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Let Your Cover Letter Do the Talking

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By Gail Frank, Frankly Speaking: Resumes That Work!

Do you enjoy reading form letters? They don't hold your interest well, do they? Isn't it more enjoyable to read a well-written, personable letter from someone who knows you? Targeted, personalized cover letters impact the reader positively. Learn to "let your cover letter do the talking" and employers will listen!

Cover letters are business letters that should inform, entice and captivate prospective employers. Too many job seekers follow outdated and conventional rules about cover letter writing. As a result, they write generic, hard-to-read, and ineffective letters. The goal is to create an easy-to-read letter that stands out from the sea of generic-sounding correspondence and makes the reader want to learn more about you. Give them a reason to read the attached resume!

RULES FOR READABLE COVER LETTERS

1) Focus on what the employer wants or needs. To do this, learn what the company does and how you can help it make more money. Present yourself as a solution to a current problem or situation they are facing. The key to success is researching each and every company to find out how you can help them.

2) Write to a person. Take the time to find the name of the person who has the power to hire you. It is not usually a Human Resources person, although you may send them a copy of the letter. Form letters announce that you are mass-mailing and are too lazy to find out who the right person is. Form letters also make no one accountable; you certainly can't follow up, and readers can throw the resume away without being caught.

3) Have a focus and a point. Your letter should answer these simple questions: a) what can you do for them?, b) what is your current situation?, c) why do you want to work for them?, and d) why are you qualified for this position? You are not ready to apply for a job at the company unless you can answer these questions.

4) Keep it short and sweet. A few paragraphs with short, direct sentences are all you need. Follow a traditional business letter format. Too many letters have long, rambling sentences that make paragraphs hard to read. Use bullet points where possible.

5) Write it like you say it. Forget the overly formal, stilted language you see in most cover letters. Don't use words like "pursuant" and "commensurate." Keep it conversational.

6) Communicate positive energy and personality. Let glimpses of your style come through. Employers hire not only for skills for also for likeability and "fit" with the culture. Every employer wants an employee who is thrilled to work for them. Make yourself likeable in the cover letter and people will want to meet you.

7) Commit to follow up. Follow The Golden Rule of Cover Letters: If you don't plan to follow up, don't waste the postage. Your career simply isn't that important to other people. They may mean to contact you but have other, more pressing priorities. More companies never respond at all to generic form letters not addressed to a person. Making a commitment to follow up means you'll take the time to get the name of person to contact, and do the appropriate research on the company.

8) Don't restate the resume: summarize, explain, expand or reposition your skills. Answer the unspoken questions. Your resume and history often bring up questions that may cause employers to think twice about hiring you. Or they may raise puzzling questions ("How did an Art History major end up working for a meat-processing company doing administrative support?). If possible, use the cover letter to reassure the employer that you had or have a plan for your career, and that they fit into it. Examples: "After taking 5 years off to raise children, I am ready to reenter the workforce and commit 100% to an area sales job." "While I've enjoyed the past 4 years working by myself as an entrepreneur, I've missed the camaraderie, teamwork and pride that comes from working for a Fortune 500 company."

9) Eliminate excessive use of "I" or "me." Provide variety and more detail in your writing. After the initial letter is written, count up how many times you use "I" or "me" or "mine." Go back and rewrite as many of the sentences as you can to eliminate those words. For example, change "I bring 9 years of engineering experience" to "With 9 years in engineering, you'll get an employee with extensive experience in new product launches."

COMMON COVER LETTER PROBLEMS & FIXES

1) OVERLY STILTED LANGUAGE
Before: "Salary should be commensurate with experience."
After: "Salary is negotiable based on the exact responsibilities of the position."

2) OVERLY FORMAL TONE
Before: "Allow me to introduce myself" or "Dear Sir/Madam" or "Cordially Yours."
After: Replace with a name, or "Dear Hiring Professional." End with "Sincerely" or "Thank You."

3) TRITE PHRASES
Before: "I have enclosed for your consideration a resume that details my qualifications."
After: "If you take a minute to glance at my resume, you'll see how many awards I've won for...."

4) "ME, ME, ME"
Before: "Seeking upwardly mobile, challenging position utilizing my skills in..." Remember, the cover letter is supposed to be about what you can for them, not what they can do for you.
After: "If your department needs a seasoned customer service manager who can create and deliver training to new representatives..."

5) "TOO SALESY"
Before: "Do you need someone who can leap tall buildings in a single bound?"
After: "My previous clients would tell you they increased their sales with me because I worked hard to earn it."

6) TOO GENERIC
Before: "I am submitting my resume and application for the job you advertised in the local newspaper..."
After: "A recent Wall Street Journal states that you are entering the global market. At my previous company I led similar efforts and successfully built sales in Europe and South America..."

7) TOO AGGRESSIVE
Before: "I can turn your business around." Be careful of overselling. Perhaps you can't solve all their problems. But you can share your relevant experience.
After: "I would love to hear the issues involved with your recent merger, as I have had success with 3 different companies as they merged and transitioned their way through acquisitions."

8) TOO PASSIVE/WEAK ENDING
Before: "I look forward to speaking with you about a position at your company." This often-used phrase gives all the power to the reader, and strips you of an ability to follow up. Keep control while showing enthusiasm and persistence.
After: "I would like to talk with you and see if I can help your company with its marketing efforts. If I don't hear from you, I'll give you a call next week."

Copyright 2004 Frankly Speaking: Resumes that Work! All Rights Reserved

Gail Frank is a Nationally Certified Resume Writer and Certified Job Coach who offers outplacement workshops, resume writing and interview training for small companies and individuals. She is a Harvard graduate with a background in Brand Management and Marketing with Fortune 500 companies. She works as a trainer and consultant for top outplacement firm Drake Beam Morin. See her website: http://www.CallFranklySpeaking.com


© Copyright CareerBuilder.com 2004. All rights reserved. The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority. www.careerbuilder.com

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