Your Cover Letter, Better in 4 Steps

 In Job Search Strategy, Resumes and Cover Letters

Your Cover Letter, Better in 4 StepsCover letters are often the most difficult part of initially applying to a job. This is especially true for those of you who are recent grads or are otherwise relatively new to the job market. It can be hard to pin down your accomplishments and why you are a perfect fit for the job without overlapping too much with your resume. As a former hiring manager, I can say that cover letter often make or break your chances at an interview, so the cover letter is something you want to pay lots of attention to. Here are some basic steps for writing the best cover letter possible:

1.      Read the job ad ten times over right before writing your first draft.

This step is absolutely instrumental, because most hiring managers, at least during the first round of quickly overviewing applications, will first skim cover letters to determine how closely they match stated job requirements and skills. By reading the job ad over and over again, you’ll have those key words in your head as you write.

2.      Explain what it is that may set you apart from other candidates.

For any given job opening, you can bet your bottom dollar that hundreds of other candidates are applying for the same position, too. As a hiring manager, part of my job was to simply weed out candidates until I had a good twenty applications in front of me. Afterwards, it was all a matter of choosing the standouts. It’s important to realize that, no matter how much experience and how many skills you have, there are other that are just as qualified or more qualified than you. In the cover letter, you have your chance to explain why you would be better for the job than someone else with the same background.

3.      Demonstrate that you know something about the company.

This is one of the best ways to set yourself apart from the other candidates. When I was a hiring manager, I was very surprised by how rare it was for candidates to express interest in the company in a very detailed and knowledgeable way. When I did see this level of interest and knowledge, I immediately put the application in the “interview pile.” Of course, I don’t mean to say that you should inordinately suck up or just look at the company website very quickly. Rather, show a commitment by going the extra mile to do some research, and explain in your cover letter how the company’s values and motivations match up with yours.

4.      Keep your paragraphs short and tight. Use an inverted pyramid to structure your cover letter.

Write your cover letter with the knowledge that it will be read over very quickly. In most cases, as noted earlier, it will only be skimmed at first. Keeping your paragraphs short and tight will make the hiring manager more eager to read your cover letter. Structure your cover letter the way reporters structure news articles—the most important and compelling information at the top, and go from there in descending order with additional details.

Cover letters take lots of time and practice to get them right. Don’t send in your first draft of your cover letter. Read it over and over again, and take out what’s not important. Show it to other colleagues and professionals who can give you additional advice. Good luck!

Lauren Bailey is a freelance writer who enjoys writing about education, entrepreneurship, and personal finance. She is especially interested in giving recent college graduates advice for navigating the trials and tribulations of the” adult world”. Lauren welcomes your comments below!

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