According Lisa Vaas, writing for The Ladders, fewer than 10 percent of HR departments actually scan cover letters, preferring to look at an applicant’s resume first. However, that doesn’t mean you can dispense with the cover letter entirely. “Most hiring managers have denied interviews to candidates qualified by their resumes,” says Vaas, “but disqualified by additional information in their cover letters.”
Your cover letter is your chance to sell yourself to an employer. Here are five ways to rise above the stack and get noticed:
Cover letters and resumes are under an extreme amount of pressure to hook the reader within seconds. Hiring managers have limited attention, and if your letter doesn’t give them a reason to keep reading in the first line—really, the first five or six words of the first line—you’ll have already lost them. Most cover letters begin with a variation on the standard “I’m writing to express my enthusiasm for this position.” Ditch the tired old boilerplate and try something different. One of the best hooks is simply dropping a relevant name, but you can also lead with an intriguing statement or bold claim. Just make sure you can back it up!
Solve a Problem
Drake Baer, writing for Fast Company, bemoans the lack of professionalism amongst applicants. He has several tips for writing better cover letters, including becoming a problem solver for your prospective employer. Baer writes, “The task for the applicant, then, is to make the convincing case that you have the solution: Show that you have the track record to fit the responsibilities and make the life of the person who hired you way easier.”
Focus on Them
Andy Burkhardt has a simple trick for standing out: Your letter isn’t about you, it’s about your prospective employer and what you can do for them. “If you focus your cover letter on them first and within that context discuss how your talents, experience, and attitude will enhance the work they’re trying to do,” Burkhardt advises, “you’ll already be ahead of the game.”
A Call to Action, or CTA, is a statement at the end of a piece of writing that motivates the reader to do something. At the end of most blog posts, for example, the CTA encourages readers to engage in the comments. You can incorporate a CTA into your cover letter by writing “I look forward to hearing from you soon” or a similar statement. Vivian Giang of Business Insider encourages applicants to reverse the call to action: “Tell the reader what you’re planning on doing next — for example, calling in a week or two to follow up.” This kind of statement encourages the hiring manager to expect your call and reinforces the impression that you are an applicant who isn’t afraid to take action.
Cover letters and resumes highlight your job skills and achievements, but unlike resumes, which are usually written in bullet points, cover letters also show off your writing skills. Brisk, easy-to-read, and well-organized paragraphs are the hallmarks of good business writing, so pay attention to both the content and form of your cover letter. The easiest and best way to proofread your letter is by reading it out loud. You’ll pick up on any clumsy phrases or missed words as you read. It’s also a good idea to have a friend look over your letter, but if you don’t have an English teacher on speed dial, try using an automated grammar checker.
One final word of advice: If you’re emailing your resume, the body of the email is your cover letter, so don’t attach it as a separate document.
What are your job search resolutions for 2014? Let us know in the comments!