Did you know that over 85% of resumes received by hiring managers arrive without a cover letter?
While that may not mean much to you, it means a lot to the people reviewing and vetting resumes for the job you are applying for. Resumes that are sent in without someone taking the time to write a cover letter appear to the hiring manager to be submitted almost blindly. It is as if the job applicant has sent their resume in to lots of jobs – shotgun approach – hoping someone might call them back. It shows a lack of preparation and even implies a lack of interest in whether the person gets the job or not.
This is NOT the kind of first impression you want to give a hiring manager.
On the other hand, those resumes that do arrive with a cover letter get extra attention and are often the first resumes an HR person reviews. A cover letter tells the hiring manager that you care enough about the job you are applying for that it is important for you to stand above the competition. When you take the time to write a cover letter, it also shows initiative and evidences your ability and willingness to go that extra mile. It signals that you are someone who is attentive to detail and that you are willing to do what others applicants (and workers) are not willing to do.
In essence, it shows that you are organized, capable, and professional. A well written cover letter tells the hiring manager that you are serious about getting the job, and it gives you the best chance (along with a relevant resume) of landing an interview and ultimately the job you really want.
While a cover letter is a huge benefit for job applicants, there are both things to avoid and some definite best practices you can use to insure your cover letter is heads and tails above anybody else’s.
How to Address your Cover Letter:
Let’s start first with what to avoid. The most obvious thing you want to avoid is writing a generic cover letter that is unspecific to the job you are applying to. Doing so erases any benefit of putting one together to begin with. The first thing you want to avoid is addressing your letter to the generic: “To Whom it May Concern.” This, once again, just lumps you into the generic cover letter pile, and doesn’t differentiate you from the other applicants.
To avoid this, try to find out the hiring manager’s name or job title, and direct the cover letter to him/her. If this is not possible, then the following addresses are best:
1) Address your cover letter to the department head you are applying to. So if it is sales, use: “Dear Hiring Sales Manager,” or “Dear Hiring Marketing Director,” or “Dear HR Director.”
2) If you don’t know the department, then a good address is: “Dear Hiring Manager,” or “Dear Human Resources Director.”
3) If you do know the name of the hiring manager, then always use their name as such: “Dear Mr. Brooks,” or “Dear Ms. Collins.”
This is the kind of detail that takes just a minute or two to customize, but it makes a huge first impression on the hiring manager. Again, it evidences that you care enough – and are resourceful enough – to take the time to go beyond what the majority of job seekers are not willing to do. The inference is that you will also be more organized and detail oriented on the job as well. And this is the kind of person hiring personnel are looking for.
Next, the content of the cover letter is where you will make or break a good impression. Now, don’t be intimidated here. The hiring manager is not looking for a college essay, nor are they looking for a sample of your writing skills. What they do want, however – and what you want to give them – is why you are uniquely qualified for this particular job. In other words, they are looking for relevant experience that matches up specifically to the position you are applying for.
Let me say that again because this is key: What the hiring manager is looking for is relevant experience of yours that directly relates to the specific job skills and duties they are hiring for.
And the good news is there are some easy, sure fire, best practices you can follow that will immediately give them what they are looking for. Here is how to go about it:
Number One: Carefully review each employer’s ad description and pick out specific words and phrases that describe the skills and day to day activities they are advertising for. An example would be the phrase:
“Relevant experience in prospecting by phone, candidates should be prepared to make between 50 to 75 cold calls per day. In addition, the ideal candidate should also have experience in contacting existing or non-active accounts to expand and grow client base.”
Once you see something like this, it is telling you exactly how to write your cover letter. What you need to do next is match up any (or as many as possible) of your past positions where you performed similar duties. And then include a brief description of that in your cover letter. For example:
“The skills and duties which you are seeking – specifically prospecting by phone and calling into non-active accounts – are exactly the kind of work I did at Sherman Rentals and ABC Financial. I am highly adept at cold calling and regularly average 68 prospecting calls per day.
“In addition, I was also responsible for calling into existing accounts and even won awards for my ability to reactivate and up sell existing customers.”
Now how easy was that? By taking just a few minutes to highlight specific words and phrases and repeat them in your cover letter, you will be doing what 98% of your competition simply won’t take the time to do. Your effort will get noticed and it will move your resume to the top of the stack.
By the way, if you didn’t win any awards, then don’t make it up! Instead, talk about the achievements you did accomplish and the results that you did get. Your goal here, again, is to match up your relevant experience that directly relates to the specific job skills and duties they are advertising for. Remember, the key is to use their exact words and phrases when describing your experience in your cover letter.
Taking this simple step is 75% of writing a powerful cover letter. The other part is to show a sincere interest in their company and job opportunity, and to keep it brief. Here is a complete, best practice cover letter that you can use as a template:
Dear Sales Hiring Manager,
My name is Mike Brooks, and I was very excited to find your job listing on Monster.com. I have always been interested in the online advertising industry (whatever industry their company is in), and feel that I have the relevant experience you are looking for that would enable me to be highly successfully with your company.
The skills and duties which you are seeking – specifically prospecting by phone and calling into non-active accounts – are exactly the kind of work I did at Sherman Rentals and ABC Financial. I am highly adept at cold calling and regularly average 68 prospecting calls per day.
In addition, I was also responsible for calling into existing accounts and even won awards for my ability to reactivate and up sell existing customers.
I would enjoy the opportunity to learn more about the position of account manager you are advertising for, and look forward to exploring how my career experience can be an asset to your company.
I have attached my resume for your review and would be happy to discuss my experience or any questions you may have.
The best way to reach me is by my cell phone: (515) 555-1234. Alternatively, you can email me here: Mike@youremailaddress.com
I hope my experience meets what you are searching for, and look forward to hearing from you soon.
Use this template for any sales job you are applying for. (Or any other kind of position as well.) Simply change the name of the company and type of job where appropriate and match up your skills and duties as discussed previously.
By taking just a few minutes to customize a carefully worded cover litter like this, you will instantly become one of – if not the very first – candidate that gets a call back. You will be very much in demand and soon you will have your pick of which opportunities to pursue. And having many companies who are interested in hiring you gives you the leverage to ask for and get things like a higher salary, a better commission structure and even a possible hiring bonus. But we’ll cover these in a little while.
Once you have perfected your cover letter, the next step to landing the job of your dreams is to make sure your resume matches up with what a potential company is looking for. You also want to make sure not to make the common errors so prevalent with most resumes that are submitted – errors that often get resumes rejected right away. All of these points will be covered in next week’s Ezine, so make sure and be on the lookout for it next week.
In the meantime, try practicing a few cover letters and see for yourself how easy it is!