VIII. Thou Shalt Not Obsess Over the Cover Letter

The old model for finding a job looked like this: When I graduated from college (back in the dark ages) we were taught that all one needed to do to find a job was write a good cover letter and resume and send them to a couple dozen employers via the US Postal Service.

The intent of your cover letter was to get someone to read your resume. The purpose of your resume was to get them to interview you. The purpose of the interview was show them how well you fit in and could do the job, thereby getting an offer and subsequently a job. It was a simple system and for the most part it worked.

The reason it worked is because companies would get 10-20 resumes for every job posting and someone would read through the cover letters and sort out the resumes. Everything was done by hand. We used snail mail and typewriters and read people read real resumes.

All of that has changed, as I am sure you are painfully aware. These days a company will get 500-1000 resumes submitted via email for every job posting. Back then it cost about $1.00 to send this package, and being a recent graduate I didn’t have many dollars. I could afford to send out 5 or 6 resumes a week so I was a bit discriminating as to where I sent them.

Today I can send out 1000 resumes with the push of a push of a single button and it doesn’t cost a penny. What kind of impact do you think this has on the employer looking for someone to come to work for them and help them solve a business need?

Today no real person sees your resume until after it has passed through a gauntlet of internet screens and sorting devices. Computers check every resume for key words and those without them simply don’t make it through. Which brings us back to the question of the Cover Letter. What should a cover letteer look like in today’s world?

Here are my recommendations for writing a cover letter today:

-If you are applying online or through email, then the cover letter should be short and to the point–perhaps 2 or 3 sentences long. Nobody reads long emails.

-Your email should include a specific “call to action” letting the reader know exactly what you want them to do next (i.i. “please read my resume”).

-If you are applying for a specific position which has been posted, then reference the position itself including the job requisition number if there is one. That way there is no mistaking your intention and the email can be routed to the appropriate person for review.

-If you are applying for specific position be sure to include the 4 or 5 key responsibilities of the position and identify specifically your experience in each of these areas.

-Mirror the posting. For instance, if the posting asks for 5 years of experience with a certain computer program and you have 8 years of experience, you should indicate that you have “5+ years of experience with…” This is critical! In a case such as this, anything that is not “5″ will be screened out.

-If you are sending a blind or unsolicited resume, the cover letter must include the reason(s) why you are sending it.

-Be very clear about how you can solve the specific needs of the company or hiring manager. Let them know that you understand and would like to solve their problems.

More Commandments:

I. Thou Shalt Focus On Accomplishments

II. Thou Shalt Use a Professional Summary Instead of an Objective Statement

III. Thou Shalt Think of Others First

IV. Thou Shalt Look Forward Rather Than Backward

V. Thou Shalt Have a Great Education Section

VI. Thou Shalt Prove It! (Quantify Whenever Possible)

VII. Thou Shalt NOT Mislead About Your Age

IX. Thou Shalt Close the Gaps

X. Thou Shalt Narrow Your Focus

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