Ask any human resources professional or recruiter how many resumes and cover letters they see each year. Many of them will tell you the number is in the thousands. That is an amazing amount of documents from prospective job candidates to go through. Some experts estimate that with that high a volume, the average resume and cover letter may be reviewed in less than one minute. If those estimates are correct, that gives each candidate approximately sixty seconds to pass the screening process.
If you're in the market for a new job or thinking of changing careers, that's good information to know. It gives you an idea of how to market yourself to potential employers and how much time you have to do it. Many job hunters spend weeks focusing on their resumes, and that is a good thing. The document has to be perfect to be effective. However, equal focus should be given to the cover letter. It is an entirely different type of document from the resume, but just as important.
The resume should be thought of as a factual documentation of your education, work history and skills. The cover letter, on the other hand, is a job hunter's marketing tool. It serves no other purpose other than to grab an employer’s attention and tell them why you are the best fit for their job and company. That's it.
When writing your own personal marketing piece, the cover letter, there are some general guidelines to follow that will help get you and your resume noticed. Here are nine suggestions for designing the perfect cover letter:
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- Be brief. The perfect cover letter should never be more than one page long. If it is, there’s too much information in it and it most likely won’t be read.
- Remember the purpose of the cover letter. It should be written as an incentive for someone screening it. Your goal is to make them want to read your resume and learn more about you.
- Customize every cover letter you write for each position. There is no such thing as an effective generic cover letter. It should be composed to match the description of the job for which you are applying.
- Open your cover letter with a statement that will get a recruiter’s attention. Spend some writing different openings for your letter until you find one that you are comfortable with and is a reflection of your own unique style or talent.
- In composing the body of the letter, don’t focus on what you’ve done in the past, place the focus on what you can do for the company. Save the employment history for your resume. The cover letter should be an action-oriented document.
- Ask for an interview in the cover letter toward the last paragraph. Let an employer know when you are available and express your enthusiasm at the opportunity to tell them more about yourself. Generate excitement with your words so it makes someone want to pick up the telephone and call you immediately.
- Be certain to include your contact information. That includes all telephone numbers, mail addresses and email addresses. You want to make yourself as easy to reach as possible.
- Spell check and proof read your cover letter for inconsistencies and errors. Ask someone to look at it for you with a fresh set of eyes. A common mistake job hunters make is providing inconsistent information on the resume and cover letter. The dates and information should align perfectly.
- Use plain white paper or professional stationery. Fluorescent coloured paper will stand out, but it won’t give you a professional image.
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