Covering Yourself (Letterwise)

One in an occasional series from Networking Pro Michael Masterson

Now that the economy is showing signs of life again, we’re seeing more job postings and opportunities. With the avalanche of resumes hiring managers receive for each opening, it’s a challenge to make yours stand out and catch someone’s eye. It’s your first and maybe only chance to make an impression. Of course, your experience must match the job and your CV should be well written and designed, but a nicely crafted cover letter can really help.

Or it can really hurt. Hiring managers review hundreds of applications and they don’t like “padding.” They will quickly toss aside a letter and its accompanying resume if they sense that. Here are some guidelines to help you put together a solid, targeted cover letter.

1. Do your research.

If you’re not already familiar with the company, find out as much as you can. This sounds like a no-brainer, but applicants often don’t take the time because they may be applying for many different positions. But, displaying knowledge of the company, its products and the role you’re applying for is critical in impressing a potential employer. Explore its Web site, check out its LinkedIn page (where you can also see who works there) and do general online research at Monster.com, Hoovers Online, etc. Make the time to do your homework and then reference details you learn such as recent company news in your letter.  This shows your interest in the employer and sets you apart from other applicants.

2. Make it look good.

The way your letter looks says a lot to the hiring manager. Having a well-designed resume and cover letter are even more critical when you’re applying for a position with a creative company. Be sure to format it in the traditional business letter style with the date, title, company, and address (if known) at the top. Choose a clean font, perhaps one that matches your resume, and be sure to leave plenty of white space so the overall effect is uncluttered and easy to read.  If it looks sloppy or too busy, the odds are that it will go unread.

3. Customize your pitch.

Your letter for each position should be different. You know how quickly you discard a form letter. If you don’t have a specific name, make your salutation “Dear Hiring Manager” or “Dear Human Resources Director” rather than addressing it to “Sir/Madam,” etc. Be sure to reference the specific position at the top of the letter. Make an immediate connection between the role and what you’d bring to it. Why are you the best fit for this job? It takes time to write an effective letter, but it may be your only chance to let a potential employer know why you’re a good prospect.

4. Edit yourself.

Your cover letter shouldn’t be a duplicate recitation of your resume. There’s no need to reiterate your specific work experience here. What’s important is to highlight your relevant strengths, previous track record of success and motivation for wanting this job. Your goal is to break through to the hiring manager and get an interview. That person may have reviewed dozens or hundreds of resumes for this role already. They’re very good at scanning letters and CVs for the relevant words and phrases that tell them you’re an excellent candidate. Make your point as succinctly as possible. You’ll stand out from the crowd and they’ll appreciate it. You might even consider a few bullet points to make their job easier. And proofread! Mistakes in grammar and punctuation are unacceptable and will often result in an immediate rejection. They indicate you aren’t careful and attentive, not qualities an employer is looking for.

5. Write a strong closing.

Your last paragraph should be proactive. Let them know you’re very interested in an interview and will follow up shortly to make sure they’ve received your information. This alerts them that you’ll be in touch again and gives you the opportunity to maintain a dialogue with the hiring manager about meeting in person. Your closing should be a simple “Sincerely” or “Best regards.” And be sure that your contact information is included after your signature so they can get in touch if the letter gets separated from your accompanying resume.

Happy job hunting!

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