True, writing a cover letter does not require an advance doctorate degree, but you should not take writing one for granted. A well written cover letter can make a persuasive case that interviewing you would a good idea. And in today’s competitive job market, every persuasive weapon in your arsenal needs to be dialed in.
So, while it isn’t as complicated as rocket science, you must ensure that your letter has, at a minimum, the following elements:
1. It must be grammatically correct. Regardless of how good are writer you are; if you are not having someone else proofread it, then you are making a mistake. Spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, weird syntax and the like kill more job applications than most realize. Do not depend on automated spell/grammar checkers; you must get another person to proofread it.
2. It must focus on your reader and her organization. The letter cannot be “I read about your opening” or “I have the qualifications for the job” or “I have extensive experience,” rather the letter must be about “your company…” or “your needs…” No one really cares about what you want. The reader knows what you want. What can you do for the reader?
3. The letter must sell the benefits of hiring you, or at the very least, interviewing you. Too often, cover letters are too long and too me-centric (see above point). Like a good sales pitch, the cover letter should quickly identify why you are reading, what the features/benefits are to you, and close. That means the letter should be short, direct, and easy to read. It should have no more than 4 short paragraphs of 2 to 3 sentences. You could replace one of the paragraphs with bullet points.
4. Most people are familiar with SMART goal setting. All the elements are important, yet if I had to pick the “first of among equals,” I would go with the “T.” The last letter stands for “time.” A good goal is time driven. Without a time driven requirement, or a deadline, it really isn’t a goal. It is a wish and hope. Do not let your cover letter end on a wish or a hope. Give the reader a time limit to contact you. An open ended request for an interview is not much different from not asking for an interview.
Although some studies have suggested that cover letters are not important, it is not in your interest to relegate cover letters to a lesser priority. In a sea of identical resumes, your cover letter may be the only tiebreaker out there.
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