July 11, 2014

Refresh Your Cover Letter This Summer

Woman Enjoying Under A Water JetSummer is a slow season. The long, hot days are better suited to playing outdoors or lounging by the pool than hunting for work. Unfortunately, for the un- and underemployed, there’s no such thing as summer vacation.

Instead of letting your job search languish in the dog days of summer, roll up your sleeves, grab an ice-cold beverage, and give your cover letter a tune-up. Here are four areas to focus on:

Revamp Your Template

If you’ve used the same basic template for every cover letter, you might want to consider an overhaul. The first thing to look at is whether your cover letter is the right length. As this post on CareerBuilder points out, “E-mailed cover letters should be included within the body of the e-mail and be limited to two paragraphs, while those faxed or mailed should be three to five paragraphs.”

Keep in mind that most hiring managers will scan your cover letter for no more than a few seconds. To maximize your eyeball time, organize your writing into bite-sized chunks and concentrate the most important information at the beginning of each paragraph.

Refresh Your Keywords

In this age of automated screening software, it’s more important than ever to have a keyword-rich cover letter. Using the appropriate words can help get your application past the electronic gatekeepers and in front of a real live HR representative.

There are a couple of ways to generate keyword lists for your cover letter. One of the best ways is to read job postings, blog posts, and articles in your industry. Notice descriptions and key terms that appear over and over again; those are the words to focus on. If you prefer an automated approach, try using the free keyword planning tool at Google AdWords. You have to create a free account (linked to an existing Gmail address), but it allows you to generate lists of keywords related to your topic.

Rethink Your Signoff

If your cover letter closes with “Sincerely,” it may be time to make a change. Signoffs—formally called “valedictions”—are subject to trends just like anything else. We’ve written about email signoff etiquette before, and many of the same rules apply. Sincerely, Cordially, and Yours Truly are rather old-fashioned. Thank You, however, never goes out of style. Another good choice is a variation on I look forward to hearing from you. This signoff shows self-confidence and optimism.

Review Your Grammar

Every time you make a change to your cover letter, you open the door for errors to sneak their way in. You may think that typos aren’t important or that the hiring manager should be able to look past them and see what a valuable and skilled employee you’d be. However, grammatical errors in your cover letter and resume indicate one of two things to HR: you’re either careless or ignorant. Neither one is likely to get you a job.

As Nanci Lamborn, a 20-year HR veteran, points out, a cover letter riddled with writing errors “sends me the message that these candidates are either grossly lacking in basic skills or they are simply lazy. I have even seen candidates misspell their own names.” Don’t let a careless error or honest mistake keep you from landing your dream job! Grammarly’s online spelling and grammar checker is your first line of defense in catching those pesky grammar goofs.

Now go run through the sprinklers. You’ve earned it.

Read more in Cover Letter

A self-proclaimed word nerd, Allison VanNest works with Grammarly to help perfect written English. Connect with Allie, the Grammarly team, and nearly FIVE MILLION Grammarly Facebook fans at www.facebook.com/grammarly.
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