I have the occasional client who pauses when they are told the investment level of a great cover letter.
Why so much, they wonder. Is a cover letter really that important?
Let me put it this way: you send the perfect resume. But you attach a cover letter that had grammatical, spelling and punctuation errors? Or perhaps you don’t express thoughts in a clear, compelling way?
How would an employer respond? If you guessed not favorably, you are right!
Not proofreading and correcting errors in a cover letter is the number one job prospect killer for resumes and applications. In fact, the same rules for resumes apply for cover letters. They have to be perfect.
A great cover letter is in equal standing to a stellar resume. Why? Because it tells a lot about a candidate that a resume can’t communicate.
What a Great Cover Letter Conveys
A resume is usually presented more in the abbreviated or ‘telegraph’ style of communication. A cover letter, though, is a premier demonstration of your professional writing skills.
Another key clue to prospective employers? A great cover letter delivers is an understanding about the candidate that goes beyond the words on the page. Does the applicant actually ‘get’ what the employer is seeking in applicants for this particular position?
Why a Great Cover letter is Important
One applicant sent in a fairly qualified resume paired with a cover letter that addressed the position we were recruiting. But the person clearly ‘elevated’ themselves to a much higher management role than the position mandated. It was very clear that there was a disconnect. The person’s perception of the job duties were did not match those sought after.
Another thing employers check is whether the prospective employees follow the application directions. Failure to comply in the specified guidelines are red flags. It shows, to the employer, how this person might perform in a company. Will they do it ‘their way? The easy way? Or will they follow company procedures/policies?
By failing to follow application guidelines, many job seekers make their own obstacles to employment.
What a Great Cover Letter Contains
Now let’s tackle cover letter content. Earlier in this blog, Ernest White, the human resources professional, wrote about addressing skills. The cover letter is the prime spot to relate the skills and keywords of the job position to your experience. This component should be straight to the point, compelling, and make the reader want to read your résumé. One technique I use when teaching resume-writing classes?
Create the following equation to illustrate this point:
cover letter (why hire me) + resume (the facts) = job offer
Personalization is also a key component of a cover letter. Dpes the job opening have a generic “Attention Human Resources Manager” person to direct your application? Spend the time to try and ‘dig’ out a name.
Call the company and ask the switchboard operator outright what the name of the HR director is. Google them on the Internet. Chances are the person’s name is mentioned somewhere, perhaps on LinkedIn. The person might be also a member of the local human resource professional association. Or, you might even find the person’s name listed in an online business networking group
Any steps you can take to personalize the cover letter and direct it to an actual human being is important. When 99% of the other candidates submit their applications to “Human Resource Manager” and yours comes in addressed to Jane Smith, HR Manager. Don’t you think that Jane might be at all curious as to how you got her name?
What a Great Cover Letter is Not
Finally, this introductory document should only be one page. So no dissertations, please.
You have mere seconds to either capture employer interest or get tossed into the rejection pile. So be concise and relevant. Demonstrate an understanding of the job opening. Sure, this is a lot to do. But it is critical to making a successful pitch to employers.
Also, your cover letter should never be a litany of your skills. Nor should it repeat what you’ve already stated in greater detail in your resume.
You must position yourself as knowledgeable about their company. You must also show you’re a perfect match to the skills that they need. Finally, you must capture interest to compel the reader to turn to your resume for greater detail. Yes, all of this is tough to accomplish in just one page.
But a cover letter can reveal a lot to employers, or nothing at all. And in a competitive job market, even nothing shows them something.
For this post, YouTern thanks our friends at Pathfinder.
About the Author: Dawn Rasmussen, CMP is President of Pathfinder Writing and Career Services, a provider of results-oriented résumé, cover letter, and job search coaching services. Dawn is also the official “Get the Job” columnist for One+ Magazine distributed to over 26,000 meeting professionals worldwide and Talentzoo.com, a job resource site for creative and marketing professionals. Dawn is also a career expert on Careerealism.com – a top 10 world-ranked career advice blog. Follow Dawn on Twitter!