Good Cover Letter
Much has changed in the job-hunting process over the past decade or two. The days of typing up your resume and printing it on high-quality rag paper, then sealing it an envelope and dropping it in the nearest mailbox are gone, replaced by emailed resumes and on-line job application systems. Even if you aren’t literally printing a letter on a separate sheet to sit on top of your resume, you still need to introduce yourself in a way that makes a positive impression on a potential employer.
A good cover letter is much more important now, actually, than it was in the past. At the same time that communications technologies have changed, making it easier for job seekers to apply for jobs, the job market itself has changed dramatically. In almost any field, you’re going to be competing with hundreds of other applicants for a given job, and, whether it’s fair or not, the people reviewing all those applications are looking for any excuse to reject the application in front of them and move on to the next one. Your application is going to be judged in a matter of seconds, on the basis of your cover letter, and if your cover letter doesn’t make the right impression immediately, no one is ever going to even look at your resume.
The Opening Salvo
You don’t get any free passes with your cover letter. Every single word counts, starting with the greeting you use to open the letter. The time when you could get away with beginning the letter with “To Whom It May Concern” disappeared along with putting your resume in a snail-mail envelope. In the current world, it’s important that you address your letter to a specific person—the correct specific person, the person who is responsible for the job search that’s relevant to you. Make sure you know who that person is, and greet him or her by name.
You’re not taking the easy way out.
It also proves that you’re not just casting a wide net, applying to as many jobs as you can, and sending a boilerplate cover letter to all of them without doing any job-specific editing. It should be obvious to you why you don’t want the person in charge of hiring for this particular job to think you’re doing that.
You can accomplish all this with a specific greeting, and you’ll also avoid giving the employer a reason to reject you within the first three words of your letter. Be specific, and don’t even consider “To Whom It May Concern” or “Dear Sir or Madam.” It won’t impress anyone, and it will show that you’re in not in touch with the realities of the current job market.
Skills for the job
Once you’re past the greeting and into the body of the letter, move right to an explanation of the skills you have that will make you successful at the job. This might seem like a no-brainer, but a surprising number of applicants will wander off on irrelevant tangents in their letters, giving details of irrelevant experience and skills. Don’t do that.
Identify the specific skills that this particular job needs, and then explain the specific experience that proves you have those skills. Find specific experiences and give details. Explain the position you were in, describe the problem you faced, and describe how you solved that problem. Emphasize your successes, and stay very focused on experience that is directly relevant to this new job.
Be confident and positive, but don’t insist, as many people do, that you’re the best person for the job or that the position is perfect for you. Of course, everyone who applies for the job hopes the same thing is true of himself or herself, and the hiring manager doesn’t want to be told what to think.