The cover letter is one of the most useful – and most dreaded – tools of the job search. With a compelling letter, you can captivate an employer and bring more attention to your application. With a boring document, you run the risk of getting lost in the crowd. In most cases, the time and effort it takes to write a powerful application letter are worth it in the end.
Keep It Short
When you are writing your cover letter, brevity is best. Hiring managers are busy and do not have time to read through pages of text. In fact, using more than one page for your cover letter is an easy way to get your application tossed into the reject pile. Instead, stick to three or four paragraphs and aim for a length of between a half page and three-quarters of a page. In most cases, shorter is better.
Use an Information Hierarchy
The hiring manager probably does not have time to read and process every word of your cover letter. He is more likely to scan it, stopping to read sentences that stand out. Catch the reviewer's attention by using an information hierarchy. Place the most important information near the top of the page and at the beginning of each paragraph. Ask a friend to read it quickly and tell you what he remembers; if his answer doesn't match your intentions, adjust the structure for clarity.
Make the Employer's Job Easier
During a round of hiring, an employer reads through numerous applications to find the one person who best meets the company's current needs. Use your cover letter to make the reviewer's job easier by connecting the dots between your experience and the responsibilities of the open position. Go through the job posting and identify the most crucial requirements; then, use your letter to show that you are capable of meeting those requirements. If the job description emphasizes the importance of budget management, for example, explain how you managed a $3 million budget and cut costs simultaneously in your last job.
Avoid Boilerplate Text
Career centers and online cover letter examples often advise you to start your letter by saying, "I am writing to apply for X position, which I saw posted on Y website." Unfortunately, every other applicant has also seen these resources, which means that hiring managers receive a slew of letters with virtually the same opening sentence. Help your letter stand out from the crowd by using original language throughout. Find powerful alternatives to standard job search phrases, such as "extensive experience" or "creative." Don't be afraid to inject your personality and enthusiasm into the letter, as long as you can do so while maintaining a professional tone.
Writing an excellent cover letter is no easy task. In many cases, it requires several rounds of writing and editing to create an original document. By making the effort to craft the perfect piece, you can give yourself an edge over the competition.
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