Cover Letters that Shine a Light On Your Strengths
By Michelle Vessel
Savvy jobseekers already know that a polished cover letter is a must when it comes to submitting job application materials. But in today's tough job market, a generic cover letter that covers all the expected bases but adds nothing substantial to your résumé is not enough to ensure that you'll make it past the initial screening phase.
Make the Most of the Cover Letter Format
According to Louise Kursmark, résumé consultant and co-author of Cover Letter Magic: Trade Secrets of Professional Resume Writers, cover letters offer a level of flexibility that the relatively rigid standard résumé formats cannot accommodate. As long as jobseekers adhere to the basic parameters of business letter writing and professional communication when crafting a cover letter, there are virtually no constraints on the kind of content that can be included.
The flexibility of the cover letter format leaves you free to create a document that's geared specifically to highlight the skills, traits, and qualifications that make you a perfect fit for a particular position. The standard résumé format may be good for conveying basic information, but it often falls far short of the mark when it comes to weaving a jobseeker's unique qualifications into a unified, compelling whole. On the other hand, the cover letter format allows you the latitude you need to tell your professional story in the way you see fit – and, more importantly, in a manner that meshes perfectly with the list of criteria the hiring manager is likely to have in mind.
Emphasize Your Unique Assets
Think of your cover letter as your golden opportunity to talk directly to the hiring manager who holds the key to your professional advancement. Basically, your cover letter is your elevator speech, albeit in written form, so it should be as concise, engaging, and compelling as the pitch you would make if you encountered the decision-maker face to face.
Ready to craft a cover letter tailored specifically to highlight your unique strengths? Use these expert tips to get started.
- Eliminate clichés and unnecessary formalities. Many well-meaning jobseekers weigh down their cover letters with paragraph after paragraph of empty flattery and vague self-praise. Dispense with your greeting and a brief discussion of the position you are applying for in the first paragraph, and then move on to your own qualifications.
- Focus on 'fit.' A successful cover letter describes in narrative terms how the candidate's skills, qualifications and attributes stack up against the requirements of the position. Your primary objective is to demonstrate the ways in which your background fits their hiring criteria. If you can achieve this feat, there's a very good chance that you'll advance to the next stage in the hiring process. Use your creative license and make a strong case for yourself.
- Keep your language and sentence structures lean, muscular, and compelling. As you're writing your cover letter, try to compose each sentence to be as streamlined and succinct as possible. Cluttered sentences with too many commas and clauses will detract from your story and limit its impact. Focus on selecting powerful action verbs and try to stay away from the same old tired phrases and word choices that every other cover letter out there will fall back on.
- Key your background and qualifications to the language of the job posting. If you're looking for a secret weapon when it comes to writing your cover letter, consider using some of the same words and phrases that the job posting you are responding to employs. Communication experts call this technique “mirroring,” and it's a great way to build rapport and increase the hiring manager's sense that you're just the right person for the job.
- Concentrate on telling a story, and let your résumé convey the specifics. There's no point in a cover letter that's actually little more than your résumé rehashed in paragraph form. Let your résumé do the heavy lifting in terms of dates, names, and details. Instead, use your cover letter to drive home the themes and ideas that the dry facts included in your résumé can't convey on their own.
When it comes to crafting winning job application materials, the cover letter is your chance to break away from the stringent format requirements of the résumé and tell your professional story in a way that best highlights your key strengths. Be sure to make the most of the creative freedom and flexibility that the cover letter format offers.