I receive wayyy too many emails everyday. Most of them are junk; newsletters that I signed up for on various topics from fashion to job searching, coupons and deals from stores, the regular junk emails, job board notifications (We thought this job fit your criteria: truck driver, um no thanks), match.com (did I even sign up for this?), and of course the rejection responses from jobs that I don’t even remember applying for because it was so long ago (where exactly do those job applications/emails/forms go when you send them out into the world wide web anyway). But, I also get the occasional email from Stumble Upon, if I have absolutely nothing better to do I check out what stumble upon thinks that I’d like, and usually they’re pretty close. Today, one of the stumblings that they sent me was about cover letters (!!!!), which if you don’t remember I wrote an post about cover letters a few weeks ago.
The article is written by Katharine Brooks, Ed.D. who is the Director of Liberal Arts Career Services at The University of Texas at Austin, so she must have an idea of what she’s taking about!! In this particular article she goes over the ten basic guidelines for writing a cover letter. Here’s a brief overview taken directly from the article:
1. Use proper business letter format. Include the date, name and address of person/organization, etc. Use a colon after “Dear Mr. So-and-So:” (commas are for personal correspondence).
2. Keep it to one page unless you have a very clear reason for going beyond that. And particularly when your cover letter is written as an email to accompany your attached resume, keep it short and simple. (But not just “Here’s my attached resume. I look forward to hearing from you.” You don’t get off that easy even in an email. Sorry.)
3. Write unique content. The cover letter is a chance to tell your story, to demonstrate some personality, display your communication skills, and highlight your strengths. It is not the place to simply repeat everything that is in your resume.
4. Remember how your English teacher always said to “show, don’t tell”? What she meant was: don’t just say “I’m a hard worker” (that’s telling); show the reader you’re a hard worker, as in “Last summer, while working at a full-time job, I successfully completed 6 hours of graduate coursework in accounting, and developed a prospectus for a new business.” See, now you’ve shown me you’re a hard worker.
5. Establish a relationship with your reader. To whom are you writing? As I like to say to students: if you’re writing a report on dogs, it’s helpful to know if your reader is a veterinarian or in the 3rd grade. Big difference in how you approach the subject. So, who will be reading your cover letter? Someone in the human resources office? (Likely.) Your future boss? (Also likely.) Someone with no understanding of your field? (Possibly.) For this reason, you need to be careful about using jargon or acronyms from your previous or current employer.
6. Write a targeted letter to each position. The failure to personalize it to the job and/or the employer is by far the most common complaint I hear from employers. Employers resent it when they receive what is obviously a generic cover letter where the candidate hasn’t taken the time to personalize it to them (as in, “Dear Sir or Madam:”). Almost as bad is the letter which starts out personally addressed to the employer but quickly digresses into an obviously generic letter.
7. Plan to create a letter with three-to-five paragraphs (two-to-four if it’s an email). The first paragraph should explain what you’re applying for, how you heard about the opportunity, and why you are particularly qualified. Try to be subtle about this– a letter that opens with “I am the most qualified candidate you will find…” usually ends up in the trash. The employer will judge whether you’re the most qualified: you need to convey what talents or experience you have that connect to the position. The middle paragraphs expand on your connection to the position as well as highlight any research you’ve done about the opportunities the position and the employer represent to you. The last paragraph closes with the next action step that will be taken and how you can connect in the future.
8. Try to avoid trite phrases. I always advise my students NOT to start with the traditional opening, “I am a student at __________ and I am applying for a position as ______________.” Rather, start with something that connects you right away to the position, as in “My three years experience as a bank teller, combined with my economics coursework, have taught me the importance of _____ , a trait needed in your ______ position.”
9. Use an active voice, with action verbs. Avoid phrases like “was responsible for”, or “reports that were written by me…”.
10. Edit. Proofread. Ruthlessly.
After reading this, I think I may need to go back to a blank Word document and reconstruct my own cover letter. Job searching = frustration, but hopefully it will all be worth it soon!