This is your one opportunity to catch the eye of a human being, and you’re wasting it. Remember, almost all resumes go through ATS (Applicant Tracking System) software. People don’t look at it. A cover letter that says “See Resume” is useless. No one is going to expend more effort than you were apparently willing to spend yourself in your professional cover letter.
Keywords Are Still Key
You’ve probably been lectured to tears on the importance of keywords in your resume and outside the purview of this article, so it is going to have to stand or fall on its own. But remember, the ATS has no sympathy; if you don’t hit the right keywords, you have just been overlooked, period.
But when you are presented with a chance to catch the eye of a human being, are you hitting the marks there? Make a cover letter with impact. Stop treating your cover letter like a disposable wrapper for your resume. If you don’t want to put in the effort, if you’re confident that your resume will do the job, then skip the cover letter completely, but be warned:
“Not sending a cover letter is a sign of laziness. It’s akin to making spelling and grammar mistakes in your résumé. You just don’t do it,” says Jodi Glickman, a communications expert and author of Great on the Job.
John Lees, a UK-based career strategist and author of Knockout CV, agrees. “Even if only one in two cover letters gets read, that’s still a 50% chance that including one could help you”.
Yes, it takes time to write a good cover letter, but just imagine how much time you’re going to have on your hands if you don’t get a job!
Getting Down to It
Before you begin writing, find out about the company. That is easy to do online. Look at the corporate website. Read about their executives; have a look at their Twitter feeds for some insights; and see some employee profiles on LinkedIn if you’re headed that high up in the hierarchy. Learn about the corporate culture. If you’re applying to Google, friendly, open, and creative may be the way to go; if it is one of the big three banks, it’s time to rein it in and be much more formal.
Research a Name
When you sit down to write, it is never acceptable to not know the name. “To whom it may concern” smacks of pure laziness. There is always a way to get a name. Use social media, website research, or phone the company and ask the name of the HR manager. This is particularly important for executive cover letters.
Let Your Contact Be Known
Next, if you know someone at the company, tell them in the first few lines. They can go and talk to an employee, and trust them to give them reliable information. Work it into the opening, but don’t let it be the opening.
The opening should consist of a powerful attention grabber. “I read at X that you have a position opening in your widget department and I’d like to be considered” is a recipe for failure.
Try It Like This
“Your Director of International Sales, Philip Esposito, just informed me about the position at ABC Coffee Roasting Company. I’ve just spent three years touring international South American coffee plantations, ascertaining quality, and developing contracts for XYZ Company as the Lead Buyer. My expertise and knowledge base will mesh perfectly with your system as you expand into the region for the first time. . .”
Now you’ve set yourself apart. You’ve shown experience, expertise, ability, and are the object of respect. Now tell them how you negotiated a peace treaty between two warring factions and got your most recent coffee contract; or if you have something less dramatic, at least make sure you show them that you’re a problem solver; that you’re going to be an asset to the company; that your best work is still ahead of you and they want to be the beneficiaries.
Get ready to start your new job…they’re going love you!