You should always include a cover letter along with your resume, even when one isn’t requested. Cover letters can open a lot of doors for you, as long as you follow certain etiquette and construct them properly.
Nothing stinks worse than a plain, uninspired, sample-off-the-internet cover letter. If you use a generic cover letter, the hiring manager is going to think you’re generic too. And that’s not the kind of first impression you want to make. Here are some tips to avoid pitfalls and poor choices – the secrets to any successful cover letter.
- Start out swinging: Many hiring managers admit they skip reading the cover letter entirely at first, and start with the resume. If they see potential in the resume, they’ll backtrack to the cover letter and give it a chance. Why would they do this? Because hiring managers are used to seeing the same identical, bland, repackaged form-letters hundreds of times a day and they know these types of cover letters don’t reveal anything about you as a candidate – that’s why your cover letter needs to be unique and relevant to the job.
- Get to the point: In order to make a positive impression, your cover letter needs to be short, sweet, and to the point. A few paragraphs at most – and avoid long paragraphs of more than a few sentences each. Your cover letter should be a recap of your resume. Specifics sell and hard numbers are great to use when you can. Briefly detail past experiences and achievements. Get into the mind of the hiring manager – previous achievements dictate future performance. You are the solution to their need.
- Look out for mistakes: Make sure there are no errors. That means factual errors as well as spelling errors. Don’t trip yourself right at the finish line. Make the effort to make sure everything is right. As a rule, you should always tell the truth – make sure your resume, cover letter, and interview talking points all match up. The dates should coordinate perfectly and say different things: your resume and cover letter should compliment each other, not be a mirror of the other.
- Ask for the interview: If you don’t ask, then the answer is no. Be sure to include a sentence specifically asking to meet with the hiring manager in person. Your boldness will come off as confidence and you’ll be seen as a more proactive job seeker. A cover letter without including a request for an interview is like a car without wheels… what’s the point?
- Post script: Nobody ever skips the P.S. on a letter. Its irresistible. Take the opportunity to say, “P.S. I look forward to meeting with you in person.” This is also a great place to put a personal relationship or connection, if you have one. For example, if you have a friend at the company, you might write, “P.S. Abby told me about your new accounting package implementation – I just so happen to have gone through the same process myself last year, love to talk to you about it.” What you’re doing here is not really reiterating qualifications, but pointing out a personal connection (our fictional friend Abby being our connection.)
A strong cover letter may be the grain of sand that tips the scales of the job assessment process in your favor. Embrace the opportunity to highlight your most favorable attributes, get to the point, and ask for an interview. It may just be the secret to unlocking your new career.