You can lose them at hello.
If you are looking for a new job, or more elevated leadership roles, chances are the process begins with a written cover letter—email or snail mail. Even if your letter was prompted by a personal referral, you will need to send a formal letter to the person in human resources or the hiring manager in charge of the process of filling the position.
Yours needs to stand out in a pile of resumes and letters.
Vicki Salemi, a career expert for Monster, told The Cheat Sheet, “One way to help accomplish this is for them to demonstrate in their cover letter why they’re a perfect fit for the role while highlighting any outstanding achievements.”
Your cover letter is the icing on the cake of your resume. Craft it carefully and do not use a generic letter for every job regardless of the company or position. Professional letter templates and suggestions are available online for you to sample.
Most importantly, do not begin the letter with, “Hello, my name is… “
The simple reason is that if your email has your full name as the address (and of course it should be your name and not “FunGirl” or “VodkaShot”), wasting a sentence on your name is squandering time and space. Your name is the least important factor in an introduction. And you cannot afford to waste anyone’s time.
“A customized cover letter allows you to introduce yourself to the hiring manager and highlight skills you have that may not be obvious from your resume. More importantly, it's a way to show some personality while explaining how you fit the exact job being advertised,” writes Daniel B. Kline in Pantagraph.
Recruiting, promoting and retaining top talent means paying close attention to the hiring process, whether as a hiring manager or as someone aiming for a position. Understand your power to communicate your skills and use those skills to make a difference.
So here are 7 tips for creating a polished, noteworthy, polite, efficient and demonstrative cover letter that should run three to five paragraphs, tops. It should be no more than one page and in at least 11 point type. Don’t cheat and try to squeeze more info into a one-pager by making it 8-point type. You will annoy the hiring manager.
The letter alone will not get you the position. But it may get you closer than if you did not follow these tips.
Be polite, but not overly casual or too stiff in your tone. Address the letter to Mr., Ms. or Dr. where appropriate. To avoid the buzzkill of “To Whom It May Concern,” or “Dear Sir or Madam,” call or email to find out who is reading the letters and to whom should you address the cover letter. No first names. And do not write, “Hi,” “Hey,” or “Good morning.” The salutation, "Dear" is fine.
Get right to the point. Name the exact job title you are applying for and specify some of the key descriptions. But do not repeat the advertised description of the job verbatim. For instance, you can say you are applying for “regional sales representative with administrative duties,” but do not list the requirements and activities of the leadership roles.
Explain who you are and why you are perfect for this. Perhaps state the title of your most recent position and how long you have been in this field. If this is a shift, say that you are interested in learning about this field and have been interested for so many years, perhaps with a concentration in this area in college. Do not repeat your resume, but give top highlights in a sentence or two at the most. Have you won awards or received industry recognition? What types of leadership roles have you had? Include those.
Say specifically what you intend to accomplish and how. Far too many people write letters about what they are going to get from a company and how it is good fit because they want this job. What are you giving back? Here is a time when you can explain how you plan to use your time, energy and insight to offer the sales team or the creative group new ideas and ways to collaborate. Explain how you look forward to contributing. And know the difference between eager and anxious. Eager is positive, anxious is fear-based.
Say something key about the company or organization. You definitely do not want to tell the hiring manager about his or her company, but you do want to show that you have done your research. Express that you would like to be a part of a company that is moving deliberately in this direction or making investments in that movement. Do not say the obvious such as, “I see that Company XYZ has been called a top place to work by ABC Magazine.” Instead, weave it into a sentence this way, “I am eager to work for a company honored by ABC Magazine.”
Be positive but do not over-flatter. Throwing down superlatives can make you look desperate. Similar to someone you meet for a first date who gives too many compliments, you can sound insincere if you go overboard with the accolades. Write that this position is a good match for you and your abilities, skills and interests and that you would like to work for a company with this mission because you want to give back to a company of integrity.
Proofread before you send. Nothing sinks your chances more quickly than a typo or misspelled name. If you do not care enough to spell the company name or hiring manager’s name correctly, they cannot count on you for the big things. Establish trust with an impeccable, grammatically correct and polished letter. It matters. Follow protocol with spacing and font, header and closing with your name and signature. Sign your full name; you are not buddies and you likely do not know the hiring manager. Then read it aloud. You will hear if it sounds too stiff and formal or too casual and insincere. Fix it. You can’t take back a first impression, even if it is only through your letter. No human resources director will say, “This letter is awful, but I bet she would be perfect for this job.”
And remember, if you are casually looking for a better job or need one desperately, your cover letter communicates if someone would want to work with you or have you on the team in just a few minutes. Be likable, polite. That does not mean you tell a joke or try to be funny. You want your writing style to be open and informative and not stilted. You want it to reflect how you speak, so write conversationally. And do your best to come across as confident.
“You also have to believe in yourself, because applying for jobs can be a most mojo-crushing activity,” Liz Ryan, CEO and founder of Human Workplace and author of Reinvention Roadmap, writes in Forbes.
Go ahead. Write it. Polish it. Send. And wait for the offers of leadership roles to arrive.
This post ran originally in Take The Lead.