Meet the perfect interview door-opener. It’s a brief document to entice the reader to turn to your resume and then call you for an interview for the job you really want.
It’s the cover letter, a sometimes misunderstood document that can mean the difference between meeting the garbage can and meeting your next employer.
“At its best”, says recruiter Peter Shrive, a partner with Cambridge Management Planners, “the cover letter features one or two interesting sentences to persuade the employer to read your resume.” The resume is to get you the interview, and the interview is to get you the job. It’s a three-step process where the first step can be the most important.
Far too often, say prospective employers, candidates do all the wrong things in their cover letters.
“Put yourself in the position of the person reading this,” says career consultant Gary Miller, who has combed through hundreds of cover letters and resumes. “If you don’t grab them right off the bat, people won’t read on. You must catch their attention right from the beginning.”
One cover letter he received began right at the top with a big mistake: the applicant had crossed out his telephone and cell numbers and manually written in new numbers. His application was immediately filed under G for garbage.
“Make it short and sweet,” he advises. “Tell me how you heard about me, tell me what job you’re applying for. I’ve had people send me really long cover letters with every award and certificate they’ve ever earned. Keep it short and sweet and to the point.”
Beyond the Basics
Once you’ve covered the basics, now it’s time to add some finesse. Grabbing the reader from the beginning is a certain way to snare an interview for a job.
“Right up front, you need a key selling point, an absolute attention-grabber that’s clever enough to get the employer to read on and that sets you apart from the crowd,” Shrive advises. It’s this career-highlighting sentence that will make the reader inquisitive enough to turn to your resume.
He offers these examples:
I doubled the size of my last employer over the last two and half years.
Sales of pharmaceuticals increased 20% when I became the regional sales manager at my last company.
I’ve trained 100 customer service representatives in the use of a new client management system.
Shrive also recommends the use of wit to open the door. “For instance, find the word ‘researcher’ in your dictionary. Spell it out phonetically and dictionary-style. Type out the definition. Right below it, type out your name, using the same phonetics and definition again. Don’t be afraid to use a clever gimmick to get in there. In the mass of humanity of an overburdened hiring officer, something like this will get that person’s attention.”
The Dos and Don’ts of a Stand-Out Cover Letter
Do give the basics: what job you’re applying for, the name of the establishment, and so on. Someone might have told you to send the letter to a particular person, so mention your referee by name.
Address the cover letter as specifically as possible. Determine who the hiring manager is before replying and applying. Take the time researching on the internet or reading appropriate business periodicals to get the name and title of the hiring official. This will help you get a foot in the door. And NEVER open your letter with Dear Sir or Madam or To Whom It May Concern. At the same time, do use Mr. or Ms. This formality shows respect.
Re-read the job posting and tailor your cover letter to highlight the qualifications and skills they’re looking for. Don’t be afraid to use exact phrases from the job posting, for example, “I’ve used Salesforce for the past five years and am proficient in all of its reporting tools.”
- If you’re replying to an ad mentioning a code or job number, refer to this in your cover letter.
- Do include something you’re not going to include in your resume.
- Check, check and check again to ensure your letter is typo-free. Ask a friend to be another set of eyes.
- If you’re emailing your letter, make sure your document will open properly as an attachment and that your computer system is virus-free.
- Don’t be afraid to use a clever gimmick to catch the recruiter’s eye.
- Don’t be longwinded. A few succinct sentences will suffice.
- Don’t reiterate your whole resume in a cover letter. An employer will read your resume anyway, if he or she likes your letter, so stick to the high points.
- Don’t over-promise in your cover letter and under-deliver in your resume.
- Leave the funny fonts and colored paper at home. Your cover letter should be easy to read.
- Never use a one-size-fits-all cover letter. Customized approaches always win the interview.
With a little flair and a lot of commonsense, you can ensure you not only get a foot in the door, but an offer on the table for the job you desire.