This is “The Cover Letter”, section 5.1 from the book Job Searching in Six Steps (v. 1.0).
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Is it worth writing a cover letter knowing it might never be read? The short answer is yes. Some recruiters don’t read cover letters and go straight to the résumé, but other recruiters read and carefully weigh the information in cover letters. You don’t know which recruiter will receive your résumé and letter, so write the best cover letter you can. A well-written cover letter is an opportunity to present yourself well and influence a recruiter, so always take full advantage of that opportunity. A cover letter can also be viewed as your first conversation with a future employer, so be certain its quality is exceptional.
Your cover letter should be engaging, informative, and show your command of the written word. It should flow easily from a reader’s perspective, making the connection between the opportunity and your ability to succeed if given the chance. The tone should be compelling. You should be excited about the opportunity and you should be confident of your ability to succeed (even if you truly lack the confidence).
Preparation and practice are critical to every step of the job search process, and the cover letter is no different. Five actions can help make your cover letter compelling:
Knowing your top strengths is vital to your job search efforts. To find your top strengths, assess your past successes. Fill out the following chart, and, next to each strength, list a detailed example of how you have excelled at this particular strength. Quantify as much of your example as possible, and ensure you include a clear beginning, middle, and end. Table 5.1 "Chart of Top Strengths" lists an example for your reference:
Table 5.1 Chart of Top Strengths
Notice that the example is very detailed:
The accomplishment was highlighted: You completed the task in half the time, and you automated the process. Most of all, you enabled your employer to close 25 percent of the outstanding transactions, adding about $100,000 in revenue to the bottom line.
(Whenever possible, identify the result(s) of your actions. Future employers will hire you because you have proved your worth to your past employers.)
Other strengths and skills could include (in alphabetical order):
Many job search candidates are uncomfortable talking about their weaknesses. This should not be the case. Knowing your weaknesses is just as important to your job search as knowing your strengths. Three very strong reasons exist to speak fluidly and confidently about your weaknesses:
Remember that everyone has strengths and everyone has weaknesses, including every CEO, every country’s president, every manager, and every one of your coworkers. You will be in good company when considering and discussing your weaknesses.
The trick, if there is a trick, to your weaknesses lies in your plan to strengthen them. Having a plan to strengthen a weakness is impressive, especially if you’ve already taken steps to do so.
Table 5.2 "Chart of Weaknesses" will help you identify five weaknesses, or areas you’d like to improve.
Table 5.2 Chart of Weaknesses
|Weaknesses||Plan to Strengthen|
Notice that the weakness is specifically described with a plan for improvement:
In addition, it’s important to note that a weakness should never be a core component of the job. For example, if you perceive your weakness to be public speaking, you wouldn’t apply for a position as a trainer. If you perceive your weakness to be analytical skills, you wouldn’t apply for a position as an accountant. A weakness can be a part of a job, for example, if you are applying for a position as an accountant, you would predominately do financial work and only sometimes present (e.g., share your findings with management), so using public speaking as a weakness in this case is fine.
Most job descriptions can be copied from the employer’s website. Copy the job description and do the following (if you only have a hard copy, it’s worthwhile to retype it as you’ll want to manipulate each requirement for the position):
In the following sample, each component of the job description is considered and deciphered, in preparation for applying and eventually interviewing for the position.
The CML Company, a leading provider of recruiting and staffing services, is currently seeking motivated, career-oriented individuals to join our recruiting team.
Our recruiters work with our clients and inside sales team identifying, screening, interviewing, and presenting qualified candidates for contract and permanent positions.
CML promotes from within. Entry-level sales staff start as recruiters. Once they master that role and have a desire to become a member of our sales team, they can be considered for promotion.
Qualified Candidates for the Recruiter Position Will
Qualified Candidates for the Recruiter Position Must
Consider the preceding sample. Study each component of the job description and how it relates to your skills so you can apply for and gain an interview for the position:
Note that it’s not necessary for you to know how to develop recruiting strategies. You can learn that on the job. However, a proactive candidate may research recruiting strategies and the identification of talented individuals.
You now have taken the following two steps:
Your next step is to check if the two lists are aligned:
The last step in this section is to select the top three skills needed in the job description, and decide which skills fall within your strengths and which you will highlight in the cover letter. These three skills, if positioned properly, will make the case for why you should be hired.
The cover letter template includes three main sections:
In the introductory paragraph, you introduce yourself to the hiring manager or recruiter. The paragraph should include five general items:
In the last paragraph, you summarize and close, taking the following five steps:
The middle of the cover letter is magical because it makes the case for why you’d be an exceptional hire. Select three strengths necessary to excel and assign each strength to a bulleted section or brief paragraph. Boldly indicate your strengths and include your best examples of how you excel at each strength. See the following sample cover letter as an example of how to highlight your strengths.
Figure 5.2 "Cover Letter Sample 1" and Figure 5.3 "Cover Letter Sample 2" are sample cover letters. There are more sample cover letters at the end of this chapter, and some of them correspond to the sample résumés at the end of the previous chapter.
Figure 5.2 Cover Letter Sample 1
Figure 5.3 Cover Letter Sample 2
If you have examples of your expertise in a particular discipline, consider creating a portfolio of that information to share with potential employers. For example, perhaps you are a communications major and have written several documents that showcase your talent in this area. Include five or six samples of your communications to help build the case for why you should be hired. Perhaps you are a graphic design candidate, and you created several visuals that were used by neighborhood businesses, or for a class project. Include those visuals in a portfolio to help prove your talent to a future employer.
How would you share this information with future employers? You can either attach your samples, along with your résumé and cover letter, in your e-mail to a future employer, or bring them with you when you have secured an interview. Either method is an acceptable way to impress a future employer. A portfolio that you can carry to an interview could simply be a neat and professional-looking folder that contains hard copies of your work. Or you can include a virtual portfolio of online work with a link an employer can use to view your samples. You can include this information in a cover letter and you can also include it in a résumé. Either way, having samples and presenting them can prove to future employers that you have the talent to succeed.
Formatting is important and must be neat and professional. It’s recommended that you flush all text to the left, as various software programs can wreak havoc with indentations and tabs.
Put extra effort into identifying the name of the hiring manager, so that your letter can be appropriately addressed to the specific person who will be reviewing résumés. Employers do not make this an easy step for you, and you have to do your research. Helpful exercises include researching the company website, reading news releases, and even calling the company to ask. Laziness will hurt your job search effort if this special effort is not made. If, after doing all the preceding, you still do not know the name of the person to whom you are sending your information, by all means, address it using Dear Hiring Manager or Dear Recruiter.