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Why IT Cover Letters Are Mission Critical to Your Career
An IT cover letter may be one of the most overlooked ingredients to getting a great information technology job, yet one of the most important. Most people assume that getting an IT job is merely a question of getting the right skills and technological experience on a resume. And there was a time, back in the Internet boom years, when this was more or less true. At that time, just listing a string of credentials, computer languages and skill sets more or less had companies throwing money at you and begging you to accept their paychecks and free soda in the break room.
No more. Though there are still plenty of good IT jobs still out there, they are harder to get and a top-notch IT cover letter is one tool to make one of them yours. One thing to consider when crafting your IT cover letter is the changed marketplace for information technology professionals. Not only have the technologies change, as they have for the entire history of technology, but the way companies hire has also changed too.
With the advent of widespread outsourcing in the Information Technology field, the nature of jobs is changing and the IT cover letter needs to address that change. In the United States, an office full of programmers or engineers working on in-house projects is becoming a thing of the past. It's cheaper for companies to hire lower-cost programmers and engineers in other countries, mostly India, to do this kind of work.
So as a job seeker writing an IT cover letter you've got no choice but to recognize that fact and use it to your advantage.
Because what this trend means is that it's no longer enough to prove technological skill anymore. In their cover letters, IT workers must demonstrate that they have a higher level of skills to get hired than used to be the case. Specifically, companies now are looking for employees that will do more than just code or design or handle IT problems. They also have to be able to supervise IT projects and teach outsourced employees and manage projects for which the bulk of the work is being done somewhere else thousands of miles away.
In practical terms, what this means is that companies are looking for employees that have problem solving and managerial skills in addition to technology training and certification.
The IT Cover Letter Highlights Your Strengths
The good news is that a great IT cover letter is one of the best ways to demonstrate these problem solving and managerial strengths to a Hiring Manager in a way that a static resume just can't. A resume is just a list of attributes, credentials, qualifications, and job experiences. It's not likely to engage or convince anyone, much less give them a sense about the personality of the job seeker. By contrast, a cover letter is one person speaking to another. It is the job seeker saying, in plain clear English why he or she is the best person for the job. As a reflection of the writer's personality, the cover letter allows the job seeker to lead the reader into a convincing explanation of why the job seeker is the right hire. Furthermore, the cover letter gives the reader clear directions about what to do next to get the job seeker one step closer to taking the job.
Bearing in mind the changing nature of IT jobs, what a great IT cover letter should do is prove to the reader that the job seeker is the solution to the business problem that the company is most interested in solving. If you can make that case in the cover letter, you WILL get the interview. If you can make it again in the interview, you'll get the job.
Naturally, you'll need to know what that business problem is. If you are responding to an advertisement or vacancy posting somewhere, you should be able to find some clues there about what the company hopes to solve with the new hire. Alternatively, you could ask around to people you know that work in the field about the special challenges that the company and department that you are targeting may be facing. Blogs and message boards can be a treasure trove of information about where a company is expanding, altering it's strategy, changing its tactics or struggling with technical or marketing issues. Spend a couple of minutes reading everything you can find about the company.
Often a little bit of research goes a long way towards finding exactly the right sort of angle to take in your IT cover letter.
Now Solve for "X"
Once you've got the problem figured out, you need to prove that you can solve it. This is the part of the IT cover letter where the concept of speaking to the reader is especially helpful. Imagine that you are making a case before a judge or jury, or that you are a salesman trying to close a big sale to the consumer. You are going to want to use every piece of information you can to prove that you are the one who will fix what needs to be fixed for the company most efficiently. Applicable information like education, certification, training you've received, promotions, accomplishments you've been recognized for... all of these are fair game in the making of your case.
However, there is one especially efficient way to show that you can solve that problem. And that is to show that you have solved it already in your job history, many times. Give specific examples of times when you have taken care of exactly the issue that they hope to hire someone to take care of. That's going to be exactly the piece of information that will get the Hiring Manager on the phone to you.
Remember this simple fact, for a high paying job like one in the IT field, companies don't have the time or resources to waste on giving an untested employee a chance, no matter how promising they may appear. They want someone that can come in and hit the ground running and do what's needed with the minimum of training and preparation. Showing that you are already doing whatever needs to be done removes any risk from making you the hire.
Where Is the Love?
Once you've established your experience, you want to demonstrate your enthusiasm for the job. No employer wants to hire someone that simply wants to do their job and receive a paycheck when they could have someone that will enthusiastically be part of the team and give 100% to the company's goals. So after the part of your IT cover letter where you show your expertise, put a "passion paragraph." This paragraph should show how much you enjoy the challenges of the job and why you are eager to take on new challenges at the target company.(If you can demonstrate in this paragraph that you know something already about the targeted company that's even better.)
Lastly, you need to tell the reader what he or she needs to do in order to get you moved one step closer to taking the job. Usually, this is to call you up and schedule and interview. In this part of the letter, don't assume that the reader knows what's expected of him or her. Come right out and ask for the interview and tell him or her what number to call to schedule it.
Now let the letter sit for a couple of hours then come back and read it out loud. This is a very simple way to test for the clarity and quality of the writing. How does it sound? Is it natural and clear and informal and direct? Or does it sound convoluted, stuffy and full of jargon? If you have any doubts about the quality of the letter, give it a revision before taking the next step.
Either print it up or email it to the right recipient. In the IT field it's pretty much standard to email IT cover letters to the Hiring Manager. If that's your strategy, be sure to check to see that you send it to the right person. Unlike a letter that gets misdirected then carried over to the right person's desk, if you don't get the name right on the email the recipient may just delete it instead of forwarding it. This is a case where it's worthwhile to make a phone call to the company and confirm where resumes and IT cover letters should be addressed to.
Now you're finished. If you used the principles for writing a great IT cover letter, your email or letter should stand out head and shoulders above the competition and set you up for the interview that gets you a great IT job.
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