Never underestimate the importance of a cover letter!
I am sure that by now you have a chance to make some changes to your resume and it is now making your work history, accomplishments and professional skills & abilities crystal clear. It is now formatted in a way that would entice a busy HR manager to pull it out of a pile of hundreds. A great resume needs to be accompanied by a stellar cover letter and that's what I will cover today.
I have recently spoken with a variety regional HR managers, and can tell you that some read the resume first and some read the cover letter first. Since you probably do not know exactly how a prospective employer reviews applications, it is extremely important that the cover letter be as strong as your resume and custom tailored to each job you are applying for. It is important to utilize the keywords and phrases in the actual job description in your cover letter. This provides the reader with a conclusion that your skills and professional experience are the perfect match to the type of candidate they are looking to hire.
There is a formula that can be followed as a guide to writing your cover letters:
First Paragraph (Introduction & Purpose)
Do not waste this opening paragraph of your cover letter. It is essential that your first paragraph sparks the employer's interest, provides information about the benefits the employer will receive from you, and helps you stand out from all the other job-seekers who want the job.
Focus on your Unique Selling Proposition (USP) -- the one thing that makes you different from all the other job seekers. Identify two or three benefits you can offer the employer.
* Weak opening paragraph: I am writing today to apply for the account manager position you have posted on your company Website.
* Better opening paragraph: I have increased the size and sales levels of my client base in every position I have held, which in turn has increased the revenues and profits of my employers. I want to bring this same success to the account position you have posted on your Website.
Second Paragraph (Sell yourself!)
Know why you are the ideal candidate and be prepared to offer why with facts and examples. Provide details about your professional and/or academic qualifications. Offer more information about how you can provide the benefits you mention in the first paragraph. Be sure to stress accomplishments and achievements rather than job duties and responsibilities. Expand on specific items from your resume that are relevant to the job you are seeking. Use solid action verbs to describe your accomplishments and achievements.
If you do not have a lot of solid experience in the field you are trying to enter, remember to focus on key skills that can easily transfer from your previous work experience to the job at hand.
Third Paragraph (Sell yourself some more!)
Relate yourself to the company, giving details why you should be considered for the position. Continue expanding on your qualifications while showing knowledge of the company. You need to do your homework -- show that you know something about the organization.
Fourth Paragraph (Thank you & follow up plan)
The final paragraph of your cover letter must be proactive -- and request action. Demonstrate that you are very interested in the position and establish your intent to make contact. You must ask for the job interview (or a meeting) in this paragraph. Express your confidence that you are a perfect fit for the job. You must also put the employer on notice that you plan to follow-up within a specified time.
* Weak closing paragraph: I hope you will review my resume, and if you agree with what I have stated here, consider me for the position. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
* Better closing paragraph: I am eager to help advance the success of your company, and I am convinced that we should arrange a time to meet. I will call your office in the next week to schedule an appointment.
Please spend some quality time on your cover letters - they really can make or break your opportunity to get an interview. I will cover some additional tips on cover letter writing in the next installment of this blog.
As usual, please forward specific questions that you may have!