How to Get Your Cover Letter Read!

By Heather Yun Coleman

A few years back I was having lunch with my then boss who indicated that the company was going to utilize Microsoft SharePoint and I should get up to speed on the mechanisms.  At first I thought he was joking, being that SharePoint Enterprise was a major highlight on my resume. After a bit of probing he confessed he scanned my resume quickly for title, start-end dates, and education and pretty much skipped the rest. He said, “I wasn’t interested on what you did for other people, I was sold on what you were going to do for me.” He explained he read my cover letter, which told him what I would bring to the table, and used my resume to see if I had the “goods” to deliver.

Now, this might not hold true for every boss or hiring manager and less so for a recruiter, but you should write a cover letter unless explicitly stated not to, because even if it raises the chances of you landing the job by 10%, that’s 10% more than your competitor who didn’t.

There are a lot of tips and tricks out there for writing a cover letter, but one universal tip that comes up over and over from GlassDoor to Business Insider is: CUSTOMIZE.  Your cover letter is what is going to set you apart from the other submissions. (Average number of applicants per 1 corporate job opening: 250.)

Step 1: Address the letter to the right person

Most likely this person is the hiring manager/HR person. Many times you can find this in the job posting or through LinkedIn. However, if one cannot be deduced, according to HR.com, hiring managers prefer you skip the “To whom it may concern” or “Dear hiring manager,” and get to the meat of the letter.

Step 2: Prove you know the company you are applying to

When you cut and paste your cover letter from one application to another, hiring managers know. One of the top-hiring managers on HR-exchange.com explained that you should skip the phrase, “I saw your open position…I am applying” sentence because it takes up important real estate and they don’t read it anyway. Instead focus on proving your knowledge of the specific company you are applying to and why you are a “motivational fit.” Simply put, they want to confirm that you know the company, you know what the company does, and why you want to work there.

Step 3: It’s not about you, it’s about them

Katherine Goldstein from Slate wrote, “Explain how selecting you will benefit me.”  She, like many other hiring managers, will toss out applications if they list how working at Company X will help the candidate Y achieve Z. Most hiring managers are looking to find a person who will solve their issues, whether that is increasing sales, managing data, or handling phone calls. They want you to prove to them you can solve their issues with your experience and skills.

Step 4: You are not a robot, so use your human voice

Liz Ryan from Forbes, describes human voice as, “write in full sentences and come out from behind the zombie corporate boilerplate.”  Rather than the standard results-oriented professional who is skilled at managing cross-functional teams in HRIS, instead she uses the example below:

I made my way into HR after fifteen years in Accounting, where I was drawn to the human stories behind the numbers. Now I manage Compensation and Benefits to give my teammates the best and most cost-effective benefits programs available at the best price.

Step 5: Keep it short, keep it strong

Your cover letter should be 2-3 paragraphs spanning from half a page to the max of 2/3 of a page. In a recent article from LinkedIn, “Confessions of a hiring manager”, due to the number of candidates a particular HR manager was reviewing she admitted she only read the first two sentences and the last two sentences and saved the the ones that stated specifically what they could do for the company and trashed the rest. Of course not all hiring managers do this, but just in case if you start and close with how you will benefit the company, you will have better chances of getting “saved.”

Some interesting facts to ponder as you start on your cover letter:

  • 76% of resumes are discarded for an unprofessional email address.
  • 53% of resumes contain falsifications, and the resume reviewer can often sense it before even meeting you.
  • 60% of resumes reviewed by a computerized scanning system are never seen by human eyes.
  • More than 93% of employers are using some form of social media in their quest to find new talent.
  • 88% rejection rate when you include a photo on your resume
  • 8,000,000 applicants found their job on Twitter
  • 18,400,000 applicants found their job on Facebook.
  • 93% of recruiters are likely to look at a candidate’s social media profile.
  • In 2000, 22% of resumes were submitted via email or posted on the web. In 2015, over 90% of resumes are now posted online or via email.
  • Only 35% of applicants are actually qualified for the jobs they apply to.
  • While the average length of an interview is 40 minutes, 33% of 2000 surveyed bosses indicated they know within the first 90 seconds if they will hire that candidate.

And a final tip: Since over 90% of resumes are submitted via email and online, rather than attaching your cover letter, make your cover letter part of the body of your email. According to a recent survey, hiring managers are likely to only open one attachment per email and if you want them to read your cover letter, don’t attach it.

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