I find that when it comes to reading cover letters there are two types of people; those who read every detail and those who completely ignore them and go straight to the resume. So, what’s a job seeker to do? The key is to write as if they will read it, but don’t count on it. Here are some tips on how to increase the chances of having cover letters read.
To begin with, let’s explore some reasons of non-readership.
A huge reason is that most cover letters don’t say anything worth reading. Many are “one size fits all,” mass produced and addressed to no one in particular. Admittedly, any of my mail that is addressed “resident” or “To Whom It May Concern” gets and automatic trip to the shredder. I am betting many of you do the same. Why? For the same reasons your cover letter is not being read. Someone did not take the time to find out anything about me. They don’t care about me specifically. An employer wants to know you have targeted them specifically and that you are interested in their company.
Tip one: Research the company. Find out their needs, their strengths and even their weaknesses, if possible. Do more than just look at the job posting you found. Look at their website for more than just employment openings. Look at their history, mission statement and company newsletters. This way you can integrate their “language” into your letter. If you talk their talk it is easier for the company to see you as one of them. Google them; find out what others are saying. Don’t begin the letter until you know the company!
Tip two: Know yourself. Now that you’ve researched the company and know what they want, you should know how you fit. Make a chart. On one side put the company’s needs and on the other put your strengths or relevant experience. You can do this using the job description, but don’t stop there. If you make this chart you will see the connection. If you don’t see it, they never will, so move on to the next job.
I suggest using about three of these matches in your cover letter. Use the ones that will be most appealing to entice the reader to want to read more in your resume. Remember that the letter should be brief.
An added benefit to the chart is it will help you answer the interview question, “why should I hire you?”
If you are thinking that it will take some work to craft a cover letter that may get readership, you are correct. It will take thought and preparation.
A final tip: If the company asks for specific information, address it in the cover letter. (For example: Are you willing to travel?) This can be a perfect place for you to address some issues you may have like employment gaps, but be careful about over sharing. Some topics are best left for the interview.
Cheryl Sandifer is a Regional Facilitator with Workforce Solutions. In that role she has been able to apply her knowledge and experience as both an educator and social worker to conduct job search skills seminars throughout the Houston-Galveston area. She has had opportunity to work with those ranging from entry-level to C-level to help them find a job, keep a job, or get a better job.