Put yourself in the shoes of an employer for a minute and think of how many applications they receive. Towers of resumes crowding their desks with little time to sort through them all. And so many of those applications are good, which makes narrowing down the options that much harder. So how do you stand out and get the interview? The cover letter.
It’s your sales pitch. It’s the first thing an employer will see of you if you haven’t been able to make personal contact with them first. So you have to make it count. With resumes all taking a standard format, they all start to look the same after a while, but the cover letter is where you can let your personality shine and prove to employers why they should hire you. Make a good first impression and you increase your chances of landing an interview, which takes you one step closer to getting the job.
What to include
If you’re not familiar with writing formal business letters or sales letters, it’s a good idea to start off with a template (most word processing programs include cover letter or business letter templates). Doing this will ensure that you don’t miss any of the important information.
Your contact information – at the top of your letter include your name, mailing address, phone number and email address.
Employer contact information – Same as with your contact information except you include the title of the person you’re addressing the letter to and the company name. You don’t need to include their phone number or email address. Add as much information as you have. If you only have a name and company name, then just fill that in.
Salutation – It’s best to write out the full name because you don’t want to make the assumption that Pat is a male and write Mr. when in fact Pat is a woman.
Dear First name Last name:
If you can’t find a contact name use one of the following salutations:
Dear Hiring Manager:
To whom it may concern:
Dear Sir or Madam:
First paragraph– You need to convey some really important information in the opening paragraph, such as introducing yourself, what position you’re applying for and how you found out about the position.
But the opening paragraph is much more than that. In most cases it’s your very first impression, so don’t lose this opportunity to sell yourself. If you’re feeling creative, use this opportunity to catch the employer’s attention in the first sentence. Read your favourite magazines with this in mind and you’ll quickly see how important the lead sentence is. To a busy employer scanning through a stack of applications, the first paragraph or even the just the first sentence may be as far as she gets.
Use the opening paragraph to launch a short sales pitch. A fine way to catch the employer’s eye is to show that you’ve done your research on the company or florist hiring you. Read the “about us” section on their website to see if anything about their service stands out. Do they have any special training or association memberships? Do they specialize in a certain area or do they also teach? Maybe they’ve been mentioned in the news recently or have won an award. Websites don’t always have all this information nor are they always kept up to date, so you could search more deeply by reading news on publications / websites (visit the Florist Online Resources page for a comprehensive list).
Taking on a new hire is a risk. To mitigate that risk employers like to hire someone they know, directly or through someone else. If you’ve been referred to this employer through a mutual acquaintance, definitely mention that and state why that acquaintance recommended the job to you (i.e. you have a particular skill or the right experience). If you haven’t been referred by anyone you can catch their attention in other ways. For example, if you’ve ever made contact with them, even if it was a short conversation over the phone a few months ago you can mention that as it highlights your continued interest in the position and reminds them of the conversation. If you made a good impression on that call you’re off to a head start.
The all-important first paragraph requires much thought. Keep it short and pack as much of a punch in it as you possibly can.
Middle paragraphs – Expand on the opening sales pitch by connecting your skills, experience and education to the job. Do not reiterate your resume, but highlight the most important qualifications you have and how they specifically relate to the job. If the job asks for a dependable worker, show the employer how dependable you are. For example, you could mention how you’ve supervised a busy store and when other employees did not show up you’ve filled in for them on many occasions and have stayed overtime to pick up the slack. If you were commended for your dependability with an award make sure to link that with your example. Make sure to directly connect the job requirements with your qualifications. Don’t leave the employer to guess why you’d be the right one for the job. Make sure it is known, so be specific (i.e. how many years experience, particular skills, knowledge of specific tasks).
Avoid just listing the tasks you did in previous jobs, but highlight your accomplishments. If you have no previous farrier experience highlight your experience in a related field if possible. (i.e. I successfully took care of 12 horses…).
Perhaps the job ad listed assets that would be good to have. Do your best to connect your experience, skills and knowledge with these assets, but don’t stretch it too far. Make a connection only if you can. If the job ad states that experience working with horses would be desirable, if you’ve either worked or volunteered with horses it is worth mentioning, but if you write that your neighbour had horses and you’d go over a couple of times a year to ride them then that would be stretching it.
Use these two or three paragraphs to show them why you want to work for them. Obviously the best way to show your intent is if you have a personal connection and have direct examples of why you want to work with them (i.e. attended one of his workshops and you feel you can learn a lot from him), but if not this is where doing your research counts.
Use this part of the cover letter to convince the reader that you are a candidate worth pursuing. Give them enough information here to entice them to read the resume.
Concluding paragraph – Finish off by thanking the employer for taking the time to consider your application. It’s a good idea at this point to take the initiative by stating that you will follow up at a certain time and day (approximately two weeks later). And in case they want to contact you prior to that date, leave your contact info.
Types of cover letters
Cover letters fall into the following three categories, according to job search guide and employment expert Alison Doyle.
Application letter – Used when responding to a current job opening (i.e. newspaper or online advertisement). This is the most common format. The information listed in the “What to include” section above applies to this format. (View this page for a list of sample letters).
Prospecting letter – For inquiring about potential positions that may be available. You can use most of the same information as with the application letter, but you’ll want to change the opening paragraph to indicate that you’re asking if they have a job available rather than responding to a job ad. (View this page for a list of sample letters).
Networking letter– These letters can be used to ask for an informational interview, to introduce yourself or as a followup in response to having met at a networking event. (View this page for a list of sample letters).
Cover letter writing tips
Sell yourself as a person – Let the resume sell your hard skills, experience and education. Use the cover letter to promote your soft skills (i.e. good listener, works well under pressure) and wherever possible use examples (i.e. instead of writing that you’re a “patient and diligent worker” write: “Working as a cashier at a high-traffic hardware store my daily routine was one in which I had little control. Long lineups, incorrectly priced items, complaining customers. I had to take all manner of challenges in stride day after day and with a smile.).
Be yourself! – Don’t try to write a cover letter that just spells out the things you think the employer wants to hear.
Change it up – Write a different cover letter for each job you’re applying to. Much of the body of the letter can be kept. Focus mostly on personalizing the opening paragraph.
Respond to all questions – If the job listing asks how many hours you can work each week remember to answer that and all the questions being asked. Failing to do so just gives the employer a reason to weed you out, which is why it’s a good reason to proofread your cover letter.
Proofread – This point can’t be stressed enough. Nowadays, with spell check, grammar check and everything-else check there’s no excuse to have show-stopping typos or glaring grammatical errors. Don’t let a simple-to-fix error land your application in the recycling bin. Pay particular attention to spelling the employer’s name correctly.
Presentation – Keep the cover letter to less than one page. Print it out on standard 8.5 x11″ paper. Make it easily readable by using a large enough font (12 pt should suffice).
What if you have a hard time writing?
The bottom line
By writing a cover that stands out you’ll maximize your chances of standing out. Remember, employers like to hire people they know and people they like. While a resume is a rather formulaic employment and educational history, the cover letter is your opportunity to speak directly to the employer. So personalize it whatever way you can. Use it to sell yourself to make the employer want to get to know you. Make the employer want to pick up the phone and invite you to an interview. At that point you’re one step away from a job, thanks to that first most important step: the cover letter.