Craft­ing an Awe­some Cover Let­ter

The Washington Post Sunday - - NEW YEAR, NEW JOB - KELLY BILODEAU

To­day’s job hun­ters will likely find them­selves up­load­ing doc­u­ments into an au­to­mated sys­tem and won­der­ing: is a cover let­ter even nec­es­sary or is it just a quaint relic from the past that should find its place in the dust­bin?

While some elec­tronic sys­tems won’t al­low you to add a cover let­ter, ex­perts say that when­ever pos­si­ble you should in­clude one—it al­lows you to not only in­tro­duce your­self but can help you stand out amid a face­less flock of can­di­dates.

“A cover let­ter won’t get you hired, but done prop­erly it will get your re­sume read with se­ri­ous at­ten­tion,” says Martin Yate, au­thor of The New York Times best seller Knock ‘em Dead Cover Let­ters.

“A re­sume merely de­scribes your ex­pe­ri­ence,” says Dan Schaw­bel, best-sell­ing au­thor of Pro­mote Your­self and Me 2.0 . “A cover let­ter show­cases why specif­i­cally you want that job.”

But putting to­gether an ef­fec­tive cover let­ter can be a chal­lenge—you of­ten need to hook the re­cruiter in as lit­tle as five to 45 sec­onds as they skim through a ream of ap­pli­ca­tions. Below are some tips to help you cre­ate a let­ter that will not only turn heads but hope­fully get you in the door for an in­ter­view.

Cover the ba­sics. Con­sider the cover let­ter the first test of one of the most com­monly re­quested job skills—the abil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate ef­fec­tively. “It shows em­ploy­ers how you present your­self over­all,” said Vicki Salemi, a ca­reer ex­pert for Mon­ster.

Watch your font. A re­cruiter doesn’t want to have to upgrade her eye­glass pre­scrip­tion to read your cover let­ter. “Don’t use an eight point font,” said Yate. Also, avoid fancy or curly fonts, which are not only dis­tract­ing but might not show up cor­rectly on ev­ery­one’s screen. Arial and Times are the gold stan­dard fonts for busi­ness com­mu­ni­ca­tions for a rea­son.

Edit, edit, edit. Noth­ing will take you out of the run­ning for a job faster than a poorly writ­ten cover let­ter. “If there are ty­pos or gram­mat­i­cal er­rors in your cover let­ter, it shows em­ploy­ers you are not de­tail-ori­ented,” said Salemi. To avoid cringe-wor­thy lapses, edit care­fully and keep in mind that while spell check is won­der­ful for fix­ing glar­ing spell­ing er­rors, noth­ing re­places a hu­man set of eyes. Spell check doesn’t know the dif­fer­ence be­tween two, to and too. It can also make its mis­takes, case in point the can­di­date whose name De­vang, who would have been listed as “De­viant” on a re­sume, had the mis­take not been caught, said Yate. En­list a friend to make sure no er­rors slip through. “We all know some­one who is per­snick­ety about gram­mar,” he said. Give him or her your re­sume to re­view.

Fo­cus on con­tent. The most ef­fec­tive cover let­ters are those that clearly dif­fer­en­ti­ate you as a can­di­date and con­nect your busi­ness ex­pe­ri­ence to the job you’re ap­ply­ing, said Schaw­bel. The in­for­ma­tion con­tained in a cover let­ter must an­swer why you’re ap­ply­ing for the po­si­tion, what makes you a unique can­di­date, and how you hope to add value to the com­pany through the role, he said. Cap­ti­vate the em­ployer by telling them specif­i­cally how you will add value from day one and achieve spe­cific re­sults.

Put the spot­light on the em­ployer. Of­ten ap­pli­cants start out their cover let­ter by talk­ing about them­selves. Re­ally, what you need to do is fo­cus on the needs of the com­pany that is do­ing the hir­ing, said Yate. Out­line the skills they are look­ing for that you pos­sess. For ex­am­ple, “I see that your com­pany is look­ing for some­one with a strong busi­ness to busi­ness com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills,” said Yate. Iden­tify the chal­lenges of the job and talk about how you would fit in and be a prob­lem solver for that or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Be con­cise. Be­cause you’ve got to de­liver your mes­sage quickly, a cover let­ter should as­sure the reader in four or five lines that he or she is go­ing to see a re­sume that is rel­e­vant. “Em­ploy­ers only spend a few sec­onds pe­rus­ing cover let­ters so you need to tie back to their ques­tion, ‘Why should we hire you?’ And in the case of in­ter­view­ing, they’ll be ask­ing, ‘Why should we in­ter­view you—what makes you qual­i­fied?’ Make it easy for them to say yes by pro­vid­ing an overview of what you bring to the ta­ble,” said Salemi.

Don’t get off track. “Of­ten can­di­dates fo­cus too much on say­ing they’re in­ter­ested in the job—by virtue of ap­ply­ing you’re in­ter­ested,” said Salemi. “Or they squan­der the op­por­tu­nity to high­light their sell­ing points by not say­ing much at all other than they’re in­ter­ested in the job and look for­ward to hear­ing from the em­ployer soon.” Make sure your cover let­ter

keeps the fo­cus where it be­longs.

Cus­tom­ize your cover let­ter. “The big­gest mis­take job seek­ers make when writ­ing a cover let­ter is lack of cus­tomiza­tion,” says Schaw­bel, “Most job seek­ers just keep reusing the same cover let­ters be­cause they are lazy and/or are just sub­mit­ting to so many job post­ings that they aren’t able to scale writ­ing cover let­ters for all of them.” If a job is worth ap­ply­ing for, it’s worth cus­tomiz­ing the cover let­ter, agreed Yate. Also, be cer­tain to use the lan­guage the com­pany uses. Change your re­sume and cover let­ter lan­guage to re­flect the job post­ing as much as you pos­si­bly can, match­ing job ti­tles or other items.

Stay pos­i­tive. Got a big gap in your work his­tory or an­other re­sume is­sue? Avoid the temp­ta­tion to bring it up in your cover let­ter. “Don’t tell them what they might never ask,” said Yate. A cover let­ter should fo­cus only on the pos­i­tive.

Ul­ti­mately, you should think of the cover let­ter as your el­e­va­tor pitch, said Salemi. “An ef­fec­tive cover let­ter suc­cinctly high­lights your ac­com­plish­ments, skills, and ex­pe­ri­ences in a dif­fer­ent way than your re­sume,” she says. Use it to help dis­tin­guish your­self from other can­di­dates and to help the em­ployer clearly see that you’re a match for the job.

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