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Cover Letters, Specifically Speaking

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By J. Thompson
Online Career Tips Staff

Okay, you’ve found the perfect job. You took the time to craft your resume so it emphasizes the strengths and the skills that make you the ideal candidate. You entered all of your profile information into the online applicant tracking system. Almost done! You’re ready to press the submit button and then you see it. The small, blank field on your computer screen—Cover Letter. However, it’s optional. You recall a conversation about cover letters being as outdated as dinosaurs. But, only a few months back, you read an article suggesting that in this recovering economy a resume without a cover letter goes straight into the waste basket. So, do you take more time and write a cover letter?

The answer is yes, but only if the cover letter complements or adds value to your resume. Remember, your cover letter is a virtual handshake with the recruiter or hiring manager. It’s your first impression and first impressions in this competitive job market can make or break your chances of getting hired. Remember, you could be the most qualified candidate, but if you’re cover letter is obviously generic, has typos, or contradicts your resume, you’d be better off not sending one at all. So, if you really want the job, get specific.

[Let Your Value Shine]

First, search online for the best cover letter sample that fits your style. Then do a little research about the organization, just like you would for your resume. Any research you conduct at this stage will always be helpful for later interviews. You don’t need to drill too deep, but it would be a great advantage if you can identify either the recruiter or hiring manager and address that person in the letter. Personalization tells the reader that you’re serious and well-informed. If you have a trusted connection already working at the organization, don’t be afraid to mention that you know the person.

[Volunteer to Beef Up Your Resume]

It’s important that you directly reference the job requisition title (or number) in the intro, even if the cover letter is tracked online with the application. This will illustrate your attention to detail, while also making it less confusing for the person on the other end who is probably sifting through lots of paper work or hiring for multiple positions.Â

In the body paragraph, quickly sum up your type and length of experience, and how this qualifies you for the position. If you have a significant employment gap, which is very common these days, you may want to explain it here. Â

Conclude the cover letter by inviting the reader to contact you for further questions. It’s a good idea to reiterate your contact information (even if this information is already on the resume or entered online). Overall, keep the tone of your letter conversational, and unlike this article, always keep your cover letter short.

J. Thompson is the Vice President of the Content team at American Public University. He earned an M.F.A in Screenwriting from the American Film Institute in Los Angeles and performed his undergraduate studies in English literature, political science and business management between the University of New Mexico and East Carolina University. His career insights draw upon experience as a communications vice president supporting learning management, applicant tracking, and talent and leadership development for Bank of America and other Fortune 500 firms.

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