Even if the job advertisement does not specifically demand a cover letter, it is preferable to accompany your resume submission with an appropriate letter. While you will never know the importance or lack thereof a decision maker places on this document, it is best to err on the side of caution.
Unlike a resume which is a historical document of past career achievements and should never be written using the words “I”, “me” or “my”, a cover letter is written in the personal pronoun and focuses on the future. The goal of a cover letter is to clearly articulate why you would be a valuable asset to the future employer and secure an interview.
#1. Use the same format and font as your resume.
Send a consistent brand message by using the same font and format for your entire resume portfolio including the resume, advert cover letter, networking cover letter, recruiter cover letter, direct mail cover letter, reference page, thank you letter, and any associated addendums.
#2. Utilize the personal pronouns “I”, “me”, “my” and incorporate keywords.
A successful resume is focused not on the individual but on their career successes, documented in the resume with action verbs and quantifiable metrics. A cover letter is about telling a story on why you are the perfect fit for the target employer/position.
Including descriptive keywords helps the reader understand how your skills and experience relate to the available position and corporate culture.
Confused about action verbs and keywords? Download my free e-Books An Elite Guide To Resume Keywords and 2,013 Action Verbs.
#3. Be a detective and uncover the name of the decision maker.
Addressing the letter to “Dear Sir or Madam” or “Dear Hiring Manager” is like having an avatar picture on your LinkedIn profile. It lacks professionalism and laziness. It is possible to uncover the name of the HR Manager or other key decision maker by networking, calling the company, conducting a Google search and most importantly, using LinkedIn to search for current (and past) employees at the target organization.
Submitting a personalized cover letter helps you stand out from your competition.
#4. Explain the purpose of your letter.
There are several reasons to write a cover letter aside from the standard job advertisement. Are you writing a networking letter because Mr. John Smith, your Director of Operations, has referred me to you.
Perhaps you wish to market yourself as a problem solver: Are you seeking a sales hunter able to propel your lagging North American market and reposition ABC Company as a leader in the retail sector?
Perhaps you’d like to make yourself available to executive search firms commencing your cover letter with a brief introduction: It is with immediate interest that I contact you regarding permanent appointments with your client firms for a Senior Information Technology Leader.
#5. Include STAR stories.
What’s a STAR story? The acronym stands for Situation, Task, Action,R esult and is a method used to portray career achievements, concluding with quantifiable results ($, %). Incorporate STAR stories that support the organizations’ mandate uncovered during your online research and/or outlined in the job description.
#6. Send a consistent message and don’t embellish.
Ensure the content in your cover letter aligns with the achievements depicted in your resume and can be defended during both an interview and the employers’ reference check process.
#7. Conduct due diligence on the potential employer.
Research the company gaining insight into their failures, successes, challenges, and corporate culture. Use the information gathered to strengthen your candidacy, alluding to how your skills relate to the overall organization and targeted position. Share how you see yourself contributing to advancing their mission and vision.
#8. Fill the page with compelling reasons why you are the ideal candidate.
Creating a one paragraph, white space rich cover letter is a killer! Submitting a 2 page cover letter is equally as dangerous. Strategically write a single page cover letter filled with career achievements and a call to action, however never repeat verbatim the same wording from the resume when describing accomplishments.
#9. Never send the same cover letter twice.
HR staff and recruiters are well versed in distinguishing between a job seeker who is sends a mass letter blitz versus a candidate who devotes the time to customize each letter to the potential employer and role.
While this may seem obvious, I have reviewed thousands of resumes sent for a free resume critique with spelling and grammar mistakes and no phone number to contact the individual; or the resume contains US spelling and they are seeking a job in Canada.
Proofread the document multiple times. If spelling and grammar aren’t your forte, reach out and seek the help of friends and family before sending your resume and cover letter to potential employers.
It only takes a few seconds for someone to read your cover letter and make a decision. Will your cover letter stir a call to action with a request for an interview or join the thousands of others in the blue box? Your future depends on investing equal amounts of time to a well written resume and cover letter.