The Best Kept Secret in the Job Hunting Process!
Our 2005 edition of this book follows. For more information regarding our 2009 edition, please find it included within "A Winning Resume... 7 Seconds to Success!" available at this site and newly at Amazon.com!
PURPOSE OF THE COVER LETTER
The cover letter, you will learn, is the best kept secret in the job hunting process. Although you can find articles, and even books on the subject, they seem to be devoted entirely to the routines of form and function. This guide discusses strategy, effectiveness of content and how the rules change according to employer preferences and technology.
What we propose to do for you is certainly not routine! We intend to expose the secret to you and bring to your attention the power of the cover letter, and, its importance in your quest for the ideal job. We want to make you aware of the rare opportunities a good cover letter presents.
An effective cover letter accomplishes the following:
This document introduces your resume and you to the screening authority, whom most likely you have never met and who will make the decision about whether or not to continue granting you precious time. It is a screening team’s responsibility to not waste company time by producing obviously disqualified candidates. What’s interesting here is that if you are wrongfully disqualified, it likely goes undetected. Yet, if your candidacy is passed along and you’re not an appropriate candidate, the error is noticed and the screening team is blamed. That is, it can be riskier to send you through than to disqualify you. Knowing this, use every competitive edge you can find.
The resume is a factual, impersonal and general record of your credentials and experience. Often, the resume wasn’t even prepared by the candidate. The cover letter, however, can be a compelling individualized message targeting to a specific opportunity. The cover letter reinforces your interest.
In today’s world of "shopping cart" job boards, employers cannot trust the serious intent and interest of any specific candidate. The cover letter answers to that concern and sets you apart… ahead of the competition!
The cover letter provides you opportunity to favorably influence the potential employer through strategic information and dynamic language, to motivate that person to grant you an interview… or at least phone screen. It affords you the opportunity to actually express passion and desirable behavioral characteristics essential to the position.
By learning the rules and applying certain specific strategies you will be able to write a dynamic and impressive cover letter. To assist you in this endeavor, we have provided the following information regarding Rules and Strategies.
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Learn the Employer's Preferred Means of Application
• If an employer is asking for electronic application through on-line templates, you MUST follow directions and use those templates precisely. Failing to do so will certainly set you apart -- but negatively, as someone who cannot or will not respect and follow instruction.
• First, a cover letter must be very specific. By specific we mean that it should refer to a specific job, and if possible, also to a specific company and/or industry.
The potential employer expects to learn three things from your cover letter.
Limit your letter to one page with plenty of "white space." Three to four brief paragraphs should be sufficient. Use a standard, professional business format.
The quality should be just as professional as the resume. Spelling, grammar and punctuation must be correct. If you do not have computer access, then it would be advisable to enlist help or use a public library computer. Use the same font style as the resume. Fonts should be fairly standard print. "Arial," "Verdana" or a similar font would be very acceptable. If hard copy, stationery should match that of the resume (envelopes should also be matching). Use an off-white conservative color. According to employer survey, Ivory is preferred as professional with warmth. Light gray is 2nd most popular, especially a "warmer" shade of light gray. Avoid bright colors. While they will certainly get attention, they will negatively impact reader bias, appearing obnoxious, displeasing to the eye and overbearing.
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STRATEGIES & FORMATS
Now that we have addressed all the basics, let us get down to discussing that best kept secret in the job hunting process. The three most important strategies of the cover letter are personalize, personalize, personalize!
Each section of the resume affords you a unique opportunity to personalize your message. In most cases you will be able to address your letter to a specific company and/or person. Your greatest opportunity to "grab" the reader's interest will be in your opening sentence. Start with a specific statement about the company or the person to which you are applying. Your middle paragraph(s) should present your personal qualifications as they relate to the position. Lastly, in your closing, you can personalize your interest in the position through summarizing statements of your credentials and also by asking for a meeting.
We'll start by discussing to whom you should be addressing your letter and follow with a detailed discussion of each section.
Do your very best to address your letter to a specific person. There may be times when you do not know the name of the hiring company. If you have a name and title, use them both with correct spelling. While Mr., Mrs., Ms., Dr. and other prefixes help, do not assume gender, as a mistake will hurt you.
If you are not responding to a recruitment but wish to apply to a specific employer, first visit the employer’s website to search for instructions on how to apply or postings of available opportunities. Today most employers prefer resumes submitted online. Please be respectful of this protocol.
If you do not have contact name or title to address, a safe salutation is “Dear Hiring Authority, (Employer Name).” The use of “Dear” is somewhat controversial but found to be preferred by most employers surveyed. This salutation demonstrates your interaction style. Another choice will make a statement about you, so choose carefully. “Hiring Authority” demonstrates respect for your audience, and this is always a good start!
Using Your Contacts, Professional Endorsements and References
If you know of someone held in high esteem by the hiring authority, by all means use that name in your cover letter. In doing so, please be certain this person has credibility with your resume/cover letter screener. Avoid the “guilty by association” syndrome. We strongly recommend that you respect the instructions of application/resume submission and do not use contacts in avoidance of this instruction. First apply through the recruiting company’s preferred means, and then, if you have a credible contact willing, have that professional follow up to personally endorse you with the hiring authorities. Show respect for the process and respect for ALL people and instructions involved in the process!
Establish a personal connection... prove and create interest. If possible, in your very first sentence, try to say something positive about the employer to which you are applying. This strategy not only flatters and creates positive bias with the reader, but also sets forth your sincere commitment to the company and begins to convince the reader of your potential to be a long term, enthusiastic and dedicated contributor to the organization. Today's employer invests substantially into the training of new hires. The average payback to the employer is approximately 7 months before they stop losing money from hiring you. Stability is a huge concern to employers.
Last Paragraph: The Closing
This is where you summarize your qualifications, thank the employer (for the opportunity to respond to the job opening or for taking time to review your credentials), and ask for the interview.
In a brief sentence or two you should restate why you are qualified for this specific position.
Thank the employer
"Thank you for taking the time to review my credentials" or "Thank you for your consideration."
Ask for the interview
The employer expects you to ask for the interview!
"I will contact you next week to see if we can arrange a personal meeting for further discussion."
"I will be in Chicago from August 15th through the 18th. I will contact your office next week to see if it would be convenient for you to meet with me during that time."
Follow-up Is Not Appropriate When… You are not provided a specific name, email address or title, but rather an on-line database form or Internet application for which to apply, and you have received instruction somewhere which deters follow up. Examples include “No phone calls, please,” or “We ask you to apply by Internet only.” The only candidates who should consider contact beyond these requests are those required to aggressively ignore communication protocol on the job, e.g. salespeople not responsible for relationship building. Respecting the time of others you are applying to report to and respecting the instruction of a prospective employer is critical to presenting yourself positively and remaining in candidacy. Demonstrating attention to detail is always important!
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