The cover letter you attach to your resume is like a handshake with a new business partner. For many job seekers, it is the first real contact with a new employer, and if it's poorly written, it can easily be the last. Your cover letter is designed to introduce you to a hiring manager and encourage him to read your resume. To accomplish that goal, it should be brief, simple and engaging.
Making your cover letter brief is one of the nicest things you can do for your the person tasked with reviewing resumes. This employee can easily have hundreds of documents to look through on a tight schedule. A short cover letter that gets to the point quickly is like a cool glass of water in the desert to a human resources professional. Think of your cover letter as a sales pitch. You are briefly summarizing your experience as well as your interest in the open position while attempting to pique the reviewer's interest in the attached resume.
To that end, your introduction needs to complement your resume rather than duplicate it. Remember that all of your relevant education and experience are detailed in the resume itself. An over-complicated cover letter is a chore to read and makes the resume itself redundant and, therefore, unlikely to be read at all. Instead of providing an exhaustive list of your accomplishments, use the letter to introduce yourself, express an understanding of the job you're applying for and explain why your resume is worth reading. Leaving some things unsaid encourages the reviewer to keep reading through your application.
Short is good and simple is great, but your cover letter must also be engaging. Keep in mind the specific nature of the reviewer's interest in what you sent. Busy HR managers cannot linger over substandard or average applicants, and the best opportunity to get their attention is in the first paragraph of the letter. Most hiring managers are looking for an applicant who has the appropriate qualifications, knows what the company is looking for and can't wait to get started. Your cover letter must therefore quickly communicate these three concepts and entice the reader to consider your resume.
After you've covered these topics in the first paragraph, try to limit your writing to just one additional paragraph that simultaneously demonstrates your understanding of the position you're applying for and briefly refers to your relevant experience. Your tone should convey your enthusiasm for the job and encourages further reading. Finish your sales pitch with an invitation to learn more about your relevant experience by reading your resume.
Any position worth having will attract multiple qualified applicants. The key to winning the job you want is to separate yourself from the other applicants and encourage a reviewer to take your application seriously. Writing an engaging, relevant and, above all, brief cover letter is the first chance you get to set yourself apart.
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