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Will a potential employer read your cover letter? Maybe yes. Maybe no. But do you want to take the chance? Do you want to lose to the candidate whose cover letter made a great case for hiring her before the employer even looked at her resume?
I’m guessing not.
Some people think that a solid resume should stand on its own. That a cover letter is redundant. However, a good cover letter is not.
When most people think of a cover letter they think of this:
Dear Ms. Jones:
I’m responding to your ad for a staff accountant with Jones & Associates, CPA. I’m a detail-oriented, team player with three years of accounting experience specializing in tax preparation.
I’ve attached my resume for your review. Thanks for your consideration, I’m eager to learn more about working with you.
A ho-hum cover letter like this IS a waste of time.
A good cover letter will compliment your resume. It will provide additional information. It will tell your story. It will help the employer see and understand why you are a fit for the job. Here are three steps to try.
Step #1 Get Their Attention
Start by getting the recruiter or hiring manager’s attention. You can do this in a number of ways.
Mention something recently in the news that might interest him. For example, if you’re applying for a position in human resources you might begin by talking about a recent article on employment practices.
Ask a question about her staffing needs where you can provide the solution. Maybe their sales are down and you’re a revenue generator or their problem is employee turnover and one of your skills is employee engagement and boosting morale.
Succinctly explaining how you can fill their laundry list of skills. For example, “The accountant you’re looking for isn’t easy to find. You’re looking for someone with a strong audit background, who is comfortable with financial planning, and can be a strong contributor during tax season. I can offer you all of that and more.”
Step #2 Make Them Interested
Just as with your resume it’s important to make it all about the employer. Get a potential employer’s interest by demonstrating how you can solve her staffing problem. Try to make the connection between what you’re doing in your current job to how you will perform in your target position.
Avoid clichés like “excellent communication skills” and “team player.” Don’t make negative comments about your current situation. Even if your boss is in fact the devil that’s not something you want to talk about with a potential employer.
Step #3 Get Them to Want You
This is the time to reiterate your achievements. Read between the lines of the job description to find your potential employer’s “hot” buttons. Then think about how you can address those needs.
Pick a few achievements that you can use as bullet points. Next take examples from your resume—examples that hit those “hot” buttons—and rework them so they are new. Don’t repeat anything from your resume verbatim. Your cover letter should complement your resume not follow it word-for-word.
Just as your resume is a marketing tool your cover letter is a sales tool. However, unless you’re in sales closing your letter with something like “I’ll call your office next week to . . .” is probably not the best move. Particularly if you’re not going to follow through and actually call.
A better way to express interest and end your letter would be to say something like “I’d be happy to discuss my qualifications in more detail during an interview or over the phone.” It indicates your desire to continue the conversation while leaving the ball in the employer’s court.
Will having a solid cover letter that provides a reasonable argument for why you are a good candidate for the job get you hired? Maybe not. But, in a competitive job market it’s important to give yourself every advantage.
Is your cover letter working for you? Hire a certified resume writer to help.