Friday, November 17, 2006

Finding the Perfect Job: Killer Cover Letters

This is a continuation of our series of articles with useful tips and information to help you hunt for the perfect job. This information is also available in The Job Seeker Survival Guide, a free publication from The Employment Guide®. Check back here each week for more tips on finding the "Perfect Job", (or pick up a copy of the The Job Seeker Survival Guide at our next Job Fair scheduled for February 20, 2007 at the Westin Hotel in Charlotte.)

Killer Cover Letters!

Always send a cover letter with a resume when applying for a job. The cover letter and resume have the same goal - get the interview, but they should contain different information. The purpose of the cover letter is to develop a rapport with the hiring manager and give him or her an idea of the kind of person you are.

  • Keep your cover letter short. Do not restate your entire resume in your cover letter.
  • Keep it clear, concise, and simple. Tell them: Where you learned about the job, why you're the right candidate for the job, how they can contact you.
  • Experts say that your cover letter should be no more than three paragraphs and fewer than 150 words.
  • Use critical buzzwords that focus on your industry knowledge and skill set
  • Format in business-letter style using a font size of 10 or 12
  • Choose an easy-to-read font style, such as Arial or Verdana (Sans Serif).
  • Start with your name, address, and the date.
  • Do include a reference line indicating the position for which you are applying, as well as the job reference number, if you know what it is.
  • Include a salutation. The letter has greater impact if addressed to the actual person that will be responsible for hiring.

Opening - Why You're Writing/Gain their Attention:

The best approach in the leading sentence is to stick with the facts and simply state why you're writing the letter. The second sentence should then act as your "attention getter."

For example:

    Enclosed is my resume for the assistant store manager position advertised in the July 21-27 Employment Guide. Having over five years' experience in retail management and being a frequent shopper at The Factory Store, I feel that I would be a great addition to your Roseville retail outlet.

Body - Selling Yourself:

Here's where you spell out why they should hire you. In other words, I have the particular education and experience that you're looking for. You need to relate your skills to their job requirements. For example:

    In my three years at the Quick Shop Center, I was promoted from head cashier to store supervisor and recognized for my ability to direct employees, hold them accountable and get bottom-line results. Additionally, I was responsible for increasing sales in the store's gift shop by 20% through improving and increasing inventory.


Hit them one more time with why they should hire you, ask for the interview and indicate any follow-up. Finally, add a complimentary closing such as "Sincerely yours," your name, contact information, and a list of any enclosures. Do not forget to sign the letter before mailing. For example:

    Having paid my way through community college by working in retail, I know the value of hard work and am ready to bring that work ethic to The Factory Store. I would appreciate an opportunity to interview for the position. I will contact your office next Wednesday.

Why Most Cover Letters Fail

Often job applicants make the mistake of assuming that employers never really read the cover letter, so they don't spend much time, if any, questioning why they were not called in for an interview. Let's put an end to the myth right now - hiring managers do indeed read cover letters! Your cover letter is the first impression an employer has about you, so it has to stand out from all the others.

Red Flags:
  • Overall appearance is sloppy.
  • Cover letter paper does not match paper.
  • Contact information is not provided and the candidate appears unavailable.
  • Spelling and/or grammatical errors are easily spotted.
  • Letter is not addressed to the name that appears in the ad.
  • Letter does not include an opening, body and a close.
  • There is no interesting, attention-grabbing opening statement.
  • Duplicate information. Do not simply repeat your entire resume in your cover letter. Keep it brief and summarize why you are a good fit for the position.
  • There is no reference to specific position sought.
  • Applicants use weak language and do not try to sell themselves.
  • Information is duplicated word-for-word from the resume.
  • Job seeker tries to use big words to impress the reader rather than keeping language simple and concise.
  • Letter reads generically - no time taken to customize to a particular job title, industry, etc.
  • It is obvious to the reader that the applicant is bragging or exaggerating about his/her past experiences and accomplishments.
  • Salary history not included when requested.
  • There is no indication of follow-up action by candidate.

Use this checklist to ensure your cover letter is top-notch!

Applying Online:

The Email Cover Letter Just because you may have been asked to apply Online, doesn't mean that your cover letter should be any less formal than it would be if you were mailing it or faxing it. The method of delivery may be the Internet, but the importance of the message is still the same.

  • Beware of Email etiquette:
    Make sure your own email address is generically professional and does not contain anything that might be considered offensive. Never leave the subject line blank. Stand out from the crowd by putting something interesting in the subject line, not just the job number. A statement like, "experienced technician for supervisor position" is much more interesting to the reader than "job #06718." Do not type anything in UPPERCASE letters. It gives the appearance that you are shouting at the reader. Send your email in plain, unformatted text. Do not add graphics or bullets, use large fonts, or add color. Use black font, normal size and typeface (10 point, Arial or Times New Roman). Make sure your lines are short - no more than 60 characters. This will ensure that your lines don't wrap, making your cover letter appear fragmented.
  • Be cautious of attachments:
    For security reasons many companies do not accept emails that have attachments. Do not attach your resume unless you are asked to do so. Check on the company website to determine if they have an online application they prefer you fill out. If you are including your resume as an attachment, it's recommended that you save your resume in a Rich Text Format (RFT) and also cut and paste it into your email message (just in case the person reading your resume does not have the software to open the attachment).
    Check and double-check content: Do not fill in the address of the recipient until you have finished writing and proofreading the document. This will prevent any chance of your hitting "send" by mistake. Run a "spelling and grammar" check from your "tools" bar to make sure there is nothing you missed. Try sending the finished document to yourself or a friend to make sure it comes out on the other side in the correct format.
  • Follow up immediately:
    Once you have sent the email, if you are really interested in the job and want to make an impression, follow up by sending a hard copy of your cover letter and resume to the hiring manager via regular mail referencing your email: "I recently sent you my resume via Email and am following up with this hard copy. I am very interested in this position."

To find that perfect job, pick up a copy of this week's edition of The Employment Guide at locations all over the Charlotte area, including all Petro Express stores, or go online at

For more information about The Employment Guide call us at 704-676-0051 or 877-676-0051 or click on the Media Kit link.

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