In the age of the Internet, email and online applicant tracking systems, the concept of a cover letter may seem a bit outdated and antique. However, a cover letter can make your application stand out from other candidates who may be as qualified as you are. These 10 steps help ensure you write a vibrant cover letter that gets the attention of the recruiter and better ensures you move on to the next stages of the process.
Your Email Is a Cover Letter
Many automated resume and applicant programs allow you to submit a resume through email as an attachment. This email can come from your own email server or be generated by a form on a website. This introductory email with your resume attachment also doubles as your cover letter. Instead of just a brief "hello" in a generic email, write a full covering statement. Some applicant trackers even take such cover letters into account, so this document can improve your standing as ranked by the software if it's well written and on point.
Address the Hiring Manager Directly
Address your cover letter to the hiring manager or the person responsible for hiring this position. This shows your research into the company and personalizes your letter. Either call the company to determine the person's name or find the name on the Internet. "Dear Sir or Madam" simply doesn't cut it, and you may find your resume at the bottom of the pile.
Keep It Short
A cover letter should contain no more than three paragraphs, about a dozen sentences. The first paragraph introduces you and tells the recruiter why you're writing the letter. The second paragraph notes your background as it pertains to the job. The third paragraph thanks the person for reading. Try not to repeat information already found in the resume except to expand or clarify. Your cover letter should lead to someone looking over your resume for more about your work history, education and skill set.
Establish a Connection
Make a connection with the HR manager or recruiter in the first paragraph. This could entail a personal story about why you want to work for the company or explain how you ended up where you are today. The point is to emphasize why you want that particular job and why you're the perfect person to fill the position.
In the second paragraph, include some bullet points that highlight the most important aspects of the job description as it relates to your skills. Make sure you match any of your important qualifications with the description. Bullet points make the letter seem less like a traditional letter and more like a creative document.
Match the Tone of the Company Culture
Find a blog post on the company's website. Match the tone and mimic the style of the blog post to show you know the company's culture. Link your cover letter to this blog post in some way so the HR manager sees that you did your homework. This gives you a chance to be creative rather than creating a standard letter. Explain why you chose this particular blog post and how it relates to the position at hand.
Offer a Quick Analysis
Offer two quick tips on how to improve the company. Remember that blog post you found earlier? Take an issue raised within that blog post and create a sentence or two on how to solve the problem. This is evidence that you can hit the ground running once you earn the position. By offering solutions, you enable your future supervisor to recognize you as a go-getter, a motivated worker and someone who has the ability to improve the company.
Use an Alternate Format
Instead of standard block paragraphs, experiment with formatting your letter in a "T" shape. Create two columns, one with the heading "My Qualifications" and another with the heading "Your Requirements." The column on the left complements the column on the right by matching part of the job description with your qualifications.
Make sure to proofread your cover letter several times. Print it on paper and review it away from a computer screen to give your eyes something different to look at when you read it. Look for alignment issues, misspellings, punctuation and grammatical errors. Break up long sentences to avoid monotony in your cover letter. Avoid run-on sentences that are confusing and hard to follow.
Give the printout of your cover letter to friends and have them read it. A different set of eyes can offer a second opinion. Read the letter aloud to yourself to determine if it sounds right.
Include an Email Signature
A good email signature includes your name, phone number, LinkedIn profile and email address. This lets the HR manager contact you very easily. Instead of hunting for your contact information on the resume, it's already there in your emailed cover letter.
Cover letters are not formally required for all job applications thanks to contemporary software and computerized application forms. However, a good cover letter gives HR managers and recruiters a perfect snapshot of your career as it relates to the position. Spend an hour or two crafting the perfect cover letter, and stand apart from the crowd when you apply for a new job.
Photo Courtesy of Murs Ali Oglu at Flickr.com