Is Your Cover Letter Useless? Print E-mail

by Alesia Benedict, CPRW, JCTC

Your resume may showcase your skills and demonstrate you are a perfect match for that job opening you’ve been eyeing. Yet, with so many qualified candidates in today’s job market and tall stacks of resumes to weed through, no one is safe in assuming each resume in the pile will get read. 

To entice an employer to read your resume, the best attention-grabber you can have is an effective cover letter. While a cover letter has often been regarded an afterthought, its power – particularly when competition is fierce -- is vastly untapped. 

Here are five tips to make your cover letter a valuable marketing tool that will compel an employer to learn more about you, making your resume an irresistible read:

1. Create a powerful opening.
Don’t give in to the urge to use the predictable first sentence where you state exactly where you saw the job posting. Not only is this the same line many of your competitors will use, but it does absolutely nothing to sell you as a top candidate.

Make a strong first impression by creating a powerful statement about your skills and experience.

Consider following two opening sentences:

“Combining my award-winning record as a top producer with exceptional account management skills has driven my accomplished sales career. ” 

“I read with interest the ad you posted on XYZ job site for a Senior Sales Representative. ”

It’s clear the first is a more powerful statement. 

2. Avoid including details which could work against you.    
Being open and honest with an employer is important, but it doesn’t mean you need to show all of your cards at once. Getting fired from a previous position is not a fact you need to include in a cover letter. It will give a negative impression before an employer has an opportunity to see what you’ve accomplished. It’s also inadvisable to mention salary history on a cover letter, since it could compromise salary negotiations down the line by giving employers an unfair advantage.

3. Beware of seeming too eager. 
While you are indeed seeking to sell yourself to an employer, you are offering valuable skills in return. Without even realizing it, many job seekers inadvertently let eagerness come through the letter in their tone. Rather than conveying what a great job you could do if given the chance, focus on describing some past accomplishments. An employer’s main goal is to find the candidate who offers the best value for a paycheck. Without saying so directly, demonstrating what you have done for past employers is the absolute best evidence of your potential for a prospective employer. 

4. Keep it lean. 
There’s rarely a reason to exceed a single page for a cover letter. You are just aiming to whet the employer’s appetite, not serve up the whole dinner. Let the resume provide the more comprehensive overview. This is also not the place for discussing “soft skills” everyone claims to have. It goes without saying you probably are a hard worker, a team player, and a dedicated employee. (After all, lazy, difficult, disloyal job seekers are not going to admit such qualities!)

5. Focus on you, not them.
The primary goal of your cover letter is simply to show the reader why he or she should read your resume. All you need to do is give them a reason or two, and the cover letter has done its job.  Many job seekers waste valuable space in a cover letter expressing their intense desire to work for the company, occasionally even throwing in facts to exhibit some knowledge about the organization. Employers already know obtaining basic company data takes only a minute or two with the click of a mouse. Well-researched information could come in handy during an interview, but it doesn’t add much value to a cover letter.
 
Utilizing these cover letter strategies will lend you an edge to maximize your resume’s chances of being read by an employer, but only as long as the letter is well-written and free of spelling and grammatical errors. Of course, the cover letter is a mere introduction to the main attraction – your resume, so be sure your resume is ready to impress employers just as much as your cover letter.