Writing "Killer" Cover Letters
Confusion over cover letter styles is rampant. Most surveys clearly show that no one style stands out as the "best" or "most effective" to use. For this reason, do not get hung up on style -- focus on content. Does the text make the reader want to continue past the initial 30-second screening? With that in mind, an effective cover letter should adhere to the following guidelines:
Never lose sight of your objective: A good cover letter conveys exactly what you have in mind. Everything else is embellishment! Write in a way that suits the occasion and reflects your personality. In other words, write the way you speak.
Give your cover letters the attention they deserve: Job seekers tend to lavish attention on resumes, while treating cover letters as a nuisance to be done quickly. According to a recent study, 50% of the hiring managers at Fortune 500 companies utilize cover letters as writing samples.
Be professional: Always address the person in your letter by their last name and title, unless you personally know them and are on a first-name basis.
Do not use a generic salutation: If you want to stand out from the herd, send your letter to a specific person! Human resource professionals and hiring managers receive so many letters addressed to "Dear Sir/Madam" or "To Whom It May Concern," when they receive a letter addressed personally to them, they take notice. Savvy job seekers take time to call and find out the hiring manager's name.
Use a subject line to address blind ads: When you're not certain as to whom you should address your letter, leave out the salutation entirely and use a subject line, e.g., "Subject: Director of E-commerce Position."
Do not rehash information already on the resume: A cover letter should complement a resume, not be redundant. Keep in mind: A resume presents facts; a cover letter presents the person.
Customize your letter: Tailor your letter for each position, as well as each company. A cover letter that is all things to all people will not score the points you want to make.
Be efficient: When formatting, do not use long paragraphs; they are overwhelming to the eye. Instead, use approximately four short paragraphs.
Know about the company to which you're applying: There is no harm if you tactfully reveal that you are acquainted with the company or know someone who works there. Also, if you discovered something interesting about the company while doing research, mention it.
Do not include salary requirements: Premature request for salary is a common screen to contend with. To avoid the salary history trap, do not include it, even when requested. But do not ignore it, either; this could be viewed as a failure to comply with one of the company's first information requests. A better approach is to explain that salary is only one of many criteria in which you will evaluate a new position.
Personalize your classified ad letter: When responding to want ads, address each requirement using exact words and phrases from the newspaper ad that closely match your abilities to the company's stated needs.
Use proper business writing etiquette: Do not bold, underline, or italicize anything for emphasis that is not consistent with good English grammar. Many job seekers will do this in an attempt to draw attention to certain key points. Note: Quotation marks and bullets are the only permissible methods of emphasizing key points in a cover letter.
Do not make any typos: Some hiring professionals will not even look at the resume if your cover letter has typos. It should demonstrate the quality of your work, attention to detail and expected results from yourself and others. It must be nothing less than perfect. Pay close attention to grammar, punctuation and spelling. In this age of technology, there is no excuse for typos.
Do not overuse the personal pronoun "I": Your name, address, etc. are printed across the top of the cover letter and you will be signing it at the bottom, so they clearly know the letter is from you.
Avoid mini-lecture leads: Be careful not to use phrases such as: "You may not realize it, but ... ," "in today's competitive business world" or "never have managing costs been so important." They have the potential of talking down to the reader.
Be brief: That which is well said is briefly said. Keep your cover letter no longer than one page, with no more than four paragraphs. Avoid detailing your work history; save that for the resume.
Avoid fluff words and phrases: Words such as "feel," "believe," "hope," "think" and "high energy"; and phrases such as "I'm a people person," "results-oriented individual" and "excellent communication skills" mean nothing if the applicant fails to illustrate any of those attributes with an example.
Do not admit shortcomings: In an attempt to fend off employer's objections, some job seekers make the major mistake of calling unnecessary attention to their lack of experience, using statements such as: "Although I have no related experience." Instead, emphasize valuable skills, transferable experience and company knowledge.
Do not omit your signature: This may sound obvious, but do not forget to sign your cover letter. A potential employer might interpret this oversight as carelessness. Personalize your letter with your signature in blue or black ink. You can use a script font or a signature program on your word processor. Additionally, note "enclosure" several lines down from your signature to indicate that your resume is enclosed.
Following these guidelines can make you the proud owner of killer cover letters. With some luck, you will be called in for an interview; and with even more luck, they will hire you.