With all the advice out there about the myriad ways to present your best self on paper, it’s hard to know if you’ve captured enough good ideas and made enough adjustments to your resume and cover letter to make them stand out among the crowd. In particular, you want your cover letter to have just the right mix of key information about you as well as a good ‘hook’ that will cause a recruiter or hiring manager to take notice and read on. Here are five ways to ensure your cover letter gets noticed:
1 – Simplify with Email
A cover letter does not need to be a formally written business letter with the margins all lined up and printed on high quality stock paper. Instead, when sending a resume to a recruiter or prospective employer, simply type the cover letter content in the body of the email, attach your resume, and call it a day. It’s not necessary to feel compelled to attached a separate cover letter, or even really have one, in some cases.
With so many people out of work these days, many recruiting managers in companies are receiving an overabundance of resumes, most via email. The way to get your cover letter read and maybe even flagged for further consideration is to make it as easy as possible for the receiver to read and digest it quickly. If a recruiter can open an email, immediately read a few sentences about your background and interest without having to double-click on multiple documents, then it’s more likely that she’ll pay attention to the words on the screen.
2 – Keep It Short and Sweet; Really
You might think you’re a perfect fit for a job posting you read, and you want the company to see that too. So you work diligently to craft a cover letter that highlights all your strong points and experience relevant to the job. But before you finish writing that letter – Stop. Recognize that no one really wants to read a traditional cover letter any more, especially if it’s too long. Experienced recruiters know within a couple minutes of reviewing a resume whether a candidate is worth exploring further for a particular position. Given this reality, your cover letter should be brief and to the point. In the case of cover letters, less is always more.
A cover letter should describe who you are (“I have 10 years of credit risk management experience, both in rating agency and reinsurance environments”) and what you want (“My analytical and quantitative modeling experience make me a fit for job X”). Expand on each idea with one or two additional concepts, but no more. A cover letter should be a focused, descriptive complement to your resume, not a detailed, page-long essay about your full career story.
3 – Think Beyond the Paragraph
Cover letters do not need to be written in a paragraph format. Instead, consider following your initial lead-in sentence with 3 or 4 bulleted descriptors about your background. Or consider making a short list of the three high-value aspects of your work history you want to highlight to the hiring manager.
There’s nothing more off-putting about a cover letter than one that is too long or looks like paragraphs and paragraphs of not-so-useful information. Break up the text a bit with bullets or a short numbered list of your most meaningful accomplishments.
4 – Use Referrals as a Proxy
The best cover letter (a summary of you that explains why you are a fit for the job) is often the one you never have to write. Use your network in your job search, and get introductions to hiring managers or companies you’ve targeted. If your former boss can put in a few good words about the work you’ve done for her, and is willing to forward your resume to a couple of her contacts, then her feedback and your resume speak for themselves.
Through your network of references, your ‘verbal cover letter’ has helped to sell your skills, and saved you the time of having to write a cover letter at all.
5 – Check Multiple Times for Errors
Probably the simplest cover letter advice is the least heeded among job seekers. Just about any recruiter will report that they receive a lot of cover letters and resumes with misspelled names, typos, and other grammatical errors. If you send something out and haven’t checked for errors once, twice or even three times, you may be wasting your time by sending it in the first place.
Check to make sure the spell-check function on your computer hasn’t automatically changed your letter to ‘Mrs. Toumey’ to ‘Mrs. Tumor’. Ensure that you’ve accurately spelled the full name of the company, and not used any abbreviations that you haven’t seen elsewhere in company literature. And most of all, use proper grammar. If you don’t consider yourself a wordsmith or don’t always know when you’ve made an error, ask a friend or trusted colleague to read your resume and cover letter and point out to you the words or phrases that seem misplaced.
A cover letter that is short, to-the-point, error-free and written in simple language, gets noticed. Cover letters don’t guarantee offers or rejections. But if you’re going to write one (and remember that you don’t always have to), write one that will be more likely to grab the reader’s attention.
by Danielle Dresden