Writing the Perfect Cover Letter
Writing cover letters can be as frustrating and difficult as writing a résumé. Use these three tips to simplify your cover letter and streamline your job application process.
Deborah Walker, CCMC
Published August 19, 2010
Your cover letter has only one job. It is meant to entice the reader to open and read your résumé. Sounds simple, but job seekers often stress as much over their cover letter as they do their résumé. If this sounds like you, relax, there is a simple approach to cover letters that will streamline your application process and give you confidence every time you send out your résumé. Just keep these three cover letter tips in mind and you'll never stress over writing them again.
- Keep It Short.
More often than not you'll send your cover letter via e-mail or some other electronic system. Your reader won't be looking at a piece of paper, but at their computer screen. Ever notice how short your reading attention span is when you're reading text on your computer? That's why online articles are typically shorter than print articles. The same holds true for e-mail messages. If you've got 60 messages in your inbox you don't have the patience for lengthy text. Now imagine you're a recruiter or résumé screener and you must get through hundreds of résumés a day. If you want your cover letter read keep it short, concise and to the point.
- Focus on Qualifications.
Most job seekers freeze up when writing cover letters because they don't know what information recruiters want to see. The first person in an organization to read your résumé is a recruiter or HR professional who acts as a screener. They are interested only in identifying candidates who match their set of qualifications. The better the match, the higher the interest. Don't worry about explaining why you are interested in the position, the screener probably doesn't care. They only want to know if you qualify as a viable candidate. Use the job posting as a guide to know exactly what qualifications to mention in your cover letter.
- Don't Try to Get Fancy.
Job seekers get frustrated writing cover letters because they try to make it into a creative writing exercise. That's not necessary. It's much more important that you keep your ideas clear and easily understandable. When writing about your qualifications do use the same verbiage to describe your skills as the job posting. You'll make the résumé screener's work much easier and they will recognize you as a perfect candidate match much quicker.
Using this simple approach will allow you to take a customized approach with each cover letter you send. Generic cover letters usually sound canned no matter how much time was spent writing them. Worse, a one-size-fits-all cover letter looks like it was borrowed off the page of a sample cover letter book. Would you take the time to read a mass-produced letter?
I'm often asked if cover letters are still relevant in today's fast-paced job market. While the form has changed from paper to electronic, they are still a vital part of your job-search marketing materials. Cover letters provide your first opportunity to make a good impression on your potential new employer. It pays to write them with clarity and simplicity.
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Deborah Walker, CCMC, is a career coach who works with entrepreneurs returning to corporate life, preparing them to compete in the toughest job markets. Her clients gain top performing skills in résumé writing, interview preparation and salary negotiation. Learn more about her as a career coach at: http://www.AlphaAdvantage.com.
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