During the job hunt, a cover letter is sometimes little more than an afterthought — a necessary evil that completes a job application. Before you resort to boilerplate text, however, consider that in a tie between two candidates, a strong letter can be the thing that moves you forward. With a small amount of extra effort, you can write a letter that makes a lasting impression.
Choose the Right Words
The language you use can make or break your cover letter. As you write, consider that the reviewer may read hundreds of letters. Any hint of generic sentiment or phrases can cause the hiring manager's focus to drift, thereby rendering your letter useless. Avoid this problem by writing a quick first draft without worrying about word choice. Then go through and look for problematic phrases; in many cases, the first words that come to mind are often cliché or overused. Replace them with original phrases and specific words. If possible, use words from the job posting to make the letter more relevant to the reviewer.
Show Your Passion
While things such as education and experience are important to include in a job application, the cover letter is an opportunity to communicate your passion. Before you start writing, identify the things that motivate you to succeed in the open position. Don't judge the reasons; simply make a list. Choose the most compelling reason, and write a small story or anecdote to explain it to the reader. You might talk about how an elementary school field trip sparked your interest, or talk about a revolutionary research project in college that turned your career around. Stories are a memorable way to tell an employer why you would be the most motivated and enthusiastic candidate for the position.
Quantify Your Accomplishments
Like stories, hard numbers are memorable — in a tough job market, anything that makes you stand out in the reader's mind is valuable. Make an impression by including one or two stand-out figures to quantify your professional accomplishments. Instead of describing your management experience, for example, say that you led a team of 10 to increase sales by 50 percent. To make the biggest impact, choose examples that relate directly to the needs of the open position.
Employers hire for more than skills — they want to recruit pleasant people with positive attitudes. It's difficult to be charming in a resume, but the cover letter is wide open. Don't be afraid to show who you are in your letter. If appropriate, show humor or wit. Let your genuine enthusiasm shine through as you introduce yourself. Be careful not to stray into unprofessional territory or use overly casual language, and ask for feedback from people whose opinions you trust before sending the letter.
Writing a great cover letter takes time and thought, but the extra work can pay off in time. With a powerful letter, you can captivate an employer and leave him wanting more — and, in the case of a job search, more usually means an interview or a move to the next stage of hiring.
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