Three Things to Do and Three to Avoid in Creating a Dynamic Cover letter

December 14, 2016 Steven Watson, PhD, CPRW Job Search Frame of Mind

Job seekers often minimize their focus on or even ignore the creation of cover letters to accompany résumés and other materials when applying for jobs. It can seem like a waste of time to provide cover letters, but it is often time well spent if they are crafted carefully and creatively.

Here are three things you NEED TO PRIORITIZE when creating a job search cover letter.

  • Highlight those greatest strengths, skills, attributes, and accomplishments that specifically address requirements found in each job announcement. It is important to be strategic regarding the information you choose to include in each cover letter. Spend the time needed to evaluate a job announcement to determine what the employer most values in an applicant, using this information to shape the cover letter narrative.
  • Identify keyword phrases within each job announcement that seem to be used most often. Make sure these keywords appear in your new cover letter. Remember not to overuse keyword phrases because that can be a major turn-off to reviewers. Usually three or maybe four times are optimal for the use of major keyword phrases.
  • Take the opportunity to provide information not necessarily suitable for the résumé. This can include more personal information and special circumstances, such as career changes or interruptions, location or travel preferences, or non-career-related details that add value to your overall presentation.

 Here are three things you NEED TO AVOID when creating a job search cover letter.

  • Keep the cover letter relatively short—no more than three or four paragraphs or bulleted information items. Just like with résumés, reviewers are not going to spend very much time reading a cover letter. Paragraphs should not be any more than three sentences long and bulleted points should not exceed three lines each. Reviewers need to be able to browse the letter within 10 seconds or so and read the entire document within two or three minutes.
  • Do not cut and paste material from the résumé into the cover letter. This was a common practice at one time, but it is a practice to avoid now. No one wants to have to read the same narrative twice and it leaves the impression that the applicant is not prioritizing the information in the letter or the reviewer’s time needed to read it.
  • Narrative tone is very important—coming across as confident is fine, but demonstrating arrogance or cockiness will compromise your efforts. It can often be a fine line between self-assuredness and over-reaching in regard to your suitability for a job. If you do make strong statements regarding your uniqueness or match for a positon, provide one or more examples that support your belief.   

If crafted carefully, a cover letter can be very valuable to a job search process because it provides an opportunity to highlight information most relevant to a particular job announcement. Therefore, the next time you are tempted to skip the cover letter when applying for a job, reconsider that decision.

A final note: Try to identify and include the name and title of a prospective employer’s contact person in the cover letter. This is a nice touch that will help personalizing the material and demonstrate a true interest in the process.

cover letters, job announcement, job search, résumé,


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