Nothing Fancy: The CV Cover Letter Demystified
The CV Cover Letter in Plain English
The CV in CV cover letter is short for curriculum vitae cover letter, which comes from the Latin term curriculum, which means "to run" and "vitae" which means life. So curriculum vitae would loosely translate as "the run of life." In practice this would mean a short summary of someoneís life to date.
CV and CV cover letter are phrases that are more common in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth countries. In the United States we prefer to use the term resume, which is the past participle of the French word resumer, or "to summarize."
Why the British use a Latin phrase and the Americans use a French one is a mystery to me. What is not a mystery is the power that a well written CV cover letter can have on someoneís efforts to get a great new job. In many cases, it is the CV cover letter that makes the applicant stand out from the mass of other candidates for the position and inspires the Hiring Manager to bring the person in for an interview.
Why the "CV" in CV Cover Letter Should Mean "Crucially Vital"
The reason that the CV cover letter has so much pull is that it is the first and best chance that the candidate has to communicate with the Hiring Manager in an informal and direct manner. By contrast with the cover letter, a CV or resume is so formal as to be impersonal. Itís simply a list of job titles, duties, accomplishments and credentials.
These items are put down on the page without any sort of context. In effect, the resume just throws down all the facts and expects and hopes for the reader to put them together in the structure that the writer wants. This is possible, and if a resume is well written it often has the effect that the candidate hopes, but it is by now means a guaranteed outcome.
By contrast, a CV cover letter is like taking the reader on a journey. Instead of just presenting the reader with a lot of information, the resume letter puts that information into context. It explains why that information is important and leads in a logical manner to the conclusion that the writer desires for the reader to come to.
This has two main benefits. First, the CV cover letter can insure that the Hiring Manager decides that the letter writer is the best solution to the problem that the business faces. Second, the CV cover letter can inspire and instruct that Hiring Manager to take the exact steps needed to get the candidate hired in a rapid and efficient manner.
With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility
Itís worth noting that all these outcomes are the result of a well written CV cover letter. Just like a well written cover letter can make someoneís chances of getting an interview higher, a poorly written cover letter can destroy those chances just as quickly. Most poorly written cover letters make the mistake of not getting the facts straight, not making the case, not asking for action or doing these things in a boring and unoriginal way.
Not getting the facts right means that the CV cover letter writer doesnít know some basic piece of information that he needs to include in the letter. A common example of the most basic piece of information that the bad CV cover letter writer frequently omits is the name of the Hiring manager who will receive the letter. Instead, the writer will simply put "To Whom It May Concern" or "Dear Sir/Madam." These letters come in with a big strike against them to start. They show that the writer doesnít care enough about the position to get on the phone and call the company to ask a simple question confirming the name of the hiring Manager.
Other pieces of information to double check include the job title and the kind of duties that the job will require. Not knowing these in advance can lead to writing a letter that is embarrassingly misinformed or just not as focused as it could be.
Donít Forget: Whatís the Point of the CV Cover Letter?
The second thing common failing of badly written CV cover letters is to not make the case. This means, specifically, making the case that the candidate is the best possible solution for the business problem that the Hiring Manager hopes to solve with the hire.
Every hiring is intended to fix a problem that the business faces. When you know what that problem is, you can write your CV cover letter in a way that shows that you can do that better than any of the other candidates. If you can establish that in a convincing manner, then the hiring Manager will not be able to pick up the phone and call you for an interview fast enough.
So in your letter you need to convey that you know what the problem is and that you can indeed solve that problem. You have many pieces of information that you can use to prove your ability to solve the businesses problem. You can talk about your credentials, your awards, your interests, your enthusiasms, even your personal interests and passions. All of these can convince a hiring manager that you can solve his or her business problem. But the biggest piece of proof that you can offer is much simpler than any of these things: It is the experience of having solved that problem before.
Experience Breeds Confidence
Once you can establish that you have solved the business problem for your current or former employer then you stop being a bet and start being a sure thing. The company knows that it can offer you the job with the surety that you will be able to come on board and perform it from the first day.
The third mistake that a badly written CV cover letter makes is to not specify an action for the Hiring Manager to take. If you make your case strongly, then the Hiring Manager is excited to meet you and learn more about you after he has read your letter. In fact, it is at that moment that the Hiring Manger is more excited about you than at any other time. One or two seconds after he finishes you letter he might pick up another letter, might get a phone call, and answer an email or some other type of distraction.
So what your CV cover letter needs to do is inspire the reader to take the next step then and there. Luckily, this is not that hard or complicated. All it really takes is to ask for the interview and tell the reader where he or she can reach you to set up that interview.
Something like "I look forward to sharing my enthusiasm with you in person. Please cal me at this number to set up an interview time" should do the trick.
Mix It Up
The fourth mistake that a poorly written cover letter makes --- being boring and unoriginal --- is a bit more general. A CV cover letter is not supposed to be fine literature or new comedy material. But neither should it be the same collection of stale and overused clichť statements that Hiring Managers have read a thousand times over. This is the main pitfall with using the CV cover letter samples that are all over the Web and in job searching books. These sample letters are just played out and only serve to inform the Hiring Manager that the letter writer is too stupid, lazy, boring, inarticulate or apathetic to craft a letter that says what he or say.
By contrast, an original, simply written, direct and clear cover letter that shows some intelligence and sparkle will get noticed for different reasons altogether. It will show that the candidate has the ability to say what he or she needs to say in a smart and interesting way.
Beyond these basic guidelines there are all sorts of tricks and tips that a CV cover letter writer can use to dress up their letter of application. For instance, a great way to start a letter is with a bold, eye-catching summary of the letterís contents.
Something like "AVAILABLE IMMEDIATELY: EXPERIENCED MARKETING PROFESSIONAL" can get the attention of the reader and let them know immediately that their time spent reading the letter will be rewarded.
Additionally, information that is used to make the case that the letter writer is a great business problem solver can be displayed in alternate methods. Besides simply listing experiences and accomplishments, these attributes can be contained in a graph or bullet pointed list to make them even more quickly and easily comprehended by the reader.
Lastly, a P.S. at the end of a letter seems to have a nearly magical effect on the reader and draws their eye even if nothing else in the letter gets read. So attaching a post script to the bottom of your CV cover letter will help make sure that it gets noticed.
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