Write the Perfect Cover Letter

If you're looking to land a new job, it all starts with your cover letter.  Susan Rich, author of Write it Rich! How to Write a Kick-Butt Resume Cover Letter, joined is to share some tips to help your job application stand out from the rest:

  1. MUST DO: Simplify your hire-me message: Before you write the letter, study the job description and your resume; consider all the intangible reasons why you want the job. Now answer this question: Give me 3 reasons why I should hire you. Those 3 reasons should be the basis of your 1-page letter. The number 1 reason should be the headline or first major statement, followed by reasons 2 and 3.  This will help you organize your thoughts and pick a key message – the main reason why you should be interviewed. Most people don't know how to begin the letter, which is why they default into writing bland openers that don't work.
  2. MISTAKE: You didn’t introduce yourself. People forget to introduce themselves in the letter, and it's so important. A cover letter is a letter of introduction. Most folks simply start with "I am delighted to apply for the job," and of course the reader doesn't know who "I" is.
    "I" statements are also unpopular or frustrating to the reader, because it makes the letter sound like it's all about you. When you say, "My name is," you shift the letter away from those annoying "I" statements and begin the process of defining how you benefit a company.
  3. MISTAKE:  You don’t give a compelling reason why you should be interviewed.
    The cover letter is like a sales letter. Instead of the, buy this, get that pitch we get in the mail, your cover letter is about hire me and solve this problem. Most people re-state their resume in the cover letter. That’s a mistake, because you’re not telling the reader anything new. Instead, look at the resume as a listing of your job facts, your cover letter as the story behind those facts. The cover letter is where you share anecdotes or statistics that prove your skills. The idea is to show, not tell, how you help a company solve a problem.
    What you don't want to say: “I am applying for the job as your next CPA.” What’s better: “In my last job I conducted an internal audit and saved the company $2 million dollars.
  4. MISTAKE:  You write as if it’s all about you. If you have too many “I” statements, you’re in danger of falling into this trap. Keep in mind: The cover letter is not about you, it's about how you help solve a company's problems in a way that no one else can. This is a subtle mind shift. You have to think of yourself as a tool to solve a problem, an asset. The only reason there's a job is because there's a problem the company needs to have solved. No problem means no job. Think of it this way: We don't buy a hammer, we buy the dollhouse the hammer will build. So a hiring manager does not hire a CPA, she hires someone to make sure the company stays out of trouble with the IRS.
  5. MISTAKE:  You have a bland opening line. If there are dozens of people applying for the same job, what can you do to make your cover letter stand out? “I’m applying for a job I saw posted on Craigslist, and I want to tell you why you should interview me,” won’t work. That’s why I strongly recommend writing a headline. 8 out of 10 people read them, and not one word more. If you’re in a large pool of candidates, a headline is going to help you grab attention. If you do the 3-2-1 exercise, then you have the #1 reason why you should be interviewed. Start the letter with that fact, and you will avoid a bland opening line.

For more information, visit Susan's website.

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