Say you’re an employer advertising for a new Project Manager. Do you have a vested interest in reading the re-hashings of work histories of the bunch of strangers who'll apply for the job? Probably not. Such is the case of most ill-begotten cover letters.
Yes, there’s lots of debate about the need for a cover letter. Some Recruiters and employers alike acknowledge outright that they do not read them. Can you blame them? Most of them are grossly ineffective. The popular opinion that they’re not necessary is driven by the fact that they are so poorly executed with a weak or irrelevant message that renders them useless.
The protocol, nonetheless, is that unless the resume is personally handed to the hiring manager or decision-maker, it should always be accompanied by a cover letter. This is true even if you give your resume to a friend or colleague for delivery to that decision-maker. The cover letter is the resume’s attire. It "clothes" the resume. To not have a cover letter is to send your resume out naked into the world!
The purpose of the cover letter is simple but overarching: To induce the employer to read your resume. This potent consideration means that, conversely, a bad cover letter may be the undoing of a very good resume, so that they both end up in the trash. This, you want to avoid.
COVER LETTER GOT'CHAS!
Let’s look first at the most common mistakes after which we’ll define what makes an effective cover letter:
Generic (or worse, sexist) salutation
Imagine Supervisor Amy Parker having to read through a mountain of cover letters beginning with “Dear Sir."
“I am responding to your ad...” (Well, yeah, no kidding.)
Rehashing of Work History
Is all about 'me'... (with very little 'what’s-in-it-for-the-employer.')
No call to action
“I hope to hear from you soon.” (Sure you do. But more than likely, you're not gonna.)
COVER LETTER MUST HAVES
Address your letter to a named individual. This means you might have to do some homework.
Without a specific name, address it to ‘Dear Hiring Manager’ or ‘Dear Recruiting Manager’ to personalize it as much as possible.
Customize each of your cover letters.
There is no one-size-fits-all cover letter.
Keep your cover letter brief. Never more than one page.
An early death knell of the cover letter is that it's too long. No one wants to read a personal essay.
When responding to a specific job, speak to your qualifications for the job.
Align your qualifications point-by-point with the (major) requirements of the job description.
Quantify when possible.
Not simply that you held the job title; what specific impact did you make within the job?
Try to answer the employer’s question: “Why should I talk to this person?"
This is the opportunity to promote your 'Brand' message: What can you do for the company?
Close the letter with a call to action.
Don't close with something cliché like, "I hope to hear from you soon." Rather, say something like, “I’m excited about opportunities within your company and hope to explore contributions I can make. I’ll call you next week to, hopefully, talk further or set up a time to meet with you personally." Never leave the ball in the employer's court!
Granted, cover letters are getting diminishing consideration, especially in the online application process. For employers and Recruiters who know the protocol, however, including one will surely set you apart from the pack and will differentiate you as the polished professional that you are. In today's job search, that matters.
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