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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Cover Letter

In my last post, I made some remarks about what worked, and didn’t work, for my resume.  If you’re going down that road, once you finish your resume you’ll be tempted to start sending it out.  Before you do that, however, you should think about your cover letter.

Recruiters, both internal and external, receive literally hundreds or sometimes thousands of resumes per day.  In the previous post, below, I talked about ways I found to make it stand out.  But there is another component – the cover letter, and you should not neglect the quality of your cover letters.  In some cases, recruiters will simply dismiss any resumes that don’t have cover letters.   Sometimes they will look to the cover letter to fill in additional information that isn’t covered in your resume (more about that later).  In every case, an attention-getting cover letter can mean the difference between your resume being read, or deleted.

Think of it this way: your resume is supposed to get the hiring manager’s attention.  Conversely, the cover letter gets the recruiter’s attention.  It draws the recruiter into your resume; it makes them want to read more about you.  Here are some tricks that helped me out, when I had to come up with a cover letter.

  • Highlight the parts of your resume that directly relate to the position.  Guide your reader through the resume, pointing out specific roles or projects that demonstrate that you meet or exceed the job requirements.
  • You can also use the cover letter to augment minor areas of your resume, for instance “Although it’s not highlighted in my resume, one of my additional responsibilities in my role at XYZ Company was managing a virtual server environment including ten servers and forty virtual guests.”  This might be important if you’re applying for a position where this experience is unrelated to the primary role, but is a “nice to have” in the job request.
  • Don’t make excuses for not sending a cover letter.  If the web form doesn’t include a cover letter option, append it to the front of your resume before you attach or upload it.  Always include a cover letter with your resume when you email applications.  And by all means, take advantage of any job website “apply for this job” options that allow you to include a resume.
  • Don’t Google “sample cover letters” right before you send your resume, and attach the best looking one.  Most recruiters have also Googled “sample cover letters” and then laugh at you when you include them as your own.
  • Take 30 minutes to an hour per job to think about the job req, what it’s looking for, how you match those requirements, and what value you can add to the role.  Write it all down.  Then, clean it up.
  • Finally, try to match the language and cadence of the letter to the type of company you’re applying to.  For instance, start up companies tend to be very high energy, creative environments – let your cover letter reflect your energy and creativity.  Don’t be boxed in to tired old catch phrases; let your creative side show when you’re applying to companies that are looking for creative talent.  On the other hand, if you’re applying to a company that is very conservative and proper, let that side of you show.

Now I’ll wrap up with a story.  When I got started on my job search, I broke most of the rules for cover letters.  I tried to avoid sending them if I could.  I used samples that my outplacement company provided me.  They were afterthoughts, if they were used at all.  My first big break came when I landed my first new job – what ended up being a short term contract, but still a win – and the HR recruiter commented that my cover letter was what put my resume ahead of hundreds of other applicants.  It was, in fact, a high tech start-up company and I had spent about an hour making the cover letter creative yet pointed, humorous yet not overly giddy, and it perfectly highlighted my experience against their job req, point by point.  It was the first time I had spent this much time on the cover letter – mainly because I felt that the position was “my position” – written for my exact experience.  Unfortunately, the job didn’t end up as good as the req, but the lesson I learned – which improved my job hunting skills later – was never, ever underestimate the power and value of a good cover letter.

posted by Michael Humphries-Dolnick at 7:03 pm  

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