Don’t stick to a template
You could easily Google “cover letter template” to get some ideas on how to write it. Don’t.
“You need to think about your audience,” said Kristen Fitzpatrick, the managing director of career and professional development at Harvard Business School. “Who’s reading it? How do you capture their attention enough so they move you from one pile to another?”
This is your time to show your communication skills and your personality. You must make the case that the other 99 percent of applicants don’t have what you have. Following a template, or otherwise putting little effort into making your letter stand out, suggests you’re just another applicant.
Don’t rehash your résumé
Focus on the organization you’re writing to and the job description of the open position. If you nail your cover letter, the hiring manager will end up reading your résumé anyway, so don’t waste precious space duplicating it by going down the list of where you’ve worked.
“It’s to complement your résumé, not repeat it,” Mr. O’Neill said. “Cover letters where you’re just rewriting the content of your résumé aren’t effective.”
Instead, you could list some specific examples of projects you’ve worked on, and explain what you learned from them and how that knowledge would apply to the open position. Or you could offer some new ideas, showing from the start that you understand the company’s goals and would bring creativity.
(Related: Getting past the first cut with a résumé that grabs digital eyes)
Don’t state the obvious
Read your letter again, and zap any clichés or platitudes that don’t say something meaningful about you, the position or the company.
As an example: Don’t say you’re a “hard worker.” Everyone says that, and it would be easy to lie about if you weren’t, making it a meaningless sentiment to include. It merely takes up space that could be better spent on something that actually sets you apart from the other candidates.
“It’s not even worth saying,” Ms. Fitzpatrick said. “You’ll show you’re a hard worker by going above and beyond in writing a letter.”
Do your research
This requires going past the first page of Google results.
You could go to a library to sift through professional databases that might have more information, or get coffee with someone who works at the company you’re applying to. Show a familiarity with recent projects, acquisitions and public statements. It doesn’t have to be a lot, but a few sentences to show you’ve put time into it could go a long way.
If you’re not preparing for something as crucial as a cover letter, why would they trust you would prepare for an important meeting?
Focus on what you can offer them
A lot of applicants spend too much time talking about why they love the company, Ms. Fitzpatrick said.
“How many letters does Apple read that say, ‘I couldn’t live without my iPhone’? Probably a lot,” she said. “So you want to show you are unique and you’ve done your research.”
You do want to make it clear that you respect the company and explain why you’re interested, but the focus should be on what you can do for them.
“You want to avoid too many ‘I’ statements — ‘I know this,’ ‘I did this,’ ‘I can do X, Y or Z’ — because that’s too much about what you’re going to get out of this opportunity,” Mr. O’Neill said.
The company isn’t posting a job for charity, or to improve your life; they’re trying to fill a position they consider essential. Convince them that you’re the one who would most help them, not that you’d benefit most from it.
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5 Ways to Make Your Resume Stand Out
By Catherine Conlan
Monster Contributing Writer
When you’re writing your resume you want to impress hiring managers and get selected for an interview, so you need to do everything you can to ensure it stands out from the crowd.
Here are five ways to make your resume stand out from the competition.
Respond Directly to the Job Description
Hiring managers have specific ideas about what skills and experiences candidates need to do well in open positions and your resume should mirror the description they’ve included in their listings or ads, says Mark Slack, a career adviser at Resume Genius.
“In a sea of bland candidates, the most captivating resume is the one that seems to match all of their requirements, including necessary technical skills, work experiences, and degrees, certifications, or licenses,” he says. “If your previous work experience is not relevant to the job description, you will need to get creative and frame your current skill set as being transferable into a new role.”
Describe Accomplishments, Not Responsibilities
Joseph Terach, CEO of Resume Deli, gives the example of a pizza delivery person: It’s not enough to say you deliver pizzas, because that’s what you’re supposed to do. “The question is: are you good at it? Or, did you deliver pizzas late, cold and in a crushed box to the wrong address?”
Instead of regurgitating your job description, focus on the accomplishments you’ve made while living up to that description. Describe the ways you’ve excelled in your profession and have gone above and beyond.
Quantify Your Accomplishments
“There's no better way to describe your accomplishments than with cold hard numbers,” says Slack. For instance: “How much product did you sell monthly? How much money did you save your company due to your efforts? What was the size of the budget you managed? How many people did you train or manage?”
Putting a number on the work you do gives hiring managers an idea how you might fit into an organization. “If you can quantify any of your job descriptions, do so,” he says. “It will give the hiring manager a much clearer image of your skills and abilities, and definitely help you get on the short list for an interview.”
Use the Summary Section for Distinguishing Details
If you include a summary statement on your resume, remember it occupies the most valuable spot -- front and center, Terach says. “So many job-seekers waste it on self-descriptors, such as ‘creative,’ ‘results-driven’ and ‘excellent communicator,’” he says. “Guess what? If you need to label yourself an excellent communicator, then you’re probably not one.” Instead, drop the generics and use the summary section to provide details of your achievements.
Ignore Irrelevant Information
Knowing what to leave off your resume can be as important as knowing what to put on it. You might think it’s a good idea to include as much information as possible to pad a weaker resume, but this approach can backfire.
Including irrelevant jobs or extraneous accomplishments from relevant jobs tells your potential employer that you don’t understand what they’re looking for, Terach says. “Don’t make your target reader fish through a bunch of noise in order to find what’s really important to her, because she won’t. She’ll assume that you don’t get it, and move on.”