10 Tips For Writing Cover Letters“What’s more important a resume or a cover letter?”
Job seekers ask the above question regularly, but they mistakenly believe the word “or” is appropriate. That’s because a resume and a cover letter are equal parts of a two-part package. A substandard resume weakens an excellent cover letter and vice-versa the same way that a substandard suit jacket or pair of suit pants weakens the other part of the two-part dress clothes package.
Research Network Insider recently posted an advice column entitled “10 Tips For Writing Your Resume.” Its tips for writing cover letters include:
1. MAKE EACH ONE DIFFERENT: Research Network Insider advocated preparing more than one resume in its “Writing Your Resume” column. Preparing cover letters is more difficult because you MUST prepare a different cover letter for each employer. “Make each one different” does not mean preparing a template and leaving a blank for each letter’s specific employer. Each cover letter MUST demonstrate that you are very knowledgeable about the employer you are writing to.
2. RESEARCH EACH EMPLOYER: This is mandatory regardless of whether the letter is a response to a job opening or a pro-active effort to inform a company that you're interested in working there. Learning about employers will make your letter more specific, could convince the employer that you're genuinely interested in the company, and could prevent you from writing letters to companies that you now know don’t match your skills and interests.
3. ADDRESS A SPECIFIC PERSON: Make sure the cover letter is addressed to the RIGHT specific person. You might find the Research Department's supervisor via Internet research. You might also need to phone the company. Neither the envelope nor cover letter should be addressed to “Sir” or “Madam,” according to the career development centers of the State University of New York at Oneonta, Temple (Pa.) University, and the College of William & Mary (Va.). And you should find the specific name of “to whom it may concern.”
4. BE CONVERSATIONAL: Introduce yourself at the beginning of the letter as if you were introducing yourself at the beginning of a conversation. Talk about your interest in the job and the company as if you were in the middle of an interview throughout the letter. “Be as personal as possible,” recommends William & Mary.
5. BE CONCISE: Most experts recommend a one-page cover letter. In the “Writing Your Resume” column, we mentioned that employers only spend about 30 seconds reviewing a resume. They probably spend longer reviewing a cover letter, but they are still busy.
6. PRAISE THE EMPLOYER: You’ve researched the employer so you should have found specific things about the employer that you like. Write why you're interested in the company. Are you applying for a market research position and you have learned that the company has been ranked one of the best market research companies? The employer might be impressed that you know that.
7. PROVE YOUR SKILLS WILL HELP EMPLOYER: Relate how two or three examples of your past accomplishments are pertinent to the job opening or the job that you want. Look at this from the employer’s perspective. “Tell an employer why they will benefit from hiring you, not what you are going to gain from their company,” is how the Career Services Department of Pepperdine (Calif.) University puts it.
8. USE ACTION VERBS: Writing style is important. Use action verbs whenever possible instead of passive verbs like is and are because skills are more important than responsibilities. “I directed a campaign that saved my company $100,000” is much better than “I was the leader of a campaign that saved my company $100,000.” The William & Mary website lists dozens of action verbs.
9. CLOSE WITH REQUEST: Direct the employer to your resume, which should be behind your cover letter in the same package, at the end of the letter and ask for a job interview. Make clear that you intend to follow up the letter with a phone call or e-mail within a short period of time. If there's a job opening, you should phone within a week.
10. DON’T GIVE UP: Make sure that you do make a follow-up phone call. Sending a second cover letter to a company you’re interested in can’t hurt if no one responded to your first letter. Writing to a second person should also be considered.
Sources: http://researchnetwork.com/; SPECIFIC LINK FOR RESUME COLUMN (must be inserted in fourth paragraph); http://www.oneonta.edu/development/cdc/pages/Cover_Letters/guidelines.asp; http://www.temple.edu/provost/careercenter/students/resume-and-cover-letter.html; http://www.wm.edu/offices/career/documents/educationdocs/ResumeGuide.pdf; http://gsep.pepperdine.edu/career-services/students-alumni/content/pdfs/Tips%20for%20Cover%20Letter%20and%20Resume%20writing.pdf