Cover Letters Help Candidates Get Interviews

In today’s fast-paced environment, it’s often tempting to sacrifice a cover letter as part of the job application process, particularly if its submission is optional.  However, a well crafted cover letter gives you an additional opportunity to highlight and sell your skills and experiences to an employer or recruiter, provided you follow some basic guidelines.

First, recognize that a cover letter is a marketing tool—in other words, don’t treat it like a form letter.  In some instances, an employer may choose to read a cover letter first to get an overall sense of your background, writing style, or personal characteristics.  Accordingly, make sure you prepare an engaging letter that reflects how your background and experiences match the needs of that particular employer. To do that, think of your letter in three parts:  the opening hook, a needs analysis, and a call to action.

A good opening has greater potential to catch the reader’s interest.  Often referred to as the “hook,” it should immediately explain why you are the best candidate for the position.  Therefore, avoid such common openings as “I am writing in response to your advertisement for a business development manager.”   Instead, lead with a compelling example of your performance that is related to a key element of the position.  Consider the difference between the above example and a sentence such as “Improving cash flow by $500,000 per month by recognizing business expansion opportunities within an existing  client base highlights my qualifications to serve as your next business development manager.”  Keep the paragraph short; a strong hook (and perhaps some background information on where you saw the advertisement) is enough for this first paragraph.

Following the hook are two or three paragraphs explaining how your skills relate to the job.  However, be careful not to simply repeat the information that is in your résumé.  Your cover letter should focus on connecting key achievements highlighted in your résumé to the needs of your potential employer, using strong action verbs whenever possible.  Highlight these achievements using bullet points to draw out particular successes that are quantifiable in terms of dollars, a percentage increase in productivity or some other measure.  These points should also address the underlying challenge that led to the result.  Using bullet points helps the writer avoid excessive use of “I” in the narrative of the letter, which can make a candidate appear self-centered if overused.

After drawing attention to relevant achievements, create a compelling closing, or call to action.  Any sales professional will tell you that the key to closing the sale is to ask for the business.  Be enthusiastic and eager to be an asset to the company.  Either ask for an appointment or call at a time stated in your letter, followed by an expression of thanks for the reader’s consideration.

Now use those persuasive skills that you've honed and write your way to your next opportunity!

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