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Get an Interview With a Standout Cover Letter

By Nicole Cavazos

It’s often reported that recruiters spend an average of six seconds scanning your resume and cover letter to assess whether it goes in the “yes” or “no” pile (i.e. the trash). If you’re lucky enough to have written the type of resume that warrants a closer look, it’s important that your cover letter impresses an employer enough to secure you an interview.

Your cover letter is sort of like your resume’s champion. It’s there to say in more colorful or accessible terms what your resume cannot.  So don’t make the mistake of stiffly reiterating facts from your resume. This is your shot at making your case, albeit briefly, for why you are the absolute perfect choice for the job.

Be Concise

Recruiters are overwhelmed with information from applicants. The easier you make it for them to find the facts they’re looking for, the better chance you’ll have of them noticing you.

Keep your cover letter brief and to the point – three or four paragraphs tops. Say why you are applying for the position and highlight recent achievements, experience, and skills that are relevant to the employer. This requires that you do some homework to know exactly what they’re looking for and to address the points directly and specifically. Use concrete examples that illustrate how your skills can benefit their company.

Remember, this is not a summary of your resume. Instead, it’s your chance to explain why you are the perfect candidate and what special traits you can bring to the job.

Be Personal

If you want to be anonymous, then you should sound anonymous.  But if you want to stand out as an individual, with a distinct personality, then sound like one.  Remember that you are talking to a person. One whose time is valuable and who’s likely bored with cliché cover letters.

Without being too casual, try to be a little more conversational in your letter. Sometimes a good way to think about this is to compare it to writing an email. In an email you’re usually aware of whom you’re talking to and you’re not afraid to be yourself.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should address a hiring manager in the same way you would talk to your college-drinking buddies. You want to come across as personable and businesslike, not unprofessional.

Avoid the impersonal “Dear Sir/Madam” or “To Whom It May Concern.” If you don’t know the name of the person who’ll be hiring you, call the company to find out. This shows you have initiative and grabs his or her attention.

And best of all, if you share a mutual contact, be sure to mention the name in the first sentence. This will immediately set you apart from other applicants and encourage the employer to read on.

Be Enthusiastic

Employers are partial to those who show a genuine eagerness to work for them. The difference between someone who’s truly invested in getting the job compared to someone who’s merely going through the motions is a true understanding of the company.

Do a little research. Go online and read about the company’s mission. Study their web site or look up any news articles that will give you a sense of its culture. Know how you’d fit into that culture and what you could contribute. In a sentence or two, show your enthusiasm for the company by sharing things about it that you admire and make you excited to work there.

For instance, if you were applying for a job in Brand and Consumer Marketing at Nike, you could name a branding campaign that really inspired you, giving details of why you think it worked so well. Not only does this show your commitment to the company, it also gives the employer an insight into your creative process and the type of employer you might be.

Be Careful

And last but not least, be sure that your cover letter and resume is free of any typos or grammatical errors. Always, spell check, proofread and have somebody else review your documents. Nothing spoils a first impression like misspellings and bad grammar. It’s hard to get a job when you don’t talk good.

Nicole Cavazos

Nicole Cavazos is a Los Angeles-based copywriter and blogger. As a former contributor to the ZipRecruiter blog, she covered the job market and wrote advice for job seekers.

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