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An Effective Cover Letter Will Get Their Attention, Right From the Start ...
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Step 2: Your Great Résumé Needs an Outstanding Cover Letter!
Illustration: This Hiring Manager is so impressed by an applicant's résumé and cover letter that he calls the applicant right away to schedule an interview.
Perhaps the only thing job-seekers dread more than writing a résumé is writing that cover letter to go with it.

After your résumé has been prepared with good, solid writing and attention to detail, it needs a great cover letter that is addressed to a particular person — whoever is actually in charge of hiring.

A cover letter requires the job-seeker to answer the most important question on the hiring decisionmaker's mind:

"Why is this particular applicant the best qualified candidate for the job?"

How well you write that cover letter may play a large part in how effective your résumé will be.

A good cover letter, specifically tailored to a particular prospective employer, may get you an interview.

A bad cover letter may make your résumé little more than an afterthought.

The Content of Your Cover Letter:
The cover letter is your chance to sell yourself to a potential employer as the best candidate for a specific position. As such, your cover letter is just as important as your résumé. In fact, you should never send out a résumé without a cover letter.

The most important thing to remember is that your cover letter serves a separate function from your résumé and should not be used to repeat the details of your résumé, such as work history, education, or personal objectives. The résumé is about you, your experience and your skills. The cover letter is about what you can do for the employer.

An effective cover letter should accomplish three things:
1. To introduce yourself and your reason for writing. The first paragraph needs to grab the hiring manager's attention. Say exactly why you have sent your résumé. Let the hiring manager know that you are interested in the company and you want to fill a need they have. Demonstrate your interest by indicating any connections between the employer and yourself. Show that you work in the same field, that you share a common professional interest, or that you have been following the company or industry in the news.

If you have been referred to the company by a mutual friend or associate, mention them by name; the hiring manager may feel more obligated to respond to your letter. (Don't profess to know more than you do, however. If you make inaccurate statements regarding the company or the industry, the hiring manager will see right through it.) When offering to fill the company's need, be as specific as possible. Don't just mention a job position, but describe your interest in a way that shows an understanding of what the company requires from that position.

2. To sell yourself. In the second part of the letter state (briefly) the skills you bring to the table that will specifically meet the employer's needs. There is no need to go into great detail; your résumé should take care of that.

Instead, use this section to highlight how you will use your talents and experience to benefit the company. Don't use it to indicate how you think you'll benefit from being employed — with a stack of résumés on her desk and positions to fill, the hiring manager isn't concerned with your personal fulfillment. Keep your use of the personal pronoun "I" to a minimum. Try to use it in this sense: "Here's how I can help you."

3. To confirm a plan. Close the letter by indicating what you would like to happen next. Don't just leave the ball in the employer's court; take action! Tell the potential employer where you can be reached, either by phone or by e-mail, but don't wait for a call. Indicate that if you don't hear from them within a few days, you will follow-up with a phone call to make sure your résumé and cover letter have reached the intended recipient, and to arrange a face to face interview. Be assertive but polite. (Some job seekers may want to use a paragraph to explain anything that's not apparent from the résumé, such as large gaps in one's employment history.)

Tips for writing your cover letter
How you write your cover letter is as important as the message it delivers. Your letter is an example of how well you communicate, and no employer wants to hire people who can't do so effectively. With that in mind, here are some tips on making your cover letter look and sound professional:

Personalize your letter. Whenever possible, address your cover to the individual responsible for filling the position. A generic salutation sends the message that you aren't familiar with the company; such an impression won't convince the reader that you're enthusiastic about the job. Likewise, "To whom it may concern" will probably concern no one. And "Dear Sir" or "Dear Madam" are ill-advised. You don't want to risk alienating or offending your reader.

If necessary, make a phone call, or visit the library, or use the Internet to find out the name and title of the person who does the hiring. Then make sure to get the spellings correct. Remember, the hiring manager will be looking for people who set themselves apart. Take the time to find out who's in charge and you may be that person.

Be natural. Use simple, uncomplicated language and sentence structure. Don't try to sound like someone else, particularly if that means using unnaturally formal language, convoluted sentences and words you've never used before (perhaps misusing them in the process). You may mean to impress, but you'll often sound awkward. Write as you would speak. Be formal, but don't be a stiff. Say things in a simple, straightforward way, and don't rely on a thesaurus. As with your resume, use action words to create dynamic sentences.

Be specific and get to the point. Your cover letter must be intriguing enough to get the reader to look at the résumé, but should be only an introduction to the résumé, not a repeat of it. Make sure you answer the question, "Why should I hire this person?"

Avoid using clichés, such as "I've taken the liberty of enclosing my résumé," or "I'm a people person." It's difficult to sell yourself as unique if your letter reads like every other one in the pile.

Be positive. Don't complain about your current boss or describe your present or previous work experience as "boring." Nobody wants to hire somebody with an attitude. Above all, don't sound like you're begging for a job. A hiring manager may wonder why you're so desperate.

Be confident, but not arrogant. Don't be negative or too humble. Tell them you're qualified for the job, but don't demand it. Don't profess to know more about the company than you really do. Explain why you find the company attractive (there must be some reason or you shouldn't be writing) and leave it at that.

Be polite and professional. You may be a comedian with your friends, but a potential employer should be treated with respect.

Be efficient. Don't waste space (and the reader's time) on unnecessary details. Respect the employer's time — make sure every sentence has something to do with explaining your interest in the company, illustrating how you'll fill the company's needs, and how you'll contact the company in the near future.

Type your letter, but beware of the hidden dangers of word processing. If you're going to send a similar letter to several companies, make sure that you change all customized statements accordingly; nobody in the HR Department of any company wants to read how much you'd like to work for their competitor. Carefully read each letter before you sign it.

Be available. Remember to tell the prospective employer how to reach you. Give a phone number which will be reliably answered by either a person or voice mail, or an answering machine. If possible, also include an e-mail address. However, AVOID using "freebie" e-mail services (such as g-mail, hotmail, msn, etc.) if at all possible, because those e-mail services tend to create an impression of instability, and employers want to see stability.

Never leave the ball in the employer's court. Indicate what reaction you expect from your letter and how you will follow up. For example, don't end your letter with "I look forward to hearing from you soon." Because if you do, such a closing statement almost guarantees that you will never hear from that prospective employer again.

Proofread your letter at least twice! Check carefully for grammar and spelling mistakes, then check again. Typos and grammatical errors say a lot about the kind of work you do. Don't depend entirely on your word processor's spell-check function; if you use "there" for "their," for example, spell-check won't even notice the mistake. But a prospective employer will! Keep a dictionary handy for proper word usage and consult a style manual for grammar questions.

Sign your letter. If you forget this, the employer may feel like you've sent them a form letter.

Package it nicely. Print your résumé and cover letter on the same paper stock; the uniformity will look professional. Use only printers that produce neat, readable text with no stray marks or smudges. If possible, avoid using a dot-matrix printer or a manual type writer. And don't even think about going to the copier place and making a photocopy, even if it does only cost a dime.

Keep a copy for yourself. Make a copy of each letter you send, and keep it for future reference.

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