Recently, I wrote some career-advancing articles for a client. Whattya know? While researching, I was shocked to discover some of the dumb mistakes I’d made during my own career. Oops. Well, now I know — only a decade or so too late. Freelancing suits me better anyhow. Employers rarely let you have a parakeet chirping in your space and a cat purring on your lap. And cubicles are creepy.
OK, here’s one of the articles. Think I wrote about eight in all.
Do I Really Need to Send a Cover Letter with My Resume?
The answer is an emphatic “Yes!”
But, you say, “My resume has everything in it employers need to know.” Wrong! It only lists your job titles and employers, your responsibilities, and your accomplishments. But it doesn’t explain how all that qualifies you for this specific position.
Sending a resume to a potential employer without a cover letter is like walking up to a complete stranger on the street and handing them your resume. Without a cover letter, you haven’t said anything to convince the employer to read your resume.
Your cover letter gives the potential employer a taste of your personality and attitude, spells out specifically how your skills and experience are relevant to the position, and shows you’re not only familiar with the company’s mission, but can help them fulfill it.
A cover letter is the first step toward getting that interview you’re requesting. So put your best foot forward with a great letter!
Write a Great Cover Letter. But First…
Step One: Check Your Resume
Make sure your resume is current. Does it include every position you’ve held in the last 10 years (if you’ve been working that long), the responsibilities you had, and the achievements that would interest an employer in your field?
Your generic resume won’t be the one you send to every employer. You will want to tweak your basic resume to position yourself most effectively for specific employers. The following targeting tips for your cover letter will help you customize your resume, too.
Step Two: Research Your Target Company
In archery, you aim for the bull’s-eye. It’s the same in your job search. To target your message effectively, you need to find out what the company is all about. The company’s website will help you learn about its mission, organizational structure, values and culture, and its clients or customers.
Try to find the name of the manager of the department you hope to join, or the name of the Human Resources person. It’s much more effective to address your cover letter to a specific person than “To Whom It May Concern” or “Dear sir or madame.”
Step Three: Connect the Dots
Think about how your skills and experience connect to specific experiences, attributes or abilities the employer is asking for in the ad or job post. When you connect the dots, you create a picture of you as a valuable asset to the department or company.
Your cover letter will consist of one page filled with three or four carefully crafted, interesting paragraphs, in the following order:
Open with “Dear Mr./Ms. So-And-So.” Then, in two or three sentences, introduce yourself, tell them what position you’re applying for and why you’re contacting them (Don’t bother with how you learned about the opening, as in, “I’m writing in response to your CareerBuilder ad on January 10.”). Explain why you’re interested in working for this particular company.
The purpose of your letter is to sell this employer on the idea of asking you in for an interview. So in the second paragraph, state your relevant experience and show how well it fits the employer’s requirements. Offer your two or three strong selling points and examples. Show enthusiasm, but without going overboard.
In a few sentences, point the employer to your resume, indicate your availability for an interview, and provide your contact information (phone, e-mail). End with a positive statement about your desire to discuss the opportunity further, at a time that’s convenient for them, and thank them for their consideration.
You can close with “Sincerely,” “Yours truly,” or “Regards.” If your letter is on paper, leave four blank lines and sign your name. Some people think it’s better to sign in blue ink, so it doesn’t look like a copy. If you’re sending an e-mail, leave a couple of blank lines, then type your name.
After Writing the Letter
Be sure to proofread your letter before sending it. SpellCheck helps, but it’s not foolproof. It ignores correctly spelled words, even if they’re not the correct words to use in a particular context. For example, if you wrote “lion’s liar” instead of “lion’s lair,” SpellCheck wouldn’t notice the mistake.
Check Sentence Construction
Have you used active voice throughout, or did you slip into passive voice? Active voice is, “In this job, I created a system for…,” and passive voice would be, “A system was created that…” You want to be the actor, not a passive observer. So use active voice.
You should sound objective and professional, but not stuffy. Friendly and upbeat, but not casual. Words like “heretofore” will make you sound too professorial. “My BFF” or other slang expressions will make you sound immature and flippant. Stick with simple, clear, non-colloquial terminology.
If you’re unsure about the difference between “their” and “they’re,” or “its” and “it’s,” check a punctuation guide online or at the library. Be sure you know where and how to use commas and dashes, too.
Whether you’re sending a letter on paper or attaching a Word file to an e-mail, you will need to use a standard business letter format. You can find examples of block style, modified block style, and others online.
How long should you wait after sending your cover letter and resume before following up with the employer? That’s hard to say.
Remember that managers and HR people get buried in applications, and it takes time to sort them into “go” and “no” piles. Then it takes more time for someone to call and schedule interviews. You want to show you’re interested, but you don’t want to annoy the employer or HR person. A couple of weeks should be enough time to wait before calling. Use your own judgment as to when or if you should call again.
With an up-to-date, targeted resume and a well-written, compelling cover letter, you will improve your chance of getting an interview for that job you really want.