Court your prospective employer with an effective cover letter

Cover letter

If you’re like most job hunters, the prospect of writing a cover letter generates about as much enthusiasm as preparing a tax return. This is unfortunate because cover letters can give you a real edge in job searching. And most job seekers need every advantage they can get!

The applicant who creates a cover letter is like the young man who presents a bouquet of flowers to his prospective sweetheart. He doesn’t have to bring her flowers… but it certainly fares well for him if he does!

Cover Letter Strategies

In job searching, you must not only convince prospective employers of your value, but you must court them as well. The cover letter, however, is not just a courtesy. In addition to providing a personal touch, it does the following:

  • Conveys information that may not be appropriate on your CV (relocation and salary, for example).
  • Sneaks in another sales pitch – with a personal angle.
  • Impresses the reader by showing that you’ve taken the time to research the company’s culture, goals, and philosophy.

More than 80% of recruiters surveyed by the Society for Human Resources Management said cover letters are a “necessity.”

Focus on Keywords from the Get-Go

Generally speaking, the cover letter’s introductory paragraph is more influential than other parts of the letter. You may have composed a killer middle paragraph – or a great close – but if your first paragraph is ho-hum, the reader may stop there.

Because the cover letter’s first few words and sentences make a lasting impression on the reader, it’s important that you make a good impression. Does your introductory paragraph make you sound competent and dynamic – or does it make you sound blasé?

While it may sound simplistic, one of the best ways to improve your cover letter is to make every word count. One of the worst things you can do is start your cover letter like this:

I would like to explore long-term employment opportunities within your organization and have enclosed my CV for your review.

This statement is fine as far as grammar and punctuation are concerned, but it doesn’t communicate anything of value to the prospective employer. All-purpose statements like this won’t motivate an employer to continue reading because they are not compelling. In short, a generic introduction doesn’t impress anyone and its lukewarm approach may blow your chance to make a good impression.

An increasing number of job postings include a “keyword” section that lists the employer’s desired keyword skills.

Be sure to give them what they want! Incorporate these keywords where appropriate: Summary statement, job descriptions, training course titles, volunteer work, etc.

Project Value

One of the best ways to get employers’ attention in the introductory paragraph is to focus on critical keywords (i.e., qualifying skills, knowledge, expertise). If you can grab their attention right away, they are more likely to continue reading.

Even better – take it a step further and explain how you can improve their bottom line. The Before and After samples below illustrate this concept. Before samples fail to mention the candidate’s potential contributions. After samples are rich with keyword-heavy value statements.

Before: I would like to apply for a sales management position with your company.

After: My 13-year career in sales and record of success in account penetration and market share development qualify me for a key position on your management team.

Before: Your HotJobs posting for a marketing intern interests me, as I believe that I have the skills you need.

After: As a recent graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration, I’ve received solid training in all aspects of marketing research, product positioning, and statistical analysis.

Before: I would like to work for ABC Company as a sales representative and believe that my proven experience will benefit your company.

After: As an award-winning sales representative with a broad knowledge of the national ATM market, I have the ability to increase your company’s sales volume and market share.

Before: My 17 years of experience may interest you as you search for a senior-level candidate to lead your new company.

After: With 17 years of management success in highly competitive national and international markets, there is much I can do to contribute to your firm’s startup and expansion efforts.

Use an Appropriate Writing Style

Be sure to project the proper tone in your cover letter. For example, an aggressive writing style may be appropriate for a telemarketer, but isn’t likely to impress the employer who wants to hire a machinist. For the best results, match your writing style to the profession you’re targeting.
The secret of good business communication is to write in a simple, straightforward manner. The most effective cover letters are those that have a personal, conversational tone. Remember, one of the benefits of using a cover letter (especially online) is that it provides a human touch. Cover letters with archaic phrases like “pursuant to our recent conversation” make you sound like a robot, not a live person.

Another mistake (made mostly by entry level job seekers) is to provide a complete list of personality traits in the cover letter. Job seekers who use self-praising clichés don’t impress anyone, so be cautious here. A good way to keep this in perspective is to make sure that tangible (or hard) skills outnumber personality traits (soft skills) by a ratio of at least two to one.

Customize Your Approach

Human beings have a natural tendency to take the easy way out whenever possible – and job searching is no exception. Because time is a valuable commodity, you might be tempted to use boilerplate text or to copy a particularly good cover letter written by your friend or neighbor. These kinds of shortcuts will save some time, but it’s highly unlikely that someone else’s letter will “fit” you properly.

Does one hairstyle look good on everyone? Does one type of car fit the needs of every family? Of course not! In the same way, job seekers have unique strengths and weaknesses, and those who use cookie-cutter letters rarely do themselves justice. A well-written, custom-fitted cover letter is an investment in your career –- so don’t cut corners! Take the time to do it right.

Originally by Pat Kendall for

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