December 20, 2011
Cover letters: Go big or go home
Long, boring cover letters: time of death, 2011.
While there's still some dispute about the exact role that cover letters play in the modern job-search process, the prevailing wisdom is that the good old-fashioned cover-letter format, as we've known it for decades, is a thing of the past.
Employers are swamped. They're scrambling to keep up. The last thing they want to do is open a separate attachment that spouts a few shopworn formalities (e.g., "I'm highly interested in this job") and then goes on to chronicle big swaths of the same information that's on the resume itself.
If you're going to take the time to submit a cover letter when you apply to a job opening, concentrate on moving the needle in a big way. Be bold. Make an impact. Say something unique, insightful and thoughtful about your customer (aka the employer) and what you can do to help solve the company's problems, instead of providing a laundry list of generic information about your skills, background and qualifications.
Example: I had a recent client who was interested in applying to an IT management job that appeared to be a great fit for his skills -- except for the requirement that the applicant have a background in the health-care industry. Undaunted, he submitted a short, highly targeted cover letter along with his resume, built around the following passage:
"While my credentials match the vast majority of your stated requirements, I'll confess I'm not able to bring prior health care industry experience to the table. Despite this, however, I believe I could knock this job out of the park. Why? Because just six months ago, I led a major installation of the exact same software mentioned in your advertisement -- giving me an expert understanding of all the steps involved in pulling such a project off successfully.
"Additionally, while not widely known, this particular software contains a number of bugs that the manufacturer doesn't openly talk about. If invited in for a conversation, I'd be happy to outline my credentials, as well as walk you through these painful and expensive lessons we learned so that your company can avoid them!"
Is such a cover letter guaranteed to land somebody a job? Certainly not. But in this case, it was at least intriguing enough to land my client an interview even though he lacked an essential stated qualification. This is an extremely rare feat in today's market.
Again, be bold. Be thoughtful. And rather than just rehashing your resume credentials, say something so relevant and thought-provoking that the employer can't resist inviting you in for a chat.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
Paul Anderson helps professionals in transition find their desired employment.
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