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Six Myths About Writing Excellent Cover Letters

Apr 12, 2010 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Education.org Columnist | 0 Comments

Think the cover letter isn’t as important as the resume? Think again. A cover letter is a sales document—and its job is to get the reader to want to look at your resume. Without a strong cover letter, your resume may not get a look. Here are a few tips for writing a strong and successful cover letter. 

Myth #1: The cover letter should be rewritten from scratch for each job

Many experts suggest that you write a new cover letter for each job you apply to. While that’s not necessarily a bad tactic if your job search is very focused and you’re only applying to a handful of jobs, it can become onerous if you’re casting your net a bit wider.

Your specificity should start with your job search. Have a cover letter tailored to each industry or career line you’re applying for. Include language and highlight achievements that make you a good fit for that industry and position. If you mention the exact job title you’re applying for—for example, “I’m writing to express my interest in joining your team in a Sales Manager position,” change the job title for each job you apply for. But streamline the application process by developing a template that’s generally applicable to all the major categories of positions you apply to.

Myth #2: The cover letter should compliment the company

I’ve seen some experts who say that the cover letter should mention something positive about the company you’re applying to, indicating that you have a passion for working with them. However, when given a choice between a cover letter that expresses a passion for the company and one that demonstrates clearly the skills and benefits you would bring to the position, a recruiter is likely to choose the second one. It’s much more important to include a bulleted list of your past achievements—with quantifiable figures as much as possible—demonstrating the solid, measurable benefits you’d bring to the position.

Myth #3: Your cover letter is just a summary or introduction to your resume

Wrong. Your cover letter is a sales document. Its job is to create enough interest in you to get the person to read the resume.

Start with a paragraph expressing your interest in the position and outlining some of your most important and marketable skills. Then insert an achievement list, of about four to six key contributions you’ve made to previous employers. Make sure these are relevant to the job you’re applying for—you want to highlight skills that are in demand. Then end with a simple closing paragraph with a call to action asking the reader to check out your resume and inviting them to get in touch at their earliest convenience.

Myth #4: Your cover letter should include your salary history

Do not include your salary history anywhere on your resume or in your cover letter. If it’s too high, the company will think you’re too expensive for them. If it’s too low, they’ll think they can get you for cheap. Keep the salary history off the table until well into the interview process—possibly the second or third interview or salary negotiation period, depending on the hiring process for this job.

Myth #5: The cover letter isn’t important

Many people believe the cover letter is an outdated formality and probably won’t get read—and they simply dash off a few paragraphs without much thought. In fact, the cover letter is what generates interest in looking at your resume—if hiring managers don’t like what they see, your resume may never get a glance.

Myth #6: Your cover letter should show your personality and outside interests

While the company will probably want to gauge your “fit” with them in terms of personality at some point, that’s more likely to happen during interviews. Showing your personality is not important at this stage in the game. Keep all information about yourself that isn’t relevant to the job off the cover letter—and the resume, for that matter. Don’t try to be funny or outrageous to make your cover letter stand out from the crowd, either. Instead, try to stand out by highlighting your achievements in the best way possible and presenting yourself as an exceptional fit for the job. Look into getting a distance education degree online to bolster your skill set for potential employers.

Your cover letter is an important marketing document, designed to sell you to potential employers. Write a strong one, and you’re more likely to get someone to look at your resume—and possibly call you in for an interview.

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