Job Hunting: Cover Me!
When I was applying for jobs during the recession in the 1980s I decided to send out 100 résumés. I had 100 résumé’s photocopied and 100 cover letters copied with blank spaces where the addressee (the Employer name and address) was blank. I typed out envelopes to 100 employers and mailed them all off. Two weeks later I got a call about a temporary job that I would eventually be hired for and ended up staying at for almost 10 years.
Great success story, right? Yes and no. I got lucky and found a great job but really, of 100 résumés that I sent out I got only ONE call.
Now that I have a chance to think about it, that was a terrible way to try to find work. Each employer is different, each job is different and I didn’t put much effort at all into showing how MY skills would fit THEIR company.
A cover letter is one of the most important pieces of your job search. The letter itself can be thought of as an “application”, in letter format, that you send along with your résumé as an introduction. It can also be sent in response to a position you’ve seen advertised to introduce you to the employer.
Why do I need a Cover Letter?
Cover letters can give employers a quick summary of how your qualifications match their needs. It is important to specify which job you are applying for and how you heard of the opportunity.
The letter should highlight unique, positive and specific contributions you will bring to the company.
Any special skills you have that would make you successful in the position should be highlighted here as well.
If you are new to Canada this letter is a great opportunity to briefly describe your history. You can state that you have just arrived in Canada and are looking for opportunity to use your skills in a new environment.
Your letter should attract and hold the interest of the reader. The cover letter should inspire the employer to find out more about you. From this, the employer will read your résumé and from the skills listed on it, hopefully they will want to meet you!
What should I say?
In your opening paragraph you should summarize a few key areas.
- What position are you applying for? List the job title and, if applicable, the competition number or reference number. If you send out a cover letter that says “I am looking for any job with your company” the Human Resources Department won’t know if you want to be the President or the Janitor. Make your objective clear.
- Where did you hear about the job? Provide the company with information about how you heard of their vacancy either through an advertisement (note which one), a friend or even through your own research. If a friend has referred you, be sure to ask their permission before saying so.
- Have you spoken to the employer before? If you are sending a package in follow up to a previous telephone call or email and you have spoken to the person the letter is addressed to, remember to mention this in your cover letter. For example “this letter is in response to our telephone conversation on Tuesday…” Within the body of your cover letter you will need to explain to the potential employer why they want to hire you to fill their vacancy. Think of it this way: this is your opportunity to show what YOU can do for THEM by sharing the following:
Tell them why you are suited for the job. What have you done in the past that has prepared you for this opportunity? What skills do you have (from Canada or abroad) that make you knowledgeable, competent and skilled? How can you not only meet the needs of the employer but excel?
Explain in the body of your letter how you match the specific job requirements listed in the advertisement or job description such as:
- Through related experience
- Specialized training
- Professional qualifications
- Specific job skills
- Career related background
- Personality attributes
In your letter you definitely want to state what makes you unique and sets you apart from all the other candidates. Tell them why you are the best candidate. In your closing paragraph, wrap up all of your thoughts. Re-state your interest in meeting with the
employer to discuss how your skills can best benefit the company.
Tell the employer that you will make yourself available, at their convenience, to arrange an interview.
Tell them how they can contact you – and make it easy for them! Give a number where you can be reached and MAKE SURE it has voicemail where messages can be left.
If your letter says that you will call to follow up with the employer on a certain day be sure to follow through with that commitment. It is important to be true to your word and keep your appointments.
Keep your cover letter short and to the point. The letter should be no more than one page in length.
Remember the most important person in the hiring process is the employer. Avoid starting every sentence with the word “I”. This letter is to show how your skills
fit the employer’s requirements.
Try, if you can, to use the vocabulary of the industry. If you are an engineer, use engineering terms. If you are applying for a telemarketing job, speak about how your success was measured in previous positions.
These subtle touches can make all the difference. Be sure to sign your letter - this lets the employer know that you took the time to personally prepare your application and did not just “mass produce” the cover letter.
ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS double check for spelling and grammar errors! While spell-check programs are great in catching most mistakes, if you type “from” when you meant “form” they are both spelled properly, so the spell checker will not catch it.
The human eye is the best spell check.
If you don’t feel confident in your own ability to proof-read for errors ask a friend for help. In addition, if you aren’t sure of your ability to write well in English, ask for help.
And finally, always customize the content of your letter to meet the requirements of the position. Write a modified letter for every position you apply for. Each job is different - it only stands to reason that each letter should be different as well.
Putting an effort into creating a unique and well written cover letter makes a positive first impression.
That cover letter opens the door for your résumé, which highlights your experience. Those two pieces form a picture of you as a potential employee and lead the way to an interview where you can SHINE!