Sunday, June 22, 2008

Cover letters

I spend much of my professional day culling through and reviewing application materials. Lots of people looking for lots of jobs. Thousands of resumes and cover letters over the course of my career. It strikes me often the mistakes that people make when creating a resume, writing a cover letter and applying for jobs. I can't correct every mistake here on this blog, nor can I coach individuals on specific problems, but here are the most glaringly obvious errors I see made by job seekers.

Cover letters. There is much discussion among professionals about the value of cover letters. to me, they are HUGE. They are IT. They are my introduction to you - they are everything that you want me to know that you can't put in your resume. They tell me how well you write, how seriously you take your job search, how much research you have done on your potential employer and the position and how YOU can make the match FOR ME. You are doing my work for me. If written well, cover letters demonstrate your mission, vision, direction, savvy and focus. When not written well, well, it can be your demise.

Let's take a look at the big mistakes.

1. Addressees. Don't write a cover letter using Notepad and Times New Roman font addressed To Whom it May Concern. That's lame. Really lame. You have just demonstrated how little homework you have done preparing for this position. If you don't know the name of the person doing the hiring, at least write Dear Hiring Manager, Human Resources Manager/Director, etc - something. Something other than TWIMC. If you have put forth so little effort in the letter, I can't imagine that your resume is any better and I doubt that I will spend much time on it.

2. Objective. In your cover letter, you should specifically address the company/employer's name, the title of the position and how/where you heard about the position. This letter should be custom written, not boiler plate. I can spot a boilerplate cover letter a mile away. When I read your cover letter, I should know that YOU want THIS JOB. Not a job, THIS job. Now maybe you just want a job, but I need to think that you want the job for which I am advertising.

3. Tone. Your cover letter should ooze enthusiasm, interest, excitement and professionalism. I should put that letter down wanting to meet you. The letter should permeate WOW.

4. Making the match. When I read your cover letter, I should be saying to myself, wow, this person can do this job! I should know why you think that this is your job and how and why you see yourself in it.

5. Content. Make sure that the content relates to the position and your interest in it. Do NOT add things like you will contact me next Tuesday at 3pm. My schedule is far too packed to expect calls from job seekers. However, if you determine that you want to add that kind of content, you better make darn sure that you call. I can't tell you the number of "I will follow up" cover letters that I review and no one calls. Big strike. BIG STRIKE. HR people have memories like elephants. We remember things and if I remember someone/something it usually isn't because of a 'good thing.'

Have no fewer than three people read your cover letter. Read it word by word for spelling errors, grammar and flow. Read it for proper punctuation and paragraphs, run-on sentences and spelling. Don't rely on spell check -if you have the wrong word, spell checker won't find it. If you worked for the Department of Public Works and forgot the L in Public, spell checker won't find it. Promise.

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