Top Three Secrets of Powerful Cover Letters

In many industries and for many recruiters, a cover letter can make or break your application. While most job-seekers spend many hours lavishing attention to their resumes, many consider the cover letter an afterthought, and make one of several application-killing mistakes:

  1. They send a generic cover letter to every job, not making any effort to customize the letter to address the key elements of the job.

  2. They spend the letter rehashing the resume, or writing about their job history in chronological order.

  3. They send a letter with spelling or grammar errors, a surefire way to sabotage the entire application.

Instead, a savvy job-seeker should consider the cover letter what it really is: a powerful opportunity to show your writing skills, demonstrate interest in the employer, and make it absolutely clear you can do the job. In other words, a good cover letter is a sales letter, enticing the reader of the letter to stop whatever they are doing and pick up the phone to call you in for an interview. Here are three easy ways to distinguish your letter:

  1. Start with enthusiasm and use flattery. Many letters start with “I am applying for the position of X.” or even “My name is Jane Doe and I am applying for the position of X.” Rather, an opening line can demonstrate interest by starting with “I am delighted to apply for the position of X.” Those in creative fields can be even more innovative by starting with a question or a quotation. Also, at the beginning and end of the letter, make sure you mention your interest in, and knowledge of, the employer—make it clear you want to work for them, not just get any job.

  2. Name-drop. Before you apply for a position, find out who you know in the organization using an Advanced Search of LinkedIn. If you don’t know anyone directly in the organization, use LinkedIn—which should show you which contacts you have who know someone in the organization—and your old-fashioned Rolodex of contacts to see how you are connected. Aim to establish a relationship with someone in the company before a job is posted. One of the best ways to increase your chance of an interview is to build rapport with someone in the organization whose name you can mention (with their permission) in the letter—or who can recommend you for the job.

  3. Connect the dots. Using the job description as a checklist, identify the key elements of the job—items that are listed as requirements or are repeated. Use the middle 1-3 paragraphs of the letter to clearly prove, using quantified examples, how you match the requirements. Instead of simply rehashing your experience, use the second paragraph to explain how your past achievements prove you can do the most important job requirement.

Customizing cover letters is time-consuming, but it’s much less time-consuming than wasting time on generic letters that get your applications sent to the trash.



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