If you thought resumes were misunderstood, consider the poor cover letter. While most folks will agree that a resume is needed, cover letters are a different story.
In an earlier post on cover letters we looked into whether a cover letter is actually needed, and while I couldn’t find a consensus we could conclude: “Always include a cover letter, if it’s not needed then it will be ignored, if a cover letter was expected and you didn’t include it then it’s likely to count against you.”
It seems most of the reasons why people ignore cover letters is because there are so many poor ones out there.
So how do you make sure your cover letter does as good a job for you as your resume does?
Lets deal with the formatting here.
Most cover letters are in a paragraph format, which is all well and good, but if the reader has a large number of ones to read, all they see is three or four large blocks of text. Take a look at this example.
It doesn’t look unpleasant, but you can see that all the text looks the same, nothing jumps out at you.
1. Bullet Point Cover letter
Choosing a different format will help your cover letter stand out from the rest and bullet points are a good way to get the reader to quickly see and read the most important points.
When you look at this example cover letter, your eyes are immediately drawn to the bullet points (as will any other reader). The bullet points already have the readers attention and now your words will have an even greater impact.
2. T-Style or Two Column Cover letter
An alternative is to include a two-column or t-style format in the cover letter. Like the bullet points your eyes are drawn to the two columns and the information each column includes.
Take a look at this example:
There’s a number of options for what you would include in the two columns, for example you could make one column “You want” where you would pick out from the job description the top 5 or 6 things, and in the other column “I have” which you would list the skills, experiences qualifications or whatever you have that matches what they’re looking for.
|You Want||I have|
|Choose 5 or 6 skills from the job description||List the skills you have that match their needs here|
Another option is to use one column to describe one type of skills you have e.g. business skills, and the second column lists some of the technical skills you have. These are by no means the only two things you could include in the two column format.
Want to try out the different options then log in to VirtualJobCoach and give it a try, use the preview function to see how they each look. A FREE eBook on writing Cover Letters is available from our Resources page.
Click here to see a video that explains how our cover letter works.
Cover letter etiquette: What should your cover letter say?
Some see cover letters as an insignificant part of the job search. Stand out by paying extra attention to yours.
You found a great job on Monster—fantastic. Time to apply! While job seekers often spend countless hours developing their resumes, they tend to treat their cover letters as an afterthought. Don't make this critical mistake; the cover letter can help your resume get noticed.
Think of the cover letter as your resume's cheerleading section. To make the best impression, follow these etiquette rules:
Say no to the cover letter cop-out
The first rule of cover letter etiquette is to send a cover letter—always. It doesn't matter if the hiring manager didn't ask for it or you're too busy to write one. It's proper business etiquette to accompany a resume with a cover letter, and it gives you the opportunity to help sell yourself for the position.
Busy hiring managers don't have time to wade through letters that could pass for dissertations. Get to the point as expeditiously as possible, and break any paragraphs seven lines or longer into short, easily digestible ones.
When sending an email cover letter, brevity is even more important. The nature of email calls for concise communication, in part because it's harder to read on screen than on paper. However, don't fall prey to the one-line cover letter that some job seekers try to pass off. It goes something like this: "Please see attached resume, and thank you for your time and consideration." You should be able to write a convincing cover letter in a few brief paragraphs.
Keep it professional but friendly
While a resume is generally a formal document, cover letters give you a chance to reveal your personality. Not only do you want to show that you're a good fit for the position, but you also want the reader to like you. Appropriate use of humor, combined with a friendly and professional tone, can help endear you to the hiring manager.
Whenever possible, address your letter to a specific person. If a job posting doesn't include a person's name, do some research to find out who the correct person is. Try calling the employer (but do respect ads that state "no phone calls"), and ask a receptionist for the hiring manager's name. Keep the salutation professional by using "Dear Mr. Jones," not "Dear Jim."
Focus on the employer's needs
If every other sentence of your letter begins with "I" or "my," you need to change the focus. Research the employer and find out what types of problems managers there are facing, qualities they look for in employees and their future goals. Then use your letter to prove that you are the answer to their problems. The most compelling letters demonstrate what you can do for the employer, not what the employer can do for you.
Your cover letter will stand out if you employ some creativity. For example, you could include a brief summary of your toughest sale or most challenging project.
You could incorporate excerpts of performance reviews to highlight your record of success. Or, you could create two columns in your letter to demonstrate precisely how you meet the employer's requirements:
- Your ad specifies: Five years' experience in IT.
- And I deliver: Six years of superior-rated performance in network design and administration.
Cover letters should be free of errors, so thoroughly proofread them before sending. If proofreading is not your strong suit, get help from someone with meticulous proofreading skills. If you're customizing a cover letter that you use for many positions, remove any placeholders; this will prevent embarrassing errors such as "I would be delighted to be your next ." And one last tip: Whatever you do, spell the hiring manager's name correctly.
Following cover letter etiquette can take time, but the reward is worth it: more calls for interviews and a greater chance of securing a new position.