In a time when a single job opening can yield literally hundreds of responses, how can you move your résumé to the top of the stack?
For starters, always include a letter-perfect cover letter. Why? The reasons are simple. A strong cover letter allows you to:
- personalize your résumé;
- grab an employer’s interest by emphasizing your strengths and assets;
- explain why you’re the ideal candidate for the job;
- solicit an interview.
Use this list of do’s and don’ts to create a well-crafted cover letter that strengthens your résumé and helps you stand out from the crowd.
Make sure it’s error-free. A single typo or grammatical error in your cover letter can send your résumé directly to the “circular file.” Ask a detail-oriented friend or family member to review the document before you send it.
Use standard business-letter formatting. It should include the date, the recipient’s mailing address and your address. Plenty of cover letter formatting resources and samples are available online – refer to them if you are unsure.
Pay attention to visual appeal. Make your cover letter eye-catching and easy to read by formatting spacing, paragraph length and margins. If you have to cut-and-paste the cover letter to submit it, double-check the formatting before sending.
Address your cover letter to a particular person. Never use generic salutations like “Dear HR Director” or “To Whom it May Concern.” Take the time to find out who will be reading your résumé. If necessary, make a phone call to verify the spelling of the recipient’s name, as well as his job title.
Tailor your letter to the job. If you are answering an online posting, tie the specifics of your cover letter as closely as possible to the actual wording of the job listing. Examine the primary requirements of the job posting, and then highlight one or two aspects of your résumé that key into the employer’s needs. Incorporate some of the listing’s language to demonstrate your understanding of the job, the employer and the industry.
Address potential concerns. If you anticipate a concern on the hiring manager’s side (e.g., a gap in employment history), use your cover letter to briefly address and explain it. Doing so will demonstrate your forthrightness and prevent the employer from drawing his own (possibly incorrect) conclusions.
Use the formal closing “Sincerely.” Type your name below and then add your signature.
Leave the ball in the employer’s court. If you really want the job, don’t be vague about your desire to be interviewed. Come right out and ask for it and include specific action steps you will take to follow-up (e.g., “I will call you in three business days to arrange for an interview.”).
Rehash your résumé. Instead, use your cover letter as a marketing tool to highlight the specific reasons you are ideally suited for the position. Your cover letter should answer the question: “Why should I hire this person?”
Ramble. A potential employer does not want to hear your life history. Keep your cover letter to one page and shoot for a maximum of four to five concise paragraphs. If you can’t shorten it yourself, ask a trusted friend or family member (who excels in grammar and business writing) to edit it for you.
Make it all about you. While it may seem counterintuitive, your cover letter should be as much about the employer as it is about you. Make sure you describe your qualifications in the context of the employer’s needs and the specific requirements of the job.
Make claims you can’t support. Many cover letters say things like “excellent communication skills.” Without evidence or examples, however, claims like these sound more like vague, empty boasts. Give employers the proof they need by providing at least one example for each claim you make.