs including the following:
State what job interests you. It may sound repetitive, but companies often have help wanted postings for many positions at the same time. This first step is comfortable and gives the office a resume screener a starting point. State the job, where you heard of it and throw in a little enthusiasm about it.
Here’s an example: “It’s always exciting to learn of opportunities at (company name), and the (job title) position posted at (source, i.e., Moster) has attracted my enthusiasm.” Simple and to the point is best because from the moment your resume is lifted from the pile of other applicants you’re racing the clock.
State your most relevant qualifying characteristic for the job or in other words what you will bring to the company. Companies aren’t interested in all of your unique qualities. They want and need to know right away what, if anything, you are going to do for them.
Remember, the cover letter is a marketing tool, and you are the product. You don’t have to create lead-ins or describe the long path that brought you to their door. You need to hit them on the head with your qualifications that are specifically related to the available position.
This second paragraph is the best place to tie in the experience listed on your resume and make it jump out to the potential employer. If you’re trying to jump into a new line of work, it’s critical that you emphasize relevant experience even if it was in a seemingly unrelated position or field.
For example, if the available job is in sales, but your last position was as the head of a daycare make a connection like this: “As head of Sunshine Days, I was a key player in promoting the business throughout the community.
My contributions helped catapult the service into the number one daycare with a three-year waiting list.” Translation, you’re a good salesperson, and you helped establish a growing clientele.
Keep going with the kudos and focus on your next most relevant quality. If you’ve made an effort to got specialized credentials for the field you are applying to here’s the place to shine the light on them.
For instance, if you’ve done coursework or attended a seminar that relates to the job at hand, you should state it in the third paragraph: “I’ve gained a well of specialized knowledge from coursework in online technology and recently completed my certificate of (job-related credential).”
Time to shine brighter. Use key points from the second and third paragraphs again but this time present it all as the ultimate package: you! Point out that the combination of your related work experience and your associated credentials make you the best candidate for the job. And use keywords from the job posting again.
Here is a useful example:
“My sales and promotional experience at Sunshine Days daycare and my in-depth knowledge of online technology is the perfect combination of skills and understanding needed to be a successful member of (company name) or successful in the (job position).”
This fourth paragraph is where you’ve got to start driving it home and start relaying your confidence that you are the right candidate. If you don’t believe it, no one else will.
It’s time to seal the deal and get an interview. In simple terms ask for what you want, politely of course. Don’t fade off, end strong and proactive. Avoid sounding unsure or whiney by using firm and decisive language.
For instance, rather than “please don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions” try “you may reach me at (your phone #) to schedule an interview.”
The first example sounds too uncertain – as if you’re not sure you’ve presented yourself. The second example says I know I’ve got your interest and I know why, so let’s move on to the next formality.
Once you’ve got the meat of your cover letter done, go back and do a little housekeeping. It should be typed, contain no typos, especially in sentences like “I’m detail-oriented.”
Of course, it should be in a standard business letter format but customized to the specific job and contact. If you don’t know who that is, call the company and find out. Don’t embellish with fonts or color, keep it neat, reader-friendly and ready to go, just like your interview outfit.