When you see that Christmas present under the tree that has been professionally wrapped – as opposed to the one your husband or boyfriend slammed together with the 99-cent paper and three pounds of tape – you take notice. The quality of the paper shines, the lines are even and the bow blooms. Of course, the gift inside is the real payoff, but the presentation does make a difference in the entire essence of gift giving.
If you’re a jobseeker, consider the present metaphor when you’re putting together your plan of action.
Think of the gift inside the box as your resume and the wrap job as your cover letter. The cover letter will be the first document a potential recruiter will lay his or her eyes on. Do you want it to look like that shabby, gift wrap job your significant other spent two minutes on? Ah, no.
The cover letter generally is your opening statement and accompanies a resume. It should be quick and to the point. More than a page or excessive rambling will land that cover letter and your hopes of attaining a job in the trash.
So, since you need a strong cover letter, where do you start? Do you cut and paste the form cover letter and fill in the blanks with names and company information? That will save time if you’re doing the shotgun approach to job hunting, but will it be effective? There is also the creative cover letter, which shows that you have a sense of originality. But something that’s a bit too innovative can misfire as well.
The best approach is probably a combination of both. Employers want to see cover letters that speak directly to their needs, not the generic, “My skills and abilities will be a perfect fit for your company.”
“If you’re going to go to the trouble of writing to a prospective employer, you should write a really amazing letter,” says career advisor Tracy Laswell Williams, the author of The Essential Job Search Companion. “Gather the facts you’ll need, not only to write a winning letter, but also to follow it up properly.”
The facts that Williams is referring to start with a contact name. If you’ve received a tip on an opening that you’re interested in, find out as much as you can about who the point person is and address your cover letter appropriately with their name, title, company and address. And by all means, triple check to make sure you’ve spelled their name correctly. Other cover letters are used to respond to openings posted on a job board, inquiries about possible positions or networking requests.
Don’t make the cover letter a carbon copy of your resume. There’s no sense in repeating yourself. Come up with new adjectives that explain the reasons you’re interested in the particular job and organization and point out your experience and most applicable skills in just a few sentences (3-5, for example).
Needless to say, appropriate grammar is a must. Whether you write your own cover letter or hire a professional, make sure a second set of eyes looks it over. Simple mistakes translate into sloppiness, and no employer wants someone who overlooks the small details.
Like your English term paper, a cover letter includes a beginning, middle, and an end. Much more compact, of course, but the same basic structure. The first paragraph should address why you are writing; whether you’re responding to a specific job listing or inquiring about potential opportunities. If you were referred by a friend or colleague, mention his or her name. That should get the immediate attention of the recruiter.
The middle portion of a cover letter contains something about yourself and what you have to offer. You don’t have more than a few sentences to explain why you would be the best person for the job, so make every word count.
Finally, the conclusion is information on how you will follow up, whether it’s an email, letter or phone call. Confirm that an employer has received your information. Remember, however, that for many job listings, the follow up phone call is taboo. Recruiters stick by the “don’t call us, we’ll call you” motto. And in today’s high-tech world, email is fast becoming the most convenient and preferred method of contact for many.
For anyone seeking a job, the cover letter goes beyond being just a business document. It represents who you are and its ability to get you past first base should not be underestimated. Keep it brief, simple, accurate and, above all, relative to the job in hand.
Teena Rose is highly endorsed, highly referred resume writer with Resume to Referral. She’s authored several books, including How to Design, Write, and Compile a Quality Brag Book, Designing a Cover Letter to “Wow” Hiring Personnel, and Cracking the Code to Pharmaceutical Sales.
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