Effective Cover Letters
I am frequently asked “how do I get an interview?” I would say there are a couple of things you can do. The first is network, network, network. It won’t be what you know, but who you know.
The other thing you can do whether you are answering classified ads, OR, you are responding to a position that you networked into is to pay attention to your cover letter.
Should you include a cover letter? Abso-fricken-lutely. I don’t think that in today’s age the lack of a cover letter is going to kill your chances. But a lack of a cover letter isn’t going to help you. A lot of recruiters will say with conviction “I don’t read cover letters”. I will be honest with you, I don’t read most of them either. I do read the ones that clean, short and easy to read and the decision to read or not read is made in a mili second. Bullet points go a LONG way here and positioned in the cover letter strategically will catch my eye. A cover letter that has 4-5 paragraphs of size 10 font droning on and on about how the candidate is hard working, driven, passionate, and adaptable WILL go to the round file. Everyone says this stuff and it is NOT a differentiator. Properly formatted, listing specific accomplishments with numbers will quantify your actions and will catch my eye. Make your cover letter as factual as possible. It should not be filled with YOUR unquantifiable opinions of yourself.
In my opinion, it is easy to write a resume. It is an effective cover letter that gives you the opportunity to stand out. When I receive 100 applications a day, it does stand out to me when a cover letter is included because because so many people skip this step. I would say out of 100 applications, only 10% include cover letters. At this stage of the process there are two categories of applicants. Those that took the time to write a letter and those that didn’t. (That being said, I don’t want to read 100 cover letters a day. I want to skim them so writing them with this in mind makes them much more effective). An effective cover letter has the potential to do the following:
- Relating your interest to recent news or announcement about the company shows you did your research on the company. It shows you are interested and it shows you can conduct due diligence.
- A cover letter shows you have writing skills. You don’t have to write a tome, but even a couple of paragraphs can show that you paid attention in school. Any dummy can pay someone to write their resume, but a cover letter is usually the real McCoy. Use spell check and then read the cover letter word by word backwards to catch mis spelled words that spellchecker missed.
One trick that I like is cutting and pasting specific bullets from the job description that you are answering and list them in the middle your cover letter in bold. Take the most important bullet points or the ones the bullet points that your skill set fills and stick them in the middle of the cover letter. Your cover letter will literally read:
Your job description mentioned that you are looking for the following skills:
- 3 years in industry sales and retail
- 2 years as a buyer for men’s suits
- 2 years as a manager
As you can see from my resume, I have:
- 3 years working at a major clothing retailer
- 3 years working in men’s suits, 2 of which I was the sales leader
- 4 years a department manager leading a team of 7 sales associates.
Listed out in bullet point form and bolded, this stands out within the cover letter and it doesn’t take the recruiter but 5 seconds to recognize the job description they probably wrote themselves and the fact that you are qualified. Subconsciously they recognize those first three bullet points because they wrote them and you just answered their call.
A cover letter should be tailored to the specific job you are applying for. You should not recycle your cover letter from application to application. The cover letter gives you yet another opportunity to list out how you are qualified for the position that may not be mentioned on your resume. If it is on your resume, use a different bullet point.
One last trick that can sometimes work is to send the cover letter and resume to not only the HR group, but the head of the department, and the CEO of the company. You can usually determine both of these by doing a company search through Linkedin.
If your resume is interesting and the department head receives it – you will get a call from HR or from the department head directly. In many companies, hiring managers have various levels of involvement and autonomy when it comes to hiring. It may be because that is the process set up by HR, or HR is considered incompetent and the hiring manager feels they need to take things into their own hands. Either way, leverage it.
If your resume comes across the CEO’s desk, the CEO or their administrative assistant will forward your resume to HR via email or with a “route to” and because it came from THAT office it will be handled with kid gloves. HR won’t know if this is the nephew of the CEO, or if the CEO may follow up on “that resume I forwarded to you” in the future. (That is nasty) HR people won’t like me for either of the last two mentioned, but what is the point of hearing from an HR person if you aren’t going to get the real deal?
At the end of the day, if I have two candidates that are equal, where one has a good cover letter and the other doesn’t. . . . Guess which one is going to get the call?
nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone that is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.