The old-school cover letter was typically a regurgitation of your resume, covering point by point exactly why you were right for a job. It contained many paragraphs and usually filled the whole page. In today's competitive job environment, however, few employers have the patience or time to read a lengthy letter. Get your point across quickly and powerfully using cover letter techniques that convey a sense of immediacy for the best effect.
Open Your Letter Well
Open your cover letter boldly. After all, it may be the only part of the letter a hiring manager actually reads. Don't waste time explaining what job you're applying for. Instead, give it a title, or start with a provocative statement. Make sure your opening sentence grabs the job recruiter's attention in a way that keeps her reading, and take the time to craft a great new opening for each cover letter you write. If you know someone in the company who will give you a great reference, drop that name in the first sentence of the cover letter, too.
Make It Easy to Skim
Keep your cover letter short and easy to skim. One of the most effective cover letter techniques is to use wide margins, and leave plenty of white space on the page. Limit your paragraphs to two or three sentences at the most. Remember, the goal of a cover letter is first, to get the hiring manager to pay attention to the attached resume and, second, to call you for an interview. Anything that doesn't play to those goals should be cut.
Use Bullet Points
Bullet points make your cover letter easy to skim. Pick out three to four highlights from your background that pinpoint why you're perfect for this job. Bold-face them and use them as bullet points in the second paragraph of your cover letter. Choose one bullet point regarding your relevant education, one about a specific accomplishment in your former job, and one or two about specific skills you bring to the new position. Follow up each bullet point with one sentence of explanation, and make sure everything you say is relevant to the position.
End Your Letter Well
Finish your cover letter by establishing the next step. State that you'd like to meet in person and, if appropriate, say that you'll call to speak to the hiring manager or to set up an interview. Make sure your letter includes all your contact information, especially phone and email, to make sure the job interviewer can reach you easily.
Keep your modern cover letter short and focused. Show your new letter to colleagues who can assess it objectively, and give them six seconds to read it. If they can repeat the highlights of your letter back to you, you've done your job well and have a new, up-to-the-minute cover letter ready to send out.
Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
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