The most difficult part of a job search is getting your foot in the door. Whether through networking, cold calling, sending out 50 resumes a day or just plain pounding the pavement, getting noticed is key to getting hired. And though some experts would argue it’s a little archaic and maybe even superfluous, the truth of the matter is, a cover letter says it all.
When I was interviewing for my current job, my now boss knew I was a good fit personality wise for the position and she knew I came recommended by Board members and friends of the organization. I won’t lie, I was one of the very lucky few in this economy who didn’t have to look for a job or really even apply. However, I was asked to submit my cover letter and resume. It gave me the opportunity to prove to my boss that all the people who were telling her I was the right fit were correct – that I knew my stuff and was ready to see if this was the right fit for me.
The best cover letter advice I’ve ever read came from the great Cathie Black, President of Hearst Magazines in her book “Basic Black.” She says, “The best cover letters express three things: why you’re good at what you do, how you’ll help the company, and your enthusiasm for the job.” Once you’ve conveyed those three things – stop. Stop rambling about a specific project. Stop using words like “managed” and “team.” The cover letter is about you and why you fit. It’s about getting you to the top of the pile, not getting you the job.
Now, I’m in marketing so I have a little bit more give when it comes to creative license in my applications – but one of the things I did to make my cover letter stand out was to actually label the paragraphs in the letter. Next to the first, I put “strength” (why you’re good at what you do), next to the second, I put “fit” (how you’ll help the company) and next to the third I put “passion” (your enthusiasm for the job). I labeled these paragraphs in the same headings I did “Work Experience” and “Education” on my resume. It ties the two together and makes the cover letter easy to scan.
So take Cathie’s advice. Split your cover letter into three sections, clearly answer those three questions, and then you’re done. Do it eloquently. Do it confidently. And your resume might just see the top of that pile.