Being a hiring manager regularly involved in the recruitment process, I have a lot of experience reading cover letters and resumes. To help you achieve your career goals, I want to give you insight into exactly what motivates me to read some resumes in full, paying close attention to every detail, and why others just get a skim read, almost immediately being disregarded. Here are my top tips on how to write a cover letter and ensure you stand out from the crowd.
AVOID GENERIC COVER LETTER STANDARDS
Generically written documents are easy to spot and have very little impact on the reader. If a cover letter is clearly a cookie cutter rip from the Internet, full of common cover letter phrases like “dear hiring manager”, “my name is ___ and I am applying for ___” then you’ll probably fail to make a good impression. Most of all, the reader is not going to be motivated to want to read your resume in detail with an attentive eye.
Instead, create a unique cover letter specific for each job application. You should focus on tailoring a personalized message speaking directly to the reader. Research the person who will be reading your application: this means contacting the company directly and asking, utilizing LinkedIn, even accessing your personal network in case someone has connections with the firm you’re applying for. Not only get their name, but do some homework and find out about them in more detail – this may provide an angle you can use within the body of your cover letter to help make a good impression.
ADAPT YOUR WRITING STYLE
With the advent of the internet, email, and blogging, writing standards have become less and less formal. Although professional documents still need a certain standard of formality, a stuffier old style of writing is giving way to a more direct, personable form. Take advantage of this; too many times I read cover letters where the applicant is clearly trying too hard to maintain a professional demeanor, when really as a hiring manager, I just want to read about each applicant’s personal standing, what they’re like, why they are applying. Break the ice with a personable, positive writing style and you’ll have the reader engaged immediately.
DO SOME RESEARCH
Use a search engine to learn about the company you’re applying for. Find out about their history, who they affiliate with, who the founders were, and most of all, what’s the company culture and what are their goals. You can subtly garnish your cover letter with a few nuggets of such information. If I read an application and they touch on subjects like our company past, (positive) opinions about current departments and what they’ve achieved, even senior CEOs, I’m going to take notice – this is a great way to engage the reader.
GIVE YOUR RESUME PERSPECTIVE
Few job seekers have an ideal work history; climbed the industry ladder, promotion after promotion. If you’re burdened with common resume issues such as work history gaps, mixed industry background, missing education, limited experience, etc. then the cover letter is a great place to briefly but accurately address these problems. Explain that you’ve been raising a child, or that you’re switching careers to pursue something that motivates you on a more personal level; give a positive explanation and move on with the letter. When the reader gets around to reading your resume it’ll make a lot more sense when they see work history gaps, mixed industries backgrounds, etc.
DON’T JUST REHASH YOUR RESUME
A very common mistake many people make is to select career highlights from their resume and use these as the backbone of their cover letter. As a hiring manager, if I’ve already read your top achievements in your cover letter, your resume is going to have little impact on me. What’s most likely to happen is that I’ll re-read such information, begin skim reading the document to skip to something new…and then suddenly my attention is lost. Don’t let your cover letter detract from the impact of your resume. Cover letters should be about you; why you’re applying, what interests you in the job, and how the company position aligns with your goals and expertise.
KEEP IT SHORT
Although I recommend adding personality to your cover letter, you definitely don’t want to waffle on about family matters, previous experience with colleagues, or anything that may slightly resemble a sob story or personal gossip. Keep your letter structured, tell a happy positive story, make a point, then conclude. You want to finish strong, enticing the reader into reviewing your resume with the belief that you are a strong candidate and definitely worth bringing in for an interview. A cover letter is a bit like a brief encounter you may have on the street or at a bar with a hot guy/girl; whatever you say you want to keep it short and sweet, leaving a great first impression, and garnering enough interest that the other person will want to learn more about you!
DID YOU KNOW A PROFESSIONALLY WRITTEN RESUME INCREASES YOUR CHANCES OF GETTING AN INTERVIEW BY 40%?
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