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Nothing Pays Off In a Job Search Like Creating a Great Cover Letter
Creating a cover letter is one of the most important, yet frequently mishandled, steps that a job-seeker must take on the way to their hire. All too often, the job-hunter puts their energy into the searching for the job opportunities, and the crafting of a resume and leaves creating a cover letter off until the last minute. When that happens, frequently, they wind up using a copy of a cover letter template that they've found online or in some sort of cover letter template book.
The result is more often than not a stale and musty cover letter that doesn't get read by the Hiring Manager and winds up hurting the applicant's chances for landing the dream job. When that happens, all the work that the job-searcher has put in becomes wasted.
Luckily, once you know a few key concepts creating a cover letter that demands attention and inspires action becomes quite easy. So if you are looking for help creating a cover letter, back away from the free templates on the Internet, put down the cover letter samples book and pay attention for a few minutes.
Why Creating a Cover Letter Is So Important
In the first place, it helps to have an idea about what a cover letter should do before you go about trying to create one. A cover letter is more than just a chance to restate your credentials in a paragraph form. It's an opportunity to sell yourself to the Hiring Manager, and to inspire him or her to pick up the telephone and give you a call to come see him or her about the job.
Though it is possible to create a cover letter with only the most basic information about the target company and job, it helps to do some research on these matters before you start writing. The following information is particularly valuable when creating a cover letter that stands out and gets the job done.
First, what is the job you are applying for? You may know the title, but do you know the exact duties that the job requires? Is it to work as part of a team or more of a "lone gun?" Will you be interacting with the general public, executives or fellow-coworkers more often? Is this a new job that has just been created or has someone else left it before? Does it require any particular skills or working arrangements? Is there anything else out of the ordinary about the position?
Ask Around a Little
Naturally, you aren't going to be able to find answers to all of these questions. But the better you are able to answer each of those questions to yourself, then the more you can tailor your letter to the specific job. So do a little research. Go onto Google and look up the job title. You'll probably find a wealth of information about the job, its duties and the people that succeed at it.
Another source of information is friends and family and co-workers. Someone in your circle of acquaintances may have information about the job or the company if you do a little digging for it.
Which brings us to another set of questions that you will want to be able to answer: What is the business problem that the company hopes to solve with filling the position?
Often, knowing this means finding out the general direction that the company is moving in. Is the company expanding into a new area, business or industry? Are they trying new initiatives? Are they restructuring or otherwise trying to alter how they do business.
Once again, some internet surfing can help you with this, as can reading business publications and talking to people you know.
All of the information can help you create a cover letter that clicks with the Hiring Manager. For instance, if you were applying to a marketing position with a company and discovered through your research that they were most interested in expanding their market share among young women, that would have a definite effect on the accomplishments that you would list on your cover letter.
The third piece of information that you need to fine before you start to create your cover letter is the name of the person that you will send it to. Yeah, I know, that seems obvious, but a lot of letters go out addressed to "To whom it may concern" and "Sir/Madam." Think about what you do to mail that comes to your house addressed to "Resident." I'm betting that you throw it away. That's exactly what Hiring Managers do to letters that don't have their name on it. So go ahead and make a call to the company before you write the letter.
Once you've got all the information you can find, you are ready to start writing. And the first thing that you are going to want to write is an attention grabbing headline that gets the reader intrigued the second their eye falls on it. One way to accomplish this is an ALL CAPS, entered line that says something like "EXPERIENCED MANAGER SEEKS NEW CHALLENGES IMMEDIATELY."
Focus on the Important Thing
Once you've got the reader's attention, here's what you want to do with it. You want to make the case that you are exactly the solution to the business problem that is facing them. The way you do that is to describe how you have solved other problems similar to theirs. Remember, the company does not have time or money to take a chance on someone that may or may not come in and do the job right from the very beginning. Doing that would not only waste the company's resources on a bad hire, but would put off getting the right person for even longer. So the company is looking, always, for the "safe bet."
The safest bet of all is someone that is already doing what the company needs to be done, to as close a degree as possible to what the company needs. So proving that you are that person should be the point that you hammer home again and again and again.
Making this argument might force you to draw upon all the relevant aspects of your experience and qualifications that include academic credentials, job accomplishments, awards, honors and anything else that demonstrates your problem-solving ability. At the end of this portion of the letter, there should be no doubt that you are capable of doing what the company needs.
Once you've made it clear that you can solve the problem, it's a good idea to explain why you are so eager and passionate about what you do. Enthusiasm is one of the most attractive aspects of a candidate for a job. Every office wants to bring people in that are fired up about what they do and will inspire their co-workers with that enthusiasm. I call this part of the cover letter the "passion paragraph." Typically, this paragraph needs to point out what drives you besides the paycheck. Is it helping people? Is it the challenge of the job? Is it the relationships that you form as part of serving customers? Whatever it is, put that down.
The third part of the letter is where the argument that you have made pays off. You've proven that you are capable of solving the business problem that the company faces. You've demonstrated that you have a long and successful track record of doing exactly what the company needs their new hire to do. Then you've shown that you do this out of a genuine enthusiasm for the challenge of the job and that you will be a positive, energizing force for whichever company you join.
Time to Close the Deal
So now what? Now, obviously, you want for the Hiring Manager to take the next step to get you closer to landing the job. Usually, this means calling you up and setting an appointment. Come right out and ask for the appointment and the phone call. Give you number that you can be reached and express your eagerness to be contacted.
Once you've written this cover letter, print it up and let it sit off to the side for a couple of hours. When you pick it up, read it out loud and evaluate how it sounds to you. This is the last chance to check it for readability, grammar, spelling and clarity, so don't rush through this step. All it takes is a single typo, misspelling or misusage of language and your image of a professional becomes tarnished. If everything looks good, print it up on good, plain, white or ivory paper with a matching resume and send it out. Or if you are going to send it via email, send it off.
If you create a cover letter using these principles, chances are that this letter will be in the top one percent of all the cover letters that wind up on the Hiring Manager's desk.
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