A quick Internet search is enough for most job recruiters to dig up information about your personal pursuits and professional accomplishments, but this passive activity says little about your ability to perform well in a specific environment. An engaging cover letter can propel your resume to the top of the list when you present a clear picture of how your skills and personality are in line with the company's goals.
The Cover Letter Dilemma
If you ask a group of hiring managers about the importance of cover letters, expect to get a wide range of answers. Many admit that they don't trust in the credibility of cover letters, so they never read them. Others rely solely on applicant tracking software to farm your resume for relevant details, making your clever anecdotes a waste of time. You may be tempted to forgo the cover letter when a job posting doesn't specifically ask for it, but skipping it is like throwing away your leverage, says Jenny Foss, a career strategist and resume writer.
As someone who routinely helps others polish their applications, Foss has witnessed clients receive responses within 24 hours of sending cover letters and resumes to potential employers. One company even singled a candidate out for writing an amazing letter. According to Foss, the reason why cover letters seem pointless is that so many applicants use redundant, clichéd language and spend the entire page talking about what they want — not what they can bring to the company. Candidates' efforts to be unique are often completely off-topic and fail to make strong connections with the job description.
Making Cover Letters Productive
The point of a cover letter isn't to ramble on about your achievements, as job recruiters can easily find that information on your resume and online profiles. Ditch the stale template, and customize each letter to the job description. Start off with a strong lead that builds rapport, conveys your personal branding and tells readers something they don't already know about you.
Instead of restating your interest in the job over and over, use a short, engaging personal story that demonstrates the deeper reasons for your professional passion. For example, Foss recounted a client who applied for a nonprofit position related to fire prevention. The client explained that her mother was a nurse in a burn unit, which instilled her lifelong interest in educating others about fire safety.
Emphasize qualifications that are most prominent in the job description. Keep the information concise and organized by using bullet points or a table, which also breaks up the content to make the letter bold and readable. As you approach the conclusion, show your knowledge of the organization by referencing an attractive feature of the company culture or business model. Choose a playful or conservative approach based on the tone of the company. In your final words, include a direct statement of your desire to interview or talk further. Avoid sounding too pushy or overconfident, as you never know what pet peeves may land your cover letter in the trash pile.
Few application materials are more effective than personal statements in your own words. Highlight experiences that show the unique value you bring to the job, and don't waste cover letters restating flat details that fail to draw readers into your world.
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