Every second counts for today’s job seekers. According to a study by The Ladders, a job matching service for professionals, found that in just 6 seconds a resume is reviewed. For corporate jobs, HR professionals can receive over 200 applications for a single position that is viewed by thousands, when making its way online. With odds this great, many young professionals are taking an informal approach—skipping the cover letter, and therefor missing their mark.
The cover letter can be the deciding factor that separates you from the bunch. It’s your chance to articulate in your voice why you’re the best candidate for the job. It’s more of what you can do for your prospective employer and less about you (save your resume for that).
In a few short paragraphs, you can either build yourself up as a potential candidate or warrant a hiring manager to discard your application and your resume entirely. Although it’s true some HR professionals may not look at your cover letter, there are still companies that either require it or expect it. Hint: If it’s an option, you should still send it. It’s best to be perceived as a candidate who covers all corners than one that’s lazy.
Here are some quick Dos and Don’ts for writing a cover letter that wins:
Address a real person.
DO: Take the time to do your research to find out the name of the company’s HR professional who’s in charge of reviewing candidates for your desired position. A quick search on LinkedIn may help narrow things down, followed by an e-mail or call to confirm.
DON’T: Address your letter as “To Whom It May Concern:” “Dear Hiring Manager:”
It shows a lack of preparation from the start. IF the information is not readily available and your prospective employer is actively taking measures to not disclose such information, go with Dear Hiring Manager, instead. Otherwise, don’t do it.
Get to Why.
DO: Explain why you’re writing and express enthusiasm from the very beginning. As an HR professional, an upbeat opening is refreshing after going through hundreds of applications over a trite one any day.
DON’T: Be generic when explaining why you’re writing your prospective employer. Be specific. Where did you hear about the opening position? Did you meet a recruiter at a career fair? Draw connections.
Economy of Language.
DO: Structure your letter to have focus, while being as concise as possible.
The average review of a cover letter is less than minute. You want to use your words wisely. A good cover letter can cover the essentials in 3, at most 4 paragraphs.
DON’T: Write a long essay that regurgitates everything your resume addresses. Use this as a key opportunity to highlight ways you can contribute to your desired company’s overall performance. Show, through experiences, how you can push them forward.
What to Leave Out, What to Keep.
DO: Express gratitude in your final paragraph toward the HR professional or recruiter who is reviewing your application. Use this time to tell them when you plan on following-up, through e-mail or mail, regarding your application. Once stating your commitment, do whatever it takes to fulfill that promise. Schedule it on your calendar and mobile devices.
DON’T: Be presumptuous and end things by writing, “I’ll call you in a week to schedule an interview.” How tacky, right? It’s been done before. Don’t list specific salary expectations too. This can be discussed at the interview stage. Right now, your focus is trying to get your foot in the door. Only list salary expectations, if it is specifically requested by the employer. In that case, be sure to list that it’s also negotiable. You don’t want to place unnecessary restrictions on yourself that could result in your application going straight to the trash.
The Middle Is Your Entrée.
DO: Draw connections from your experiences that show how you can push your desired employer forward.
DON’T: Use this as an opportunity to discuss irrelevant personal stories that don’t give an insight on your abilities and key skills that fit their needs. Stay on target. Make every word matter but remember, ‘Economy of Language.’
Get a Second Look.
DO: Review your work. Check for any misspellings, grammatical mistakes and poor structure. If you cannot get your cover letter professionally reviewed, ask someone in your desired industry, friend —–just a few other eyes to review it before you send it off (encouraged).
DON’T: Just assume that the person reviewing your work can overlook a few mistakes. Assume that the reviewer is actively looking for anything that can disqualify you from the position. Be meticulous. Your first job before you get the physical job is to prepare. Any work submitted to a desired employer is a reflection of the work you can do while on duty.
Amanda A. Ebokosia is a freelance writer and founder of The Gem Project Inc., a not-for-profit organization that creates educational enrichment programs for youth and young adults. She is also a professional leadership consultant, who offers services and seminars for corporate and professional clients. A sought-after speaker and writer on topics of leadership, education, and empowerment, Ebokosia has spoken and led programs at educational institutions and companies including Rutgers University, New Jersey Institute of Technology, AOL Patch NY, Montclair YMCA (Teen Travel Camp), United Way of Essex and West Hudson and more.