Speaking honestly, no one likes writing cover letters. You know how good you are and all of your capabilities, and then the dreaded cover letter must be written in a way that somehow condenses all your professional goodness into a concise two- or three-paragraph summary that spells out all the key reasons why you’re the best person for the job. What a pain.
Given that most people on the receiving end of communications from job seekers don’t even read cover letters, the first basic don’t for writing cover letters, is don’t write one… unless one is expressly asked for. In that case, then there are few basic points to consider when crafting that perfect cover letter.
An often-used phrase in cover letters (and in face-to-face interviews, for that matter) is, ‘As you can see in my resume….’ Starting any sentence with this sort of entrée is just going to bore the reader. They can read what’s in your resume, and don’t really need to be reminded. They key is not to simply recite or repeat what your resume says about you, but to interpret what it says in a way that grabs the reader, causes them to do a double-take, makes them want to know more.
Omissions: Know When to and When Not to
As described in a previous post that covered basic do’s and don’ts for resume writing, for cover letters it is also important to know what to omit and what should never be omitted from a cover letter. One of the most important examples of this includes key accomplishments that are not relevant to the job you’re applying for. If you’re applying for a position in internal audit, but your career history also includes a stint in theatre production, think seriously about whether you need to include anything in the cover letter about your achievements in theatre. Yes, that aspect of your career may be something you’re very proud of, and heck, maybe you were even nominated for a Tony Award. But, remember, it’s not relevant to the position you’re applying for. The person reading your cover letter is not interested in every stellar accomplishments you’ve had in your life, they’re only interested in the stellar accomplishments that are specifically related to the internal audit position they’re trying to fill.
Lastly, since cover letters are so commonly ignored by many recruiters and hiring managers, it’s always a good thing if you can craft a cover letter that is somehow innovative in its style and approach, enough to make someone actually want to read it all the way through and then invite you for an interview. Some cover letters do this by highlighting or bolding certain key terms that they believe the reader is looking for, thereby emphasizing even further those aspects of their experience they most want to be noticed. Other cover letters emphasize the candidate’s desire for the position more than their qualifications, as a way to appeal to the emotional side of the reader. And still others use the cover letter as a sales pitch, using kitschy buzzwords and a ‘don’t make the mistake of not hiring me’ tone, to get their foot in the door. Whatever the method, there are some times when innovative, new styles to writing a cover letter work. The key is, however, being more convincing than ever when the cover letter gets you to the interview stage, because that’s when you’ll need to more articulately explain yourself and all your wonderful, innovative, valuable capabilities.
by Melanie Haniph