A cover letter is a job seeker's not-so-secret weapon. When done well, it catches the reviewer's attention, shows your personality and gets you through to the interview round. When done poorly and written generically, it adds nothing to your application, and it might even harm your chances of moving forward.
During the hiring process, an employer might read hundreds of letters from excited applicants. Many candidates have read the same resources and followed the same rules for cover letter formatting, resulting in page after page of the same language and information. After a while, all of the similar letters will blur together in the reviewer's mind.
When a reviewer comes across a cover letter that breaks the rules or goes against the norm, it automatically stands out. The employer might stop and take a few extra minutes to read the letter, giving you an instant advantage over other applicants. A generic letter rarely gets this type of attention, particularly in a tough job market. Therefore, writing a generic letter might cause a job candidate to miss a rare opportunity.
It's not enough for your letter to contain one interesting paragraph in the middle of the page—it must stand out from the very first line. Avoid standard openings like, "I am writing to apply for X job that is posted in Y publication." Instead, use the first few opening sentences to set yourself apart. Include the name of the person who referred you to the job, or tell a personal story that explains why you want to work for the company. Once you have the employer's attention, she is more likely to keep reading.
Writing an original cover letter involves careful thought and analysis. Avoid the temptation to repeat the information on your resume. Doing so might reinforce your qualifications, but it only serves as a waste of the employer's time. According to Dice, restating your qualifications will also tell the reviewer that you didn't value the job enough to spend time on the letter. Use your cover letter to demonstrate how you'll be a good fit for the company. Go into depth about a particular qualification or experience on your resume, or explain how your other experiences, like volunteering or working in specific industries, will help you solve the company's problems. Research the company, and use your experience to prove that you have what it takes to excel. In the process, you'll demonstrate how you will be an asset, making the employer's job easier.
Writing a personal, powerful cover letter takes time, effort and research. By taking the time to avoid a generic language and content, you'll stand out from the crowd and position yourself as a strong candidate right from the start.
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