A resume cover letter is much like your first impression at a job interview. You can walk in wearing shorts and flip-flops and make a bad impression, or you can go in wearing professional attire that lets the recruiter see you put forth your best effort. Many recruiters will glance through your cover letter toss your resume aside if nothing catches their eyes. This is why including bullet points to draw attention to your skills and accomplishments is acceptable.
The primary goals of a cover letter are to express your interest in the company and position, provide a quick overview of why the company needs you, and demonstrate that you have basic writing skills. It should only take a few paragraphs to accomplish this. According to a recent article on Money Talks News, professional recruiters make a habit of skimming through cover letters because they have so many they have to read. Strategically placed bullet points near the bottom of the cover letter will get you noticed and help eliminate the clutter of a lengthy letter.
If you frequently find yourself being eliminated from the candidate pool, HR managers simply may not like your cover letter. Instead of sending out the same cover letter, try creating a new one with a new layout. Your opening paragraph should identify the position you're applying for and how you found out about it. Gain the recruiter's attention by briefly describing why you are the perfect fit, and demonstrate that you have done your research about the company by relating your career goals to the company's mission. Your middle paragraph should highlight your educational background and how it relates to the position. Insert bullet points in your cover letter before closing to draw attention to your strongest points for someone skimming the letter.
Bullet points make an excellent addition to your cover letter, but make sure you're not simply regurgitating your resume. Offer specific examples of your skills. Think back through your career to instances of completing a project on your own, helping develop a new process for doing things, or saving a company money. Use the details from each of those events as a bullet point. The bullets in your cover letter should be complete sentences, and you should generally use three to five bullets.
A well-thought-out and well-written cover letter can leave the best impression in a hiring manager's mind. In fact, a good cover letter may be your one chance to impress, make sure it is free from errors and strong enough to catch the recruiter's eye. A simple bullet list to break up information on your cover letter is an excellent way to highlight your best skills and help you get your dream job.
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The basic format of a good cover letter is:
-- A three-sentence paragraph up top that summarizes your skills and experience that are explicitly related to the job in question.
-- Bulleted list of achievements that are directly related to the job.
-- Summary paragraph that says you really think you'd add to the company's bottom line (say that in a specifically relevant way) and that you'd like to set up a meeting to talk.
Here's a sample cover letter to give you a sense of what you're aiming for.
The cover letter should be pretty straightforward. The problem is that most people think they are an exception to the rules of cover letter writing. Most people, in fact, are not exceptions to any rule. Just statistically speaking. And your career will go much more smoothly if you stop thinking like you're a special case.
For cover letters, I find people are more willing to follow general formatting guidelines if the understand the reasoning behind it.
1. Don't stand out
You do not want to stand out for the format of your cover letter. You want to stand out for your skills and experience. Good resumes follow the rules of good resumes because hiring managers want to compare apples to apples. You should follow a generally accepted format so that if you do have things that are great about you, those things stand out. If you use a totally new, creative, innovative, however-you-describe-it, format, the hiring manager cannot see what makes you different beyond that you don't understand how to make life easy for hiring managers.
2. Use bullets
When people read cover letters, they are in a hiring mindset. That is, they are expecting to scan a page to get a general idea of someone. This is what the resume format is great for - leading the eye to the most information quickly. A good cover letter should be that way, too. This means you need to have a bulleted list. The cover letter is short, so include just one list. Three or five bullets (the brain handles odd numbered lists best). Once the bullets are on the page, you can bet that someone reading will read those first. Make them so strong that they get you the interview before the interviewer gets to the resume.
3. Write from the recruiter's point of view
Address the person by name if possible. They immediately like you better. And use the name of their company. People like reading that, too. Write, in the opening paragraph, what skills and experience you have that will allow you to do a great job in the position you'd like to interview for. So often people want to tell the hiring manger ALL their experience. But the hiring manager only cares about the perfectly relevant experience. Also, lift words from the job description and use them in the cover letter.
4. Show you understand the rules of the workforce
Of course, all hotshots break rules. But you can't break rules if you don't know what they are. Breaking implies knowing. Otherwise it's not rule-breaking; it's just acting out of ignorance. A cover letter is a way to show a hiring manager you have learned the rules. Here are some tips for getting good at thinking outside the box. And, hint: None of the tips involve cover letters.
5. Don't ask too much of a cover letter
Look, a good cover letter does not save your life. It's just sort of the icing on the cake. For example, a great cover letter for a job you'll hate is no good. So before you spend a lot of time on that cover letter, do the most important work of any job hunt: seek out resources for how to find a job you'll love