Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Great Advice For Writing Cover Letters

You are applying for that job you would really love to nab.  You have created a strong resume. Now comes the cover letter. What should it say?  How should you communicate your skills and experiences in a way that the reader will find compelling?  At Fast Company this week, Sara McCord has written an unbelievably good article about the mistakes that people often make when drafting cover letters.  She offers some great tips for how to strengthen your letter, grab a recruiter's attention, and make yourself stand out from the crowd.   

First, McCord argues that you have to get the basics write.  Make sure you proofread carefully.  Typos, spelling errors, and grammatical mistakes are all disqualifying immediately.  Address your letter to a specific person by name.  Don't address it, "Dear Sir or Madam."   Don't just thank the recruiter for considering you; make the case that you are the perfect fit given the requirements of the position and the culture of the company.   

Second, come up with a killer opening sentence that grabs the reader.  Don't start with, "I'm interested in applying for the marketing analyst position at your firm."  Instead, she suggests writing an opening sentence that makes the reader to want to know more about you.  She offers three examples:
  • I’ve wanted to work in education ever since my third-grade teacher, Mrs. Dorchester, helped me discover a love of reading.
  • My approach to management is simple: I strive to be the kind of leader I’d want to work for.
  • In my three years at [prior company], I increased our average quarterly sales by [percentage].
Finally, she argues against compiling a laundry list of your skills in the cover letter.  Instead, focus on what distinguishes you from other applicants.  Don't just talk about skills.  Provide anecdotes, examples, and descriptions of experiences that illustrate the talents and capabilities you would bring to the position.  

McCord's article is a must-read for anyone applying for a job.  I would add one important piece of advice to her suggestions. You must know your audience!  Take some time to learn about the culture of the company.   That research will help you understand the approach you should take.  Can you be light-hearted or humorous?  The answer is simple: it depends.  Doing your homework on the company culture will help you find the right tone and format for that cover letter.  

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