High Impact Cover Letters­ Getting Your Foot in the Door

By: Nick Thomas


Most job seekers put a lot of work into creating a résumé or CV, as indeed they should. But most of them then treat the accompanying cover letter as a formality - and that's a tactical error. Most people simply don't understand the role of a cover letter or the art of selling, and therefore most letters are weak.

Six common mistakes include:

1. Does your cover letter essentially say no more than "My résumé or CV is attached"? If well-crafted, your cover letter is a key selling tool that can dramatically improve your chances of getting job interviews.

2. Do you have one cover letter that you use for many different jobs on offer? One of the roles of a cover letter is to personalize your résumé or CV for a specific employer and job opportunity, so you'll need to create individual cover letters for each position for which you'll be applying.

3. Does your cover letter load up on complimentary adjectives, such as "highly motivated" . "exceptional" . "proactive" . "dynamic" . "hard-working" . "customer-focused" . "outstanding" . "inspirational" . "excellent" and similar words? Adjectives are the weakest tool for persuasion. Employers will be looking for men and women of action, those who can and do get things done. You'll get much more selling power by using action words (i.e. verbs) liberally.

4. Does your cover letter load up on complimentary buzz phrases, such as "a natural leader" . "works well in a team as well as on own initiative" . "proven track record" . "strategic thinker" and similar statements? Such overused clichés are tiresome for an employer to see repeated over and over and they say nothing specific about what you can actually do (or why you would be a better choice than one of the dozens of other applicants who are also claiming to be strategic thinkers and natural leaders with proven track records). They further insult the recipient's intelligence by implying that you actually think that they are naïve enough to be impressed with zero substance. Such buzz phrases are the hiring equivalent of the cheesy pick-up lines that you can find on the Internet, and they're equally ineffective.

5. Is your cover letter written entirely in a narrative style (as most other letters are)? Employers get a lot of résumés, CVs and cover letters and they're usually extremely busy (that's why they're hiring). They will not take the time to read everything in your cover letter (and résumé or CV) just because you provided lots of content. Rather, they'll typically give your résumé or CV up to 20 seconds and your cover letter up to five seconds before making their decision to keep you in the stack or drop you in the waste basket. That isn't enough time for employers to get through much content unless you present it to accommodate their reviewing approach.

6. Does your cover letter look well-organised, concise and business-like? The fact that employers put upper limits on review time for résumés, CVs, and cover letters doesn't mean that you'll get the full allotment. It's quite common for an employer to decide "I've seen enough" in as little as one or two seconds if your documents aren't impressive at first glance. Since your cover letter is the first thing employers see, it bears the burden of making that all-important "good first impression".

Relatively few job-seekers realize the importance of the cover letter and fewer still understand how to craft an effective one. Therefore, learning how to design a strong cover letter is often the single most effective way for most job seekers to boost their odds of getting picked for job interviews.

© 2006 Nick Thomas

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