A Quick Cover Letter
Cover letters are an advertising tool, and we follow only one advertising rule: if it prompts a recruiter to identify you as a “yes” candidate, then it is a good advertisement.
When we asked a recruiter to review this Tip, she said:
This information is so critical; I rarely see a useful cover letter when reviewing resumes. The difference between this approach and a generic cover letter is remarkable. I agree you have it right. The goal of a good cover letter is to prompt a recruiter to pick up the phone – even before she/he reads your resume. Most cover letters can’t stand on their own. This works!
– Anne Shelton
The goal is to incite that person to read further. Effective advertising is to the point and motivates the recruiter to pick up the phone and call you to learn more. Do not use the letter to provide a comprehensive case statement of the details of your work history. Once you get the recruiter on the phone you will have the chance to be warm and friendly and to fill in the extra details that you did not include in your cover letter.
A good cover letter is always brief. Writing and re-writing it to reduce word count and achieve conciseness produces three benefits: 1) it helps you highlight key points about yourself that you overlooked in your first draft, 2) the process is valuable interview preparation, and 3) it allows you to express yourself verbally in a succinct and marketable manner.
Most recruiters are overwhelmed with job applications. As you create your quick cover letter template, keep in mind it will most likely be glanced at and not read word by word.
Be precise. Every bit of ink has to earn its place on the page otherwise it can camouflage your key points.
How to Format Your Cover Letter
Writing the Quick Cover Letter Template
Brand Image – The Job Dog sees it all the time. Job seekers use different headers, margins and fonts in their cover letter and resume. That presentation tells me – and recruiters – that you did not care enough to produce a cohesive image. Make sure the cover letter header, font and page layout match your resume.
Personalization – Don’t waste real estate (i.e., space on the page). Include essential information only: date, job title and job identification code. Exclude the employer’s address and other contact information. It only distracts from your content. The exception is when you use the USPS to mail your letter.
Salutation – Most job seeker websites recommend including a salutation to a named individual whenever possible. We disagree. Most candidate screening today is completed by a team who also needs to be recognized. Our recommendation is to use “Dear Hiring Team.”
If you are more inclined to follow the common “wisdom of the Internet,” and want to address your cover letter to a named individual, then search the company website or LinkedIn.
Note, grammar guides recommend a colon after a business salutation – not a comma. As in, Dear Hiring Team:
Length – One page. Two-page cover letters are tiresome and ultimately work to your disadvantage. Begin by brainstorming what you believe you need to say. We call this step “free writing.” Next, cut words, reword sentences to achieve brevity, and eliminate non-essential points. Use the Microsoft Word word-count feature to identify initial word count. Reduce your first draft word count by 25-50%. Fewer words equals more impact.
Content – Your content should demonstrate two critical points: 1) you are qualified, and 2) you are unique from all the other qualified candidates.
Qualifiers – Address your qualifications: the fundamental components of your education and experience. Qualifications are your basic credentials.
If you have not already done so, refer to Tip 6 for an in-depth understanding of qualifiers and differentiators. Until you do so, brainstorm ways to complete the following sentences.
- My overall experience is…
- My education is…
- My industry-specific experience is…
- My work history has been with…
- My primary skills are…
- I have a working knowledge of…
Differentiators – No one hires you because of your qualifications. It’s the differentiators, those factors that make you unique that get you hired. They are those statements about you that result in your letter standing out from others. Examples include:
- Include measurable performance indicators that demonstrate proven accomplishments (it is not only what you did, employers want to know how well you did your job),
- Added-value skills or interests,
- Professional level writing skills,
- Measurable accomplishments,
- Advanced education or certifications,
- Foreign language proficiency,
- Leadership initiatives,
- Collaborative project team that saved costs, generated revenue, increased throughput,
- Non-traditional yet applicable experiences.
Key Words – As you make final word choices, review the cover letter to confirm you have included key words and terms used by the employer in the job posting. You want to make solid connections to key words. Doing so raises the probability that you will be selected by the employer’s applicant tracking system for a recruiter’s review.
Complimentary Close Options from Formal to Friendly:
- Respectfully yours,
- Most sincerely,
- Best regards,
- Kindest regards,
See the following cover letters for examples, and take another look at your opening and closing paragraphs. The goal of an opening paragraph is to capture the reader’s attention with a creative statement. Avoid passive and cliché wording such as “Enclosed please find my resume highlighting my experience …”
In your closing paragraph, consider mentioning one stand-out skill you have not already mentioned, or a prior supervisor’s praise from a performance review.
Learn to write an effective cover letter that catches recruiters’ attention.
— The Job Dog
Review your cover letter using the following suggestions:
- Temporarily increase the font size to 24 points or larger to detect errors that you are apt to skip over in normal font size.
- Print the letter. Reading a physical page helps you to discover errors that can be overlooked on screen.
- Read the cover letter sentence by sentence, in reverse; this slows down your mind, preventing you from subconsciously filling in gaps and adding transitions that aren’t there.