by Karen Rae Horwitz, President, JobGiraffe
It may seem to job seekers that cover letters are not as important as they once were, as we’ve all heard about how little time most hiring managers spend reading a resume or that a computer may actually scan your resume before human eyes ever do.
True or not, this does not mean you shouldn’t include a cover letter when applying for a job! Although your resume may be the only item reviewed during a company’s first round of selecting candidates for interviews, for the second round or beyond, you can be certain every piece of your submission will be carefully examined, and your excellent cover letter may give you a ‘leg up’ against the competition!
But what makes a good cover letter in today’s world? I’d like to give you seven simple steps to create the best personal/professional introduction (a.k.a. cover letter) you can submit.
1. Writing in the ‘first person’ and ‘present tense’ is the way to go: Within resumes, most candidates correctly refer to themselves in the third person and avoid using ‘I’ to create a more professional representation of their work history, but you should not do the same in your cover letter. You can speak to the reader in a more “normal” manner and tone, referring to yourself as “I” and discussing your past and your present in a manner that’s easy to read and understand, and will allow the reader an opportunity to sense your personality.
2. Keep your formatting simple and consistent: The header on your resume (that part at the top which contains your contact information) and your cover letter should be identical. You should use the same font and approximate size for the text in both, and in general make the two documents look as though they belong together. This simple organizational tactic reflects well upon you and will help you be remembered by the reader. Plus, should your resume and cover letter be accidentally separated, it will be very simple for them to be brought back together.
3. Don’t make your cover letter too lengthy or word-dense: Not only should your cover letter never be longer than one page, it should not look like a law school text. Asking a hiring manager to read a lengthy document about why you’re the right candidate for the job may be asking too much. Make sure there is a balance between the white background of the document and the black text. This will encourage the reader to engage in what you’ve written as opposed to just scanning it. Taking the reader’s time into consideration will go a long way.
4. Directly address the job you’re applying for and why you’re a fit for that job: Your resume submission should always keep the job you are applying for in mind and you should adjust certain information within the resume appropriately, but it should still read as an objective overview of your professional history. Yet, within your cover letter, it is totally appropriate to specifically address the job you are applying to – and stress why you’re a good fit for it! Share important highlights of your education, background and/or skills that are the most relevant to the position. If you know who the hiring manager is, or which department they’re within, you should be addressing them personally or by department. If not, “Hiring Manager” is acceptable.
If you are not willing to take the time to create a personalized and customized cover letter for each resume submission you make, then it is probably best NOT to use a cover letter.
5. Don’t make your cover letter a “mini resume”: The information or professional highlights that are within your resume should not be repeated verbatim in your cover letter. Your cover letter should be seen as a tool to either intrigue the reader into wanting to carefully examine your resume or, if it is being read after your first interview, to reinforce why you are a good fit for the position. Also, keep in mind that your cover letter is a great way to reference positive information about yourself that wouldn’t seem appropriate – or that wouldn’t fit – within your resume.
6. Highlight your main selling points: While your cover letter should read more like prose than a resume, it’s also always best to add a couple of bulleted or highlighted remarks within the cover letter. This will help to visually break up the letter and make it not only easier to read but will also make sure you get across a couple of your best selling attributes should the reader be in a rush.
This could be done by simple bullet points in the middle of the cover letter…
- With five years of successful outside sales experience, I’ve developed strong interpersonal skills and the ability to connect with people in all levels of an organization.
- With advanced proficiency in MS Office and experience with Oracle ERP systems and Salesforce CRM software, I have the computer skills necessary for this position
Or, it could even be done by addressing some of the specific needs listed by the company in their job description.
Your ad specifies: Strong interpersonal skills
I offer: Five years of successful outside sales experience that required working with people in all levels of an organization.
Your ad specifies: The need for strong computer skills
I offer: Advanced proficiency in MS Office, experience with Oracle ERP systems and in-depth knowledge of Salesforce CRM software.
7. A strong ending: Emphasize your interest in the position and, although it may seem obvious, always be sure to thank the reader for their consideration in a positive and professional tone. And be sure to sign the cover letter if it’s being delivered by mail or in person, and if sent via email, consider adding an image of your signature. This adds a personal touch and is sure to make you ‘stand out above the crowd’.
Now ‘Reach Higher” and get that job!
Karen Rae Horwitz
Karen Rae is President of JobGiraffe, formerly Paige Personnel Services, where she has guided her company through up and down economies for more than 20 years, advising both employers and job seekers on employment trends and challenges, and the strategies to meet them. She can be reached at KRH@JobGiraffe.com.