Knowing how to write effective cover letters is a mission critical job search skill. I have seen countless cover letters that miss the mark. The worst ones, by far, are the ones that go on, and on, and on. Cover letters are intended to pique the interest of the employer just enough to get them to take a good look at your resume. Here are 6 tips to create more effective cover letters and help you land that all-important interview.
Be sure your cover letters can be skimmed quickly.
A great cover letter is short, direct, and succinctly states how you might help the employer, not vice versa. At most, it should be four paragraphs of four to five sentences each. Highlight the skills you have that match the job requirements. Recruiters are smart, savvy and time pressed. Help them quickly ascertain if you are qualified for the role by keeping it brief.
Research the company before you start to write.
Nothing is a bigger turn off than a generic cover letter. Dig deeper than the company’s home page. Google the company for recent news and review their LinkedIn company page. Then leverage your newfound knowledge of the company in your cover letter.
Get insider help.
It’s always a good idea to determine if you know anyone who works at the company. Finding an inside connection is a great way to get your cover letter in front of the right person. Start with relatives and friends and ask if they know anyone. Next, try LinkedIn. Their alumni search tool is easy to use to find fellow alumni. Reach out and request a short meeting or telephone conversation with your connections. Use your call to learn more about them, their role and the company. If you are feeling especially confident, ask if they would forward your resume to the hiring manager.
Source the name of the HR recruiter or hiring manager. Most job postings don’t list this so you need to get creative. If you were able to make a connection inside the company, ask if your contact can get this information for you. Another option is to search LinkedIn or call the company headquarters. A letter addressed to a real, live human-being is much more likely to get noticed than “Dear Hiring Manager” or “To Whom It May Concern.”
Focus on the critical key words. Many companies use applicant tracking systems (ATS) to screen resumes and cover letters for key words. So, make sure that you include them. Review the key words in the job description to understand what to emphasize. Then demonstrate that you have those key skills and the experience needed for the role. This shows that you’ll be able to hit the ground running. But do not try to squeeze all the relevant experience from your resume into your cover letter. That’s what your resume is for.
Address your cover letter to a real human being.
If you’ve found the posting online, chances are you do not have the hiring manager’s name. If you are savvy, you can solve this by using these tips. Try searching LinkedIn using the company name and the title “human resources”, “talent manager” or “recruiter” and the location where you’ll most likely be interviewing. Even if the name you find is not the person recruiting for the role, chances are that they will forward your letter and resume on to the person who is responsible.
Using these 6 tips will help you get your cover letter out of the dreaded black hole and in front of a decision maker. Remember that the primary goal of your cover letter is to get an opportunity to interview. The interview is your chance to demonstrate that you are very qualified and that you’d be a great fit for the company and its culture.