Give Recruiters a Reason to Read Your Cover Letter

Next time you’re preparing to fire off a resume and your  cover letter template… don’t.

Instead, take 15 minutes to find out who’s on the receiving end of your inquiry. Find out his or her career and background before you write your sales letter… and personalize your pitch.

In these times of instant information and profiles aplenty online, it’s important – and easy – to know your audience, and tailor your letter, your tone and even your best attributes based on who is the recipient and what they value.

“Know who you’re pitching to. Know what they do, their history,” said Jan Yager, Ph.D., a career coach and co-author of Career Opportunities in the Publishing Industry and other books. “Everything you do has to be targeted. You have such a short period of time” to make an impression.

That is clear from a new CareerBuilder survey of 2,662 hiring managers. Almost three-quarters of them spend two minutes or less on the average job application – including 45 percent who speed through one or more every minute, according to the CareerBuilder survey conducted by Harris Interactive.

So when you blast out a form cover letter to 71 HR managers and others every day, they need a reason to take a closer look.

“The biggest turnoff is not customizing it,” said Yager. Conversely, taking time to know something about the company and its history and show an interest in it “says something about your motivation, your savvy.”

Even if you use a form letter, you could personalize it in a few paragraphs. Start by researching the company and the hiring manager or HR contact. Read interviews with the CEO, Yager suggests, or a profile of the company. Try to understand where the person fits in the organization’s hierarchy, and whether he or she is the decision-maker or the door-keeper.

Then based on what you learn, you could add a few lines to your letter in several areas, including:

Shared Values

Read the mission statement and company blogs. Watch for clues in Twitter feeds on what matters most. If the company supports as its major charity a food bank or First Book and you were a volunteer there the year before, then by all means write a sentence or two about your contributions. If your future employer values innovation, your pitch needs to include examples of yours, even if you need to dig deep to identify them.

Strong Synergies

Take time to connect the dots between your skills and experience and their biggest needs and growth areas. Read other job postings beyond the one you’re seeking, said Yager. Read the company’s annual report. If the employer operates around the globe, show them your international expertise, language skills and 24/7 mindset. If they are launching a new low-cost brand, show your knowledge of the frugal markets and marketing.

Shared Background

If both you and the hiring manager went to the same university or church, sometimes that can create kinship. So can a shared love of an obscure artist, sport or a cause. Even having the same birthday or children of the same age can help build a bridge. But make sure that the connection is something that puts you both in a favorable light and wouldn’t seem like an undo preference, say, based on ethnicity or religion to someone else.

Handle this one with care. Ever since the Bernie Madoff financial scandal, “people are much more nervous about shared colleagues, family or friends,” said Yager. Sometimes those connections may make people more critical or judgmental, she said.

After you’ve written your personalized letter, be sure to save some of the details on the individual for later – the first interview for example. Then, put aside your letter and look it over a little later. “Let it percolate,” said Yager. Proofread carefully, and especially the new sections. Make sure they read well and relate to the person and organization receiving them.

“There’s an art to it,” she said. And like good art, you want your pitch to work like magic in the environment where it will land. You want your cover to be read!

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About the Author: Vickie Elmer regularly contributes articles on careers and small business to the Washington Post. She has collected a slew of journalism awards. Her career and workplace articles also have appeared in Fortune, Parents, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, the Financial Times, the Chicago Tribune, Newsday and many more. Elmer is the the co-owner of Mity Nice, a start-up that employs teens to sell Italian ice and sweet treats from a shiny silver cart in Ann Arbor, Mich. An active volunteer, she encourages kindness and creativity and embracing change, and she blogs and tweets under the moniker WorkingKind.

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