7 Secrets to Savvy Cover Letters

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By Vicki Salemi

While it's important to work on your résumé and ensure it sparkles, a cover letter can be just as important. This often overlooked tool can make all the difference. Here's what hiring managers are looking for in a cover letter that will set you apart from the rest:1. Give your credentials. What do you want people to know about you first and foremost during your elevator pitch? This is exactly what you should include in the first paragraph of your cover letter. While your résumé outlines your work experience and credentials in short sentences, the next section of a cover letter should highlight your biggest accomplishments with some detail. This is an opportunity to showcase what you want to stand out on your résumé.

2. Prove you're the best fit for the role by showing how you can help solve the employer's problem. The whole premise of getting past "gatekeepers" to be considered for an interview involves convincing them you're right for the job. Instead of showcasing why you should be considered, let your succinct accomplishments speak for themselves while showing how you can meet the company's needs.

3. Highlight distinct accomplishments. Since the purpose of a cover letter is to express your interest in the role and briefly mention why you're a fit, instead of rewriting your résumé, take this opportunity to highlight an award or achievement. For example, point out recognition within your group for exceeding sales quotas on an annual basis or jumping in to manage a team in your department in addition to your own daily responsibilities. It doesn't have to be long; in two sentences, succinctly reference the accolade so you stand out from other cover letters in queue.

4. Address any potential red flags. If you think something may immediately catch the recruiter's eye in a negative light, politely address it. For instance, if the position you're applying to is in New York, and your résumé address reflects Chicago, a recruiter may automatically disqualify your candidacy thinking: "We won't pay for relocation, so this candidate is not a fit."

Recruiters typically appreciate when candidates are up front and address concerns before assumptions are made. This also demonstrates a sense of maturity. Say something like: "While I realize my address reflects Chicago, I intend to move to New York within the next several months at my own cost." This will put the recruiter's mind at ease and allow him or her to consider your candidacy based on just that – your candidacy – and not location.

5. State your availability. Make sure your preferred start date is clearly stated in your cover letter. Is it immediately? Is it after giving two weeks notice? Is it within four months? Stating you're not available for four months may hinder your chances of getting the job, because hiring managers will likely want to fill the role as soon as possible. However, keep in mind that they may be building a pipeline for an expanding department. By stating your availability up front and being clear in the beginning of the interview process, you won't waste anyone's time – including your own.

6. Be clear and accurate. During an interview, how you say things is just as important as what you're saying. The same applies to a one-dimensional piece of paper. Your cover letter should be clear, concise and free of grammatical errors! Make sure you spell check your résumé and cover letter and give them an extra copy edit to make sure nothing was missed. In fact, have another person give them a read-through for errors.

It often takes only a few seconds for recruiters to review a cover letter. Two things always stand out: the length and grammatical or spelling errors. Take the extra time to review your cover letter and make it easy for a recruiter or hiring manager to say "yes" to your candidacy.

7. Include your contact information. This may seem basic, but there are plenty of cover letters out there with nothing more than a candidate's name. Keep all your information readily available to make it easier for the recruiter to find and get in touch with you. Include both your email address and phone number on each page of your résumé and cover letter. This shows you're detail-oriented and look forward to being contacted.
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