24 Aug Tips for Writing a Strong, Effective Cover Letter
In today’s digital age, many aspects of job-hunting have changed or dramatically evolved. Yet one constant remains: The need to stand out from other candidates and make a powerful “pitch” that effectively summarizes your unique qualifications for a position–regardless of whether you’re writing about a posted availability or one that you’re hoping may exist.
That’s why a cover letter has consistently maintained its essential role in the job-hunting process. Its importance cannot be overstated, because in many instances a cover letter reflects the first exposure you are getting (and the first impression you are making!) at a company.
Keep in mind that potential employers are extremely busy people–and that, most likely, you are one among many individuals hoping to grab a moment of their (very limited) time. The employers’ task is to find the best-possible candidates for further consideration; as an applicant, your task is to stimulate their interest as quickly and assertively as possible–without conveying a sense of arrogance, desperation or overconfidence.
This blog outlines a few of the most important considerations when drafting a cover letter.
Be yourself. No one knows you and your unique skill set as well as you. You should be proud of your past accomplishments (more on this point in the next bullet!), and discuss those accomplishments that are most relevant. Do not create a false or misleading portrayal of who you are as a person or who you would be as a potential employee.
Focus on past accomplishments, not past responsibilities. Employers review all job applicants with one overriding concern in mind: What would this person do to further my company’s success? It may seem like common sense, but never forget that businesses depend on trustworthy employees who can work well as part of a team. It is taken for granted that anyone being considered for a job can (and will) perform their duties as expected (that’s the “responsibilities” part); what sets candidates apart is any measure or example of their ability to rise to higher levels of on-the-job engagement, such that personal attributes like self-motivation, ambition and problem-solving are clearly demonstrated (that’s the “accomplishments” part).
The little things are actually big things. In a cover letter (as well as in a resume, for that matter), be especially aware of overall look and feel. Things like typos, poor grammar, sloppy appearance and erroneous information are surefire ways to get excluded from an employer’s shortlist of candidates. It always helps to get a second pair of eyes (or even a third and a fourth!) to review and comment on your work before you send it out; just make sure you get feedback from people you know and trust!
Do your research. When drafting a cover letter, it’s very important to have a grasp of the company and the nature of its day-to-day business operations. (The company’s website is an invaluable resource here.) Your goal is to convey a basic understanding of the company and “spin” your narrative to describe how you would fit well within its culture, drawing on your existing background experience. Think about it: You’re attempting to make a solid case as to why you’d be a strong addition to a company–and that case will only have credibility if you possess a basic understanding of the company itself.
Customize your pitch. It’s an easy mistake to make: Creating one “generic” cover letter that you can send out to numerous companies, with the expectation that a higher volume of output will increase your chances of success. In fact, the opposite occurs. To the extent possible, a cover letter should be customized to each individual company. Do your best to correlate your existing job skills with the nature of the position (and with the nature of the company!), so that the employer immediately can see that there is a potential fit.
Be enthusiastic. Tone is another key consideration when drafting a cover letter. While it’s critical to include your existing skill set and job history, the bottom line is that the employer is going to hire a fellow human being–a unique individual with their own personality, interests and work styles. All of us want to work with people who are friendly, positive and compatible–attributes that go beyond mere job titles in giving the employer a sense of exactly who you are as a person. Make sure to have a genuine interest in any job you are seeking; enthusiasm needs to come across loud and clear in your presentation. Of course, it’s a fine line here: Don’t be over-the-top in expressing your feelings and expectations; if your cover letter reads like a sentimental greeting card, chances are you need to tone it back. (BTW: This is another good reason to always get the opinions of others before sending out a final version.)
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