Wondering why you aren’t being called for interviews? Your cover letter could be the culprit.
In tandem with your resume, a cover letter is a very important sales tool. In this economy–or any economy—you need to actively and emphatically sell your fit for a job. A resume alone does not do the trick.
As quick clarification, your resume is a very straightforward documentation of your skills and experience. It’s a summary of who you are and what you have to offer with a lot of facts and figures. When you write a very good resume—and you don’t leave out any critical skills or expertise—the same resume can and should be used for any job you pursue.
A cover letter, on the other hand, should be customized for each and every job. In my recruiting years I was dumbfounded when many women—even at the very senior levels—sent me “canned” cover letters. They were simple “about me” cover letters women carefully crafted and sent “as is” to every employer or recruiter with an open job.
Though it’s always nice to know more about you, what recruiters really want to see in a cover letter is a quick recap of why you’re the perfect fit for the job. This can’t just be an empty statement—you have a maximum of two pages to prove that it’s true.
Somewhere out there I’m hearing people say: “A two page cover letter…who would bother to read a letter that long?” And my answer is: recruiters who have hundreds of resumes on their desks.
All recruiters have to answer to hiring managers. All hiring managers write (sometimes ridiculous) job descriptions that include the profile of the “ideal” candidate. Recruiters do their best to find that ideal—and the faster you can show them you’re a close match, the faster you’ll get an interview.
Seriously, I would have read 10-page cover letters from candidates who were making my job easier and truly selling their fit for jobs. Without a top-quality cover letter, I had to slog through a resume trying to connect skills and experience with convoluted job descriptions. When recruiters are forced to do this, they can make incorrect assumptions about you and too quickly take you out of the running.
SO NOW THAT YOU KNOW THAT A CUSTOMIZED COVER LETTER IS ESSENTIAL, HERE’S THE BASIC FORMULA:
- FIRST PARAGRAPH: Write something sincere about why you’re interested in the job. What is it about the company or the type of work that attracts you? Employers want to hire people who are truly interested in their companies—not just people looking for a paycheck. Whatever you decide to write should be your original thoughts—not just a regurgitation of a company’s web site “About Us”.
- SECOND PARAGRAPH: Summarize who you are and what, specifically, you have to offer the company. This paragraph should be based on—not a copy of–the summary statement at the top of your resume.
- IN THE MIDDLE (THE BULK OF YOUR LETTER): Create a point-by-point match-up of your skills and experience with the requirements and responsibilities of the job. Make a list of bullet points that capture the key aspects of the job. Some things you don’t need to include: if they ask for a college graduate, don’t waste space on that point (they’ll see your degree on your resume). And be aware that most job descriptions are very poorly written and redundant. As a result you may end up grouping some requirements into one bullet point. After each bullet point, write one or two sentences detailing why you meet the requirement. Each time you do this you’re saying, implicitly, “I am a fit.” When you say you’re a fit 10 times in one letter, you become a candidate who is impossible to ignore.
- LAST PARAGRAPH: Put yourself on the team and say you’re looking forward to developing new youth marketing strategies for XYZ company—or whatever is appropriate to the job. Then use the presumptive close and say you will call to set up an interview.
This all sounds good, you say, but what about when you’re applying for a job online and there’s no way to attach a cover letter? Well, that’s your cue to get off the Internet and do more networking. You can sell your fit to people, not computers.
- Pursue jobs when you meet at least 75% of the ideal requirements and responsibilities stated in the job description. In this job market it’s fairly easy for employers to get close to 100% of their ideal.
- Don’t ignore the responsibilities and requirements you cannot meet. Tell employers you meet all of their requirements except A, B and C. Explain why it shouldn’t be an issue…because you have done something similar, you’re willing to take a course, you’ve always been a quick learner with new software programs, etc.
- Ask me for help: cover letters are one of my specialties. 🙂
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