There are probably as many, or as much confusion, misunderstanding and downright misinformation regarding cover letters as there are about networking. Why there should be so much “controversy” or angst over this one sheet of paper is beyond me.
Here it is – You need one and you need a good one.
Why, you ask. Glad you did.
I haven’t looked at resumes much of late (in fact, none at all since I moved to my new location), but last summer or so; my then boss would routinely hand me a stack (sometimes a few, sometimes a lot) of resumes to look at.Â Most looked the same.Â Most did not have cover letters. Most did little to excite me.
A little further back, my boss handed me a cover letter and asked if the applicant was writing to us or the competitor. Neither of us wasted our time looking at the attached resume. Who has time to read a stock cover letter that someone cut and pasted?
In fact, I read somewhere that most cover letters sent are never read. Because – frankly – most of cover letters, like resumes, read the same. Either they state nothing or state too much. Worse, you sometimes wonder if they passed middle school grammar. Canned cover letters copied or cut/paste from an example are worthless.
You must submit a well written – wait for it – compelling (yes, I love that word: compelling) cover letter that causes the recruiter or hiring manager to look at your resume with interest! Not like me and that stack of resumes.
And yes, you guessed it. Writing a great cover is not easy. But it’s not hard, nor is it overwhelming.
The key is that for all the tools and advice out there for you, at the end of the day; you must take ownership of that cover letter. When you do, that cover letter takes on your persona and that cover letter reaches out to the hiring manager.
Because if it doesn’t – you’re a dead duck in the water.
So, how do you make your cover letter sing? Well, for the tone deaf, here it is:
First, the mechanics of writing a cover can be found all over the internet, bookstore, or library. You need to do your homework.
But as you work the outlines of your letter, these are some of points to keep in mind.
Personable or sterile:
Your resume is a “business document.” Your cover letter is a letter (I know, duh). So, have you written any covers recently that start “To Whom It May Concern,” or “Human Resources,” or “Hello?” That cover that my boss handed me started with “Dear Store GM.” Wow.Â Not good. What does it say about you, if you don’t make the effort to find a name? With all the social media available, a letter that begins,”To Whom It Concern…” is unacceptable.
Conversational or formal:
Once again…with feeling…your resume is a “business document.” Your cover letter is a letter (I know, again duh). Letter has to be real. Define a formal letter, I don’t know. Maybe anything not hand written. Maybe the question should be rewritten to “real or canned.” Canned letters are stuffed with buzzwords and industry insider words. Be real. Be you. Don’t use buzzwords or business slang or acronyms. Be professional, but conversational.
You or Potential Employer:
The resume is all you. The cover letter is all about the employer. More specifically, it is about how you can be the solution to the employer’s issues and problems. Now, absolutely, you should send a tailored resume tweaked to meet the company’s specs. Still, that tweaked resume is all you. It’s what you have done in the past. The cover letter must convey the impression that you understand their issues and that you are the future and you are the solution.
Focused or Canned:
There is a dimensional difference between canned, industry buzzwords and writing specifically to the needs of that one company you are applying to. A part of that is to weave appropriate keywords and key phrases into your letter. And those terms come from the job posting. Those terms are specific to that job.
In essence, the cover letter answers the following questions in the mind of the recruiter/hiring manager:
- Who is this person?
- Why is this person writing?
- Why should I care?
- What does this person want?
By the way, you would think that the last question should be obvious, but as any good salesman will tell you – if you don’t directly ask for the sale, you ain’t gettin no sale.
Cover letters are an absolutely critical. Yet for some, writing a succinct, yet compelling argument on a single sheet of paper can be intimidating. You research yourself to write a resume. You research the company to write a cover. That can be daunting.
But, it is what it is and you need one. The good news is, there are plenty of help out there, including my very own – trumpet, please – Cover Letter Resources and Tools. But more importantly, it is a mindset. The time and energy necessary to send out hundreds of cover letters and resumes is probably about the same as sending out fewer, yet more targeted and tightly written ones. It is the quality versus quantity argument.
I’ll bet on quality every time, and so should you.