After my last helpful post about how there’s no real rhyme or reason to how you throw your resume together, I’m sure you've been on the edge of your seat waiting to hear my advice on cover letters. These are the most irritating part of the application process. They are time-consuming, and while you’re writing them there’s a little voice inside your head saying “they’re totally going to throw this thing in the garbage and not even read it.” Worry-not my friend, that little voice is only correct 90% of the time. The important thing to remember is that if they DO read it, you want them to be impressed enough to call you for an interview.
Your resume may map out your relevant, previous experience, but your cover letter bridges your experience to the job you’re applying for. It says “Hey! See all those things I did in the past? Here’s why you’ll like that I did those things before.”
Step 1 – Content
Remember how frustrated you were when I explained how no one knows what should go on a resume? Well you’re about to feel it again!
Your cover letter should address the major skills and competencies listed in the job ad and explain how your previous experience proves that you possess those skills and competencies. Using key-words found in the job ad and illustrating how you’re a “perfect match” for the position causes the recruiter to realize “Hey! This guy read the ad and everything!” It makes them happy, especially if they wrote the ad.
This is also the appropriate time to explain gaps in employment. Be sure to note any other work you were doing at this time Examples: volunteering, running a home business, blogging…whatever moms do after they have kids.
Step 2 – Format
Who knows? Use a proper business letter format complete with addresses and dates. Use the same letterhead and font as your resume. Include an introduction and conclusion. I once read one that had bulleted points instead of paragraphs and it didn’t suck (I also read one once that did though).
A career counsellor once told me that the first paragraph (after the introduction) should be how my skills qualify me for the job, and the second should be examples of competencies that make me qualified for the position. You know what I think of career counsellors…sounds like b.s. to me.
Step 3 – Personalization
Aside from including the name and address of the recruiter (you should always try and get a name of someone to include in the letter), make sure to include a short tidbit of relevant information about the company you’re applying to. For Example: Company ABC has a reputation for its unique corporate culture, which complements my personality perfectly….or something like that. This lets the recruiter know you are purposely sending a resume to THIS company because you actually WANT to work there, and not because you are looking for a job. It also doesn't hurt to drop some names of people you know in the company…unless the people you know are terrible employees…then don’t mention them.
You can take this opportunity to introduce the company to your personality. If, like me, you’re eleven different kinds of adorable (note the quantifiable information) you can slip some elements of your persona in via a short tasteful joke. Be warned that this is a personal choice. You have no way of knowing whether this will work for you or against you.
Putting a cover letter together is a little like putting together a menu for a dinner party. You can nail the planning stage and execute perfectly, but at the end of the day it’s the taste of the individual that matters. You could play it safe and stick to a traditional recipe that is good, but bland OR you could try something unique that has the potential to really impress or disappoint the recruiter. Through no fault of your own, the reaction could be anywhere from inappropriate, euphoric moaning to anaphylactic shock.