Resumes are essential, but by themselves, they can be somewhat cold and impersonal. Despite its detractors, the cover letter can remove a bit of that impersonal edge and, if done right, give the employer a good reason to spend more time reading your resume, and – just maybe – call you for an interview.
Especially today, with thousands out of work and more people competing for jobs, a cover letter that’s executed with great care and detail can deliver you from the ranks of the unemployed.
How can you accomplish that? Follow these three guidelines:
A cover letter should excite and intrigue a hiring manager to get him to want to know more. But many a cover letter has contained a phrase or two that doesn’t add anything, and can even be seen as insulting the hiring manager’s intelligence. For instance:
In each case, you’re not telling the hiring manager anything he or she would already know or assume correctly. (If you forget to include your resume with the cover letter, then you can kiss your chances goodbye anyway.)
If you know the company well, then great, you should have a good idea how your skills and background would fit into the job and the company culture. If not, look at the company’s web site, especially recent news releases, to see what it has been doing lately. Is the company’s stock publicly traded? Look up its quarterly (10-Q) and annual (10-K) statements in the Securities and Exchange Commission’s EDGAR database.
Your aim here is to uncover a few data points about the company that allow you to address your skills and how they can help the company improve its performance. For instance: I read recently that you lag your two chief competitors in market share in the Asia-Pacific rim. My business development experience in that region can help your company become more competitive there.
A few years ago, a former colleague was fielding resumes for an open position. She read one applicant’s cover letter, which included the following lame attempt at levity: “Now go have a nice weekend! I command it!” The applicant wasn’t called for an interview.
The lesson here is that you need to keep the cover letter professional, focused on the job posting, the employer’s needs, and how your skills and background can fill those needs. As for levity? Leave it for the interview, but only if the opportunity presents itself.
Ideally, the cover letter serves as an “opening act” for the main attraction: your resume. Use your cover letter to add a personal touch to an otherwise impersonal resume that merely lists your skills, accomplishments, and background. Give the hiring manager an early glimpse into the person he or she would interview, and want to hire.
About the author: Rick Saia, a Certified Professional Resume Writer, is a Web Content Writer for PongoResume.com. His work experience has included roles as a reporter and editor for daily newspapers and high-tech media, and as a research analyst.