September 24, 2012
4 Frequently Asked Questions about Cover Letters
Find below some frequently asked questions about Cover letters. Find out why cover letters are necessary and some of the common mistakes we make while preparing our cover letters.
1. Why is a cover letter necessary?
A cover letter should always accompany your CV. Few employers will seriously consider a CV without a letter. A cover letter tells the employer exactly what kind of job you want to do and tailors your qualifications to that job.
Frequently the job-seeker will see this line in a rejection letter: "We chose the candidate who provided the best fit with our needs." The cover letter is the way to show an employer how you fit the company's needs.
Given the screening process, a cover letter may have as few as 20 seconds to grab an employer's attention. A well-written, interesting cover letter that opens a window on your personality has a much better chance of enticing the employer to interview you than a boring, formulaic one.
2. What are the biggest mistakes cover-letter writers make?
- Addressing the letter to "Dear Personnel Director," ''Dear Human Resource Manager,'' "To Whom It May Concern," "Dear Sir or Madam" (or worse, "Dear Sirs") instead of a named individual. Most employers toss cover letters in the circular file if they are not addressed to him personally. "To Whom It May Concern" shows the employer that you were not concerned enough to find out the name of the person with the hiring power.
- Telling the employer what the company can do for you instead of what you can do for the company. This mistake is particularly common among new college graduates and other inexperienced job-seekers. In most cases, employers are in business to make a profit. They want to know what you can do for their bottom line, not what they can do to fulfill your career dreams.
- Leaving the ball in the employer's court. Too many cover letters end with a line like this: "If you are interested in my qualifications, please call me." Proactive cover letters, in which the job-seeker requests an interview and promises to follow up with a phone call, are far more effective.
- Overusing “I.” It’s okay to refer to yourself, but not in every sentence. Remember to use “you” even more. Show the “you” to whom you are writing that you’re more concerned with meeting his or her needs than meeting your own.
- Exaggerating your experience. Don’t “stretch” anything you say. Be completely truthful while still presenting yourself in the best possible light.
- Forgetting to give the employer a way to contact you. Never forget to include your phone number or email address or both. How will the employer let you know about your upcoming interview if he or she can’t call and tell you about it?
- Forgetting to sign the letter or to attach your CV.
3. How do I Make my Cover Letter Stand Out?
- Your Unique Selling Proposition (USP). An advertising term, the USP is the one thing that makes you better qualified to do the job than anyone else. The USP should answer the question: "Why should I hire this person?"
- Be yourself. A “formula” approach is fine, but each letter should reflect your personality and your enthusiasm. Let it shine through. Take pride in who you are and what you’ve done. The reader is looking for a human being, a person who knows what he or she can offer and can express it well.
- Clearer expression. Most people come close to expressing what they really want to say but usually miss the target. Take the time to craft your words and sentences to mean exactly what you intend and you’ll be in great shape. Ask others to review your letter/CV to ensure that you’re communicating what you want to say.
- Write in the active tense. Active verbs are the key when writing cover letters and CV. Instead of saying, “...my best attributes include team play and motivating people,” say “I’m a dedicated team player who can motivate people…” The latter promises a go-getter employee – someone who can take action instead of waiting to be led by the hand.
4. Can't I just mass-produce the same letter to all the companies for which I'm interested in working?
Never -- unless you use word-processing equipment that enables you to personalize each letter and include at least one paragraph specifically revealing your knowledge about each company and how you can meet its needs. Nothing turns off an employer faster than getting a letter that looks like the same one everyone else is getting. Why bother to do a cover letter if you don't tailor it to the company and position you want?
Hope this has answered one or more of your questions? If you have more questions or answers, kindly use the comment space below.
Some of the answers in this article were provided by Katharine Hansen, Ph.D., creative director and associate publisher of Quintessential Careers, is an educator, author, and blogger who provides content for Quintessential Careers, edits QuintZine (http://www.quintcareers.com/QuintZine/), an electronic newsletter for jobseekers. Visit her personal Website or reach her by e-mail at kathy(at)quintcareers.com.
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