Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Job Search Lessons: Cover Letters Are Your Friends

I remember when I first had to write a cover letter.  It was yet another step in applying for a job.  Just interview me already!

That's the wrong way to look at it. Let's re-think it.

Cover letters can be the primary difference that determines if you get a job or not.  In some cases, it may be the only reason your resume gets reviewed.  Cover letters are your friend and, to be successful, you need to re-frame how you approach them.

At best, foregoing a cover letter is shooting yourself in the foot; at worst, you are slamming the door shut on your opportunity.

Cover Letters Connect the Dots

A resume is a high-level summary of your accomplishments. It is a concise summary of what you have done.  It tells people what you can do, in general.

It's vital to getting your next job, but it only provides your history.  Sure, you can massage the language so that every single bullet point matches the opportunity you want.

Your cover letter tells someone why you are a good match for a specific opportunity.

Writing a Good Cover Letter

In a nutshell a good cover letter says, "Hello, I am interested in this specific job. Here is why I am a great match for this job. I look forward to talking to you about it."

You can find the basics stated and re-stated using your favorite search engine.  To me, the important part is the narrative you create.
  • Stating the position for which you are applying
  • Convey your excitement/enthusiasm for the position, the company, the career path
  • Why *you* specifically are a great match for this opportunity

    Yes, I repeated that and bold-faced it again, because that is the important point.  Your cover letter should explain:
    • How your experience makes you a good fit in terms of capability
    • Why *you*, as opposed to anyone with your skill set, should be at that company
    • Why they should choose you *over* others.
    Your cover letter is your cheerleader,  marketing team,  and advocate.

    A good starting point is to go back to the job description and look at exactly what they are requesting.  Then do your best to clearly connect the dots.  You don't have to include everything, but a recruiter or member of Human Resources should be able to walk through your cover letter and mentally tick off the key requirements in their job opportunity.

    Make it easy for them to see why you are a good match.

    Your cover letter is a chance to demonstrate an ability to write well.  Don't forget the basics of good writing.
    • Short, clean paragraphs of 2-3 sentences
    • A unifying thought to each paragraph
    • Don't just string bullet points together to form a paragraph
    • Try to present a good overall narrative with a good flow
    Do not write a form letter.  Cover letter should be customized for every opportunity.  Take the time, don't be lazy.

    Try to keep it to one page in length.  This demonstrates your ability to be concise.  More importantly,  it increases the chance it is fully read.

    If It's Difficult To Connect The Dots...

    ...maybe you should move on to the next opportunity.  This is important to keep in mind.  There are a lot of things that can make an opportunity a bad choice for you:
    1. You lack the skill set
    2. You lack the desire
    3. You can't see yourself in that role
    If you have trouble composing your cover letter, there is a good chance, one or more of the above is true.  I recommend reconsidering if that opportunity makes sense.  This happened to me a couple of times.  Usually, it was a vague sense that I just really didn't want the job.

    If you cannot bring yourself to create a great cover letter for an opportunity, you should probably move on.

    Find Or Create The Opportunity To Submit One

    Sometimes, you will not be asked for a cover letter.  In that case, look for the opportunity.  Here are some examples from my experience.

    "Additional files": In many cases, you are provided an opportunity to add files to a submission or profile.  They usually explicitly prompt you to provide your resume, but in most cases you can also upload a cover letter.  Do it.

    A block to enter comments: In my case, it injected this into the email  notification the recruiter received and I was contacted in minutes.

    Follow-up message to the recruiter or hiring manager: In some cases, you will know the recruiter or hiring manager.  LinkedIn often shows you who has submitted a job listing.  Find a way to get them a message and include that cover letter content (edit as appropriate so it makes sense).

    Don't Sell Yourself Short

    Your cover letter is your sales pitch to get your foot in the door.  If you care about getting a specific job, you should make the effort to craft a good, customized cover letter in front of the right people.

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