Great Cover Letters

OK, so now your networking, personally and on-line, has helped you find the job of your dreams. Your resume is ready and has been reviewed for accuracy, writing and punch. Now, a simple cover letter thanking the recruiter for reading your resume, and it is off in the mail. Right?

Wrong! A recent survey of 150 executives found that 60% of these executives believe that the cover letter is more important than the resume when screening applications. Cover letters really do matter!

How Can I Get My Cover Letter Read?

1. A cover letter must be conversational, not too formal nor too casual. The toughest part of preparing a cover letter is getting the tone right. Too casual and recruiters tend to think that the applicant is not very sincere. Too formal and the applicant will sound stilted. The best way to review the tone of a cover letter is to ask a trusted adviser to read it and critique it.

2. A cover letter should be concise. I will never forget the time I received a four page cover letter and a six page resume from a candidate for a managerial position. I read the first few paragraphs and realized that this applicant seemed so impressed with himself; he would never understand a need for me to look any further. A good cover letter will never be more than one page, with two "meaty" paragraphs. Again, it needs to be just right. A cover letter that essentially says, "See my resume, attached." is a wasted opportunity. One that goes on for pages is overkill and can lead to the wrong conclusion.

3. A cover letter should be correct. Grammatical and spelling errors in a cover letter are unforgivable. A recruiter reading a poorly crafted cover letter punctuated with spelling and grammar errors will see poor organization, carelessness, and that the applicant doesn't care enough to give the application his or her best effort. Proofread carefully, and ask someone whose writing style and talent you admire to correct it before it goes out. Many recruiters indicate that they see the cover letter as an example of the applicant's writing skills; don't waste the opportunity to impress them by making critical mistakes.

4. A cover letter should reflect research into the employer. The cover letter should include references that reflect that the applicant has done his homework. Indicate how your experience and strengths would relate to the specific job. To do this, you need to know more about the job than what appears in a want ad. Also, express confidence in the potential employer by letting him or her know in the cover letter that you know something about the employer, his business, and his competitive position in the marketplace. Information can be obtained from the employer's website, business publications that are local to the area, or industry publications. Spend some time learning the business environment before you write the cover letter.

What About Students or Career Changers?

If you are a student or a career changer, emphasize your experience in light of the employer's need. Often freshly minted graduates or perhaps retiring military personnel moving to the private sector will be rejected out of hand for a job in a new career field. Use the cover letter to highlight projects, research, or other experiences which show competency in the field, even if the job history would not reveal it. Consider an internship in the competency area. Share success stories about working with people or solving tough problems.

The opportunity provided by a cover letter to catch a recruiter' attention, to showcase your writing skills and to show your interest in the employer and the position is an opportunity to often wasted by ignorant job seekers. Use this chance to show your stuff and to make the impression that will lead to a successful job interview.