Thursday, September 1, 2011

The 4-step Recipe for a Successful Cover Letter

The cover letter is one of those anomalies in the job search that many people say are necessary, but they don’t necessarily use it to make a hiring decision. In talking to human resources experts and hiring managers, the consensus seems to be that they want you to send one. However, don’t expect HR to read the letter. They are more interested in whether or not you have the qualifications they need to screen you in or out.

If you make the cut, and are sent to the hiring manager for a pre-interview review, this is when your cover letter does its job. The hiring manager often reads the cover letter to get a sense of your personality and communication style prior to the interview.

Use this 4-step recipe to create your cover letter. However, just like most recipes, you will need to make some minor modifications to suit your needs.

Step 1: The Heading and Salutation. Your cover letter’s heading should be the same as your resume. If using a template, be sure to update the company name/address and change the date. Whenever possible, address the letter to a specific person. Do your research in order to try to address the letter to the hiring manager by name, always use the more formal Mr. Smith or Ms. Smith once you find out if the hiring manager is male or female. If you can’t get a name use: Attention: Hiring Manager.

Step 2: The Opening Paragraph. This paragraph should attract the reader’s attention. Include why are you writing, what position are you applying for, and where you learned of the position. Catch the reader’s attention with your qualifications and skills from the first line. Don’t use the same “I am writing in response to your advertised job” line that everyone else uses.

Step 3: The Middle Paragraph. This is your chance to sell your skills. This is the part of the letter that contains the sales pitch. Outline the top reasons you are worthy of an interview, keep in mind the employer doesn’t care about what they can do for you; they want to know what you can do for their company. Don’t just regurgitate your resume, but introduce them to what you are going to discuss in your resume.

Keep you letter positive, upbeat and packed full of accomplishments and relevant skills that you know will benefit the company. This is not a life history, rather a brief introduction into your resume that gives the employer a glimpse at your personality and communication style.

Step 4: The Final Paragraph. Never close on a passive note and don’t order the employer to take the next step. Tell the employer what you plan to do next – and do it! Express an interest in the position and the company, thank them for considering your qualifications, and tell them when and how you will follow up.

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