The Ultimate Guide to Cover Letters

cover letter Many job seekers don't pay much attention to the cover letter. While it's true that close to half of hiring managers routinely report they don't read cover letters, there is another half that frequently do. And since you don't know which half you are sending your resume to, it's important to have a powerful cover letter.

Job searching is about building relationships and proving to a prospective employer that you are a good fit for the organization. Your cover letter is your first opportunity to establish rapport with an employer.

In addition, a good cover letter addresses the employer's needs and showcases the candidate's ability to figure out employers' problems and offer proactive solutions. So next time you draft a cover letter, think of it as a key "touch point" with a hiring manager, rather than a required form letter.

Here's a guide to writing more powerful cover letters.

1. Reference the position you are applying for.

Be sure to mention the job title and job number toward the beginning of your letter as well as in your e-mail subject line. Many hiring authorities request this information and your inability to follow their instructions could jeopardize your candidacy and lead them to believe that you have not paid attention to the details of their request.

2. Prove to the employer that you understand their pain.

Discuss relevant business issues and ask thought-provoking questions to show the reader that you recognize their needs. Offer strategic solutions that position you as a thought leader who can add immediate value to the organization.

The Internet has brought people together in an effort to connect, exchange ideas and offer products and services. With the advent of technology, everyone is using Web marketing. With so much noise in cyberspace, it is a challenge to position a product or service so the prospective buyer can be receptive to your marketing message.

3. Tell the hiring manager what your value proposition is.

Write a statement that aligns you with the organization, industry, or job function you are targeting. Discuss an industry problem or need and prove that you are part of the solution.

Building sophisticated databases to manage critical business information for organizations is my expertise. My strength lies in my ability to analyze important outcomes for data management and then create user friendly and intuitive systems that help users do their jobs smarter, faster and more efficiently.

4. Add a quote from a supervisor, vendor or client.

Incorporating quotes that are relevant to the topics in your letter is a great way to create a memorable letter that connects you to the reader. Quotes on efficiency, innovation, business development and leadership can add a unique spin to your letter, a compelling value proposition, or a good conversation starter during an interview.

"Joy's attention to detail and her ability to do due diligence on HR matters is a strength of hers that truly makes her wonderful at her job. She has also been extremely successful at identifying problems and inefficiencies related to many of the processes in place and has gone ahead and proactively made adjustments to these procedures."

Supervisor, XYZ Company

5. Sync your qualifications to the requirements of the job.

Create a cover letter that addresses each job requirement point by point. The stronger the match you can make between the two, the greater the likelihood of securing an interview. If the job description lists five core requirements and you are only proficient in two of them, the fit is not strong and it may not be an appropriate position for you to apply to. If the position description lists five requirements and you can speak to four or more of those requirements, the position is probably a good match.

Your Selection Criteria

Demonstrated high-level research, analytical, oral and written communication skills

My Value Added

Uncovered over $60M in fraudulent banking transactions and all related financial documentation in conjunction with investigative role for XYZ Company. Documented findings for reports on company infractions to company officials.

6. Don't start every sentence with the word "I."

Vary your sentences to keep the reader engaged and don't begin every sentence with "I." Keep the writing style fluid and develop a tone that is somewhat conversational and develops rapport with the reader.

Most recently as the Sales Manager for XYZ Company, I transformed the organization's revenue model in 15 months when the target completion date was 3-4 years. I redefined the company's corporate culture by bringing in talent that was better aligned with the corporate mission and rewarding high performers with more strategic incentive programs. Prior to my arrival, no formal systems existed for measurement, and accountability was minimal. By overhauling an underutilized CRM system, I created processes to systematize, streamline, and track key metrics and provided a crystallized snapshot of team and individual performance.

7. Ask for the interview.

Create a strong call to action in your letter by expressing your interest in the company and requesting an in-person interview. Reiterate your reasons for feeling confident that you are the right match for the position.

Excited by the prospect of an opportunity with your company and impressed by the strength of your brand, I would welcome the chance to meet with you to discuss my qualifications in more detail. I am confident that I can deliver strong sales results for your organization and look forward to a personal interview.

8. Use an attention-grabbing subject line.

When e-mailing a resume, you are more likely to grab the hiring authority's attention and elicit a call to action if your e-mail includes a memorable subject line, such as President's Club Sales Manager, Award-Winning Customer Service Representative or Six Sigma Project Manager.

9. Keep it short and sweet.

Keep your cover letters short and use short paragraphs and bulleted lists to keep the reader's attention and make it easy for them to determine the match between your qualifications and their open job.

10. Address the hiring authority by name.

The likelihood of building rapport with the reader and validating your interest in the job is increased when the inside cover address refers to the specific person rather than "Dear Sir." Whenever possible, sleuth around for additional information on the hiring manager so you can personalize your letter. Try surfing the company website to find the appropriate name or call the company directly to make an inquiry.

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