Imagine how many cover letters the average HR recruiter reads in a day, or even an hour. These days, with so many candidates chasing fewer and fewer jobs, the piles of cover letters for a given job can be overwhelming. It’s little wonder that recuiters look for any excuse to add your letter to the “tomb” file. So how can you beat the odds? What can you say in your letter to make it stand out? How can you grab the reader enough to reach for the phone and call you? Here are some suggestions:
Open with a personal referral. Open your cover letter by name-dropping someone you met at a trade show, conference or other industry function, or someone you feel the HR manager will know. Include that you belong to a given trade or industry group. If you hold any kind of office in that group, mention that too.
Don’t open with where you saw the ad. This is boring and wastes valuable seconds of the reader’s attention. Put this “stock” information in the RE: line at the top of your letter.
Tightly focus skills and knowledge. Read the job ad several times. Pull out keywords that the position asks for. Respond directly and succinctly to all the “Must Haves.” Generally, what’s mentioned first is what you should respond to first.
Back up claims with specifics. “Improved sales, reduced costs, enhanced efficiency”—all should be backed up by where, when and how much. Include dollar figures, specific percentages and so forth after every claim.
Don’t oversell. One or two specific examples of how you saved the day in your previous job is all you need. No need to drown the reader in too much information. Let your resume carry that burden.
Avoid humor. This is a landmine—unless you’re applying for a comedy writer’s position. No witticisms or snarky comments. Keep it straight, lean and focused on the job.
Be brief with awards and certifications. Don’t bury the reader in an avalanche of long-winded award titles and certifications. Save these for the resume.
Skip the generalities. Avoid using stock phrases like, “I like working with people,” “I’m a fast learner” or “I’m a very efficient worker.” These bore more than they communicate, and you can imagine how many times HR managers and recruiters have read them.
Recent grads should play up their schooling. Sell your 4.0 GPA. If you don’t have a stellar GPA, don’t include it in the cover letter. Sell the internship that most applies to the job you’re applying for. If you didn’t intern, sell the senior project or paper that most applies.
Practice writing cover letters. Read them aloud to yourself and trusted colleagues. Comments? Include them below.