Cover Letters - “…love you, love you not…”
In 2012, the use of cover letters for a job application has changed. Here are a few hints than may be helpful in creating an effective cover letter.
In the past, no one would think of sending a resume to a prospective employee without a cover letter. In 2011 and 2012, the use of cover letters has changed. There are electronic applications, HR computer searches, and more often than not, we’re wondering whether or not to include a cover letter or if it is even going to be read!
For many HR consultants and career coaches, the consensus is 50-50 on this issue. My personal belief is that inclusion of an effective cover letter cannot hurt. But if you have good reason to suspect no one will really read it, don’t include it. I would never have said that 10 years ago.
Here are a few hints than may be helpful in creating a more effective cover letter:
1. Open Your Cover Letter with “Punch!”
Start off with something impressive, an accomplishment that demonstrates your past successes because you can be seen as an asset for the company to which you apply. Example:
“In my past two jobs, I increased sales by a minimum of 40% in the first 2 years and I believe I can do the same for the ABC Corporation.”
Go on to briefly discuss your fit with the company. If you establish your value right off the bat, you will be encouraging the hiring managers to look further. It will set you apart from dozens of other resumes in the pile, and may even get you short-listed.
2. Use “Cause and Effect” Statements
When you utilize “cause and effect” statements in your cover letter, you express your value because you state that you did “this,” which resulted in “that.” You show that you truly yielded a certain result while in a position of employment, or in a volunteer capacity. Example:
“While I began my career at Environment Magazine as an assistant copy editor, I was also able to pitch story ideas that helped to increase readership by 30% in the first 18 months.”
Prospective hiring managers want to see how your positive past results can be an advantage to their company, should they hire you.
3. Tell Them Why You Are Different!
Include that special quality item that makes you different. You may speak Mandarin, Russian, or Spanish, or multiple languages. You may have won an award writing an essay contest as a senior at college, studied art in Italy during your junior year abroad, or were on the volleyball team in high school. What separates you from others is what you need to demonstrate. Example:
“My experience growing up in rural West Virginia gave me a rich environment to draw upon, and I was forced to depend on my own imagination and creativity. At CM University, I was among the first 10 graduates of the first Department of Imagineering in the country, and I believe I can bring a good deal of fresh thinking to the New School of Imagineering Technology.”
Whether you draw upon your volunteer work, teaching children to read, helping Veterans or love painting, you want to give the hiring manager a taste of why you are different than another candidate.
4. Use Keyword Rich Words
Study the job description for keywords and make sure you tailor your cover letter to the job description. These words are identifiers for your job. They assure the hiring manager that your resume includes the same important job qualification descriptors that are included in the job description. Right away, this determines if you are a possible fit for the position. Some companies use computers to scan your resume and do the first cut mechanically. If the match is not good, your resume may not even make it to the hiring manager’s desk. Example:
Job Description: “Executive Administrator wanted for growing company in consumer electronics industry. Must know Microsoft, Excel, Word, Power Point, ERP Operating Systems (Sage Mas 90 or 200), etc.”
You certainly want to include some or all of the following keywords in your cover letter: “executive administrator,” “consumer electronics,” “ERP Operating Systems,” “Power Point,” and so on. These words should, of course, be in the body of your resume. You want your cover letter to attract the attention of the computer or the human being making the first cut by using key phrases and words noted in the job advertisement or description. Your chances of getting to the top of the pile increase!
5. Align Your Cover Letter
It is very important that a cover letter be re-shaped to what you believe the company is looking for because you will be attracting the hiring manager right away. If you use the standard, “enclosed please find” with no explanation of why you are a great fit for the job, your resume may never even be read. Example:
Job Description: “Medical Assistant (front office) needed on the west side of Los Angeles for plastic surgeon. Must have a minimum of 5 years experience and have excellent skills working with patients in a friendly office. Must speak Spanish fluently and work a very flexible schedule. 40 hour week.”
My letter needs to include my 7 years experience working in the front office in the Dermatology Department at UCLA, how flexible I can be, if I can work a 40-hour week and if I speak fluent Spanish. If I show in my cover letter, that I possess all or most of their requirements, I have a greater chance of attracting the hiring manager’s attention.
Every employer has a its own hiring “culture.” The best managers know how to select an appropriate short list of candidates, but many of them do not even get the opportunity to pre-select, because the human resource department is performing that task. Consider meeting a manager within a company you want to work for by introducing yourself and asking for an informational interview, without necessarily applying for a specific job opening. Keep in touch, and stay connected and your chances of being considered in the future may increase.