Covers Letters: From generic to personalized
By Amanda Frank
Monster Contributing Writer
Writing a great cover letter doesn’t happen by accident. Somebody takes the time to do their research, thinks of something meaningful and relevant to say in a few well-worded sentences. Somebody conveys this quickly and clearly enough so the HR person sifting through resume clutter puts it in the ‘call back’ pile.
The purpose of a cover letter is to narrate your resume in your own voice. Your resume is a dense, concise, bullet pointed document of dates and facts. It’s a dry run-through of your skills. It is unfriendly and unfeeling. Your cover letter is there to contextualize your resume for a specific job with real-world references and examples of your experience.
Do Not Breach Job Hunting Protocol
Job-hunting protocol dictates that you must not skip this step of the application process. If ever there was time and place to be acquiescent and compliant it’s now, which granted is a time-consuming pain in the neck.
A lot of the time there’s no way around it. Many companies make you jump through hoops forcing you through a long online application process to be allowed a place in their hallowed database. You’re asked to upload two documents, cover letter and resume. It’s rather conspicuous if you don’t include the cover letter. Sometimes you’re asked to fill in mandatory text boxes that would contain most of the reasoning you would give in a cover letter to justify your qualifications for the position.
If you don’t go through the bother, you’re sending a message. You’re setting the bar low, alerting them to expect the least from you. You beg them to question on what merit should they select you over someone willing to go the extra (required) length and write a cover letter. They’re much more likely to ignore your submission.
Personalized vs. Generic Cover Letter
Or more accurately, the art of personalizing a generic cover letter. Once you write a master copy of the generic sections of your letter, you won’t need to redraft those paragraphs. The personalization becomes an exercise in editing each time. Much less daunting. Much more effective than the generic faux pas, which I’ve been guilty of committing myself when I canvassed for donations for this year’s Ride to Conquer Cancer. My lesson in getting what you want via email communications, such as cover letters, translates well.
In my first round of canvassing for donations to the Ride to Conquer Cancer I sent out a generic bulk email. I wrote one ultra generic message and sent it to a large mailing list in BCC, which is much lazier than sending a hundred emails of the same generic message. I knew what I was doing was wrong, but I felt justified in my half-baked approach because I didn’t want to be pushy, even if it meant my fundraising would suffer. That translates into a lack of confidence, not something you want to convey when you’re applying for a job!
Of course I caught flack from my mentor, a photographer and media guy (a generally successful business person and human being) who gives me contract work and knows this behavior is beneath me.
He responded to my mass email with: “Whom are you addressing this email to? Is this a bulk email? I am part of a bulk? Are you asking for cash to the bulk or to your "dear" friend(s)? You have to personalize those emails. It’s the least you can do when asking for contributions. A little detail that can translate into some MULA!! :)”
Luckily enough generous people on my list know me and love me anyway, including my mentor. Job-hunting is far less forgiving. It’s a numbers game. Play more strategically and it makes sense that you’re response rate will improve. You know this and yet, you know darn well you will reuse whatever text you can get away with. Just don’t cut too many corners. Take the time and effort to make it personal. If you don’t, I’m pretty sure you won’t have a nice HR person reply to your efforts by giving you gentle corrections as I experienced.
It’ll take more than swapping out the company name to make your cover feel like you’ve put in more than just ‘some’ thought. You need to convey that although you scanned many job postings, this particular one jumped out at you because of the obvious match of your compatibility. Here are a few pointers.
Don’t make it all about you
As fascinating as you are to your mother, this venue is not about you - it’s about what you can do for the company. A much tougher audience. Become knowledgeable by reading up on the company. Consider the line items in the job description and how each one applies to examples of your real world experience. And namedrop if you’re applying with an internal company reference.
Research your recipient. Instead of sending it to Whom it may Concern, use a business tool such as LinkedIn to figure out the name of the HR person or hiring manager.
Cover Letter Format: Keep it one page
Don’t be superfluous with your words. Write like you appreciate the volume of cover letters and resumes the average recruiter reads on a given day. Don’t exceed one page of text. If you’re worried about your writing skills read up some principles and try to apply them.
Cover Letter Presentation
Stick with a standard business letter format even if you’re sending your cover letter in the body of an email. The medium is incidental. Same like if you had a job interview scheduled on a Friday, you wouldn’t skip the suit and show up in Casual Friday jeans. Absurd!
Don’t make sloppy spelling mistakes. It’s the one thing your prospective employer won’t forgive. I’m sure you agree it’s a huge waste of time to go through the trouble of crafting a worthy letter only to read it back too little too late (after you hit send) and find a stupid typo. Sometimes it’s tough to catch your own mistakes after you’ve been staring at the same text for a while. Try to enlist the help of a fresh pair of eyes for proofreading.
For more on cover letters, have a look at Monster.ca’s cover letter examples.
8 tips for better email cover letters
If you're emailing a resume, your cover letter will deliver the first impression. These eight tips will help you craft a better email cover letter.
Follow these tips for emailing a cover letter that will get you noticed.
As the saying goes, you don't get a second chance to make a first impression. If you're doing a job search or resume submission via email, the first impression any employer will have is from your cover letter.
When you're asked to email your job application to a company, you can either copy and paste your cover letter into the body of your email, or you can attach it as a file, along with your resume. If you send your cover letter as an attachment, you can send it as either a PDF file or Word document. Here's what else you should you consider when crafting an email cover letter.
How should a cover letter look?
Some tips for writing a cover letter are standard, whether you're e-mailing or snail mailing: Be professional, with correct spelling and grammar, and—very important—do use them. (Here are some cover letter samples if you'd like to get a visual idea.) Other tips pertain only to the electronic medium, and when disregarded, could ruin your chances before your foot is in the door.
Don't waste your subject line
What you write in the subject line can determine whether your letter gets read, according to Lydia Ramsey, business etiquette expert and author of Manners That Sell. "Don't ever leave the subject line of your email blank, and don't waste it by just inserting the job number," Ramsey says. "The subject line should be clear and specific to the job you're looking for." An example: "Bilingual CPA seeks account manager position."
Use standard cover letter protocol
Write your letter as the body of the email and include a salutation (use the receiver's actual name if you know it) and a standard closing. ("Sincerely" or "Warm regards" work well.) Leave blank lines between paragraphs, and use appropriate signature and closing lines.
Include all the information in your signature line you would have on your business card, including snail mail address, phone number and email address. "Remember, your email address doesn't always automatically show up on the receiver's email program," Ramsey says.
Keep it short and dynamic
Managers and recruiters are busy. They want to get the gist of your pitch in 150 words or fewer. The first paragraph is crucial, according to Ramsey. "Hook the reader in the first paragraph by selling him or her your abilities," she says. "Use short paragraphs and short sentences to give a very brief bio on who you are and what you can do for them, and wrap it up in the second paragraph."
Keep it simple
If you write a cover letter in a word-processing program, strip away all formatting and save the file as plain text. The ideal line length is 40 characters. Some email packages automatically do word wrap for you, so your cover letter doesn't arrive in fragments.
Don't get cute. Save emoticons, abbreviations, and wild colors and fonts for your nonprofessional emails. The same goes for humor. Chances are, the reader won't think it's funny, and may even find it irritating.
Don't respond to an ad for a copywriter when you're really a graphic designer, says Diana Qasabian, talent director at Syndicatebleu. "It may be the tight job market, but we've been receiving more and more letters responding to a specific job from candidates who are not at all qualified for it," she says.
"We look for specifics in email cover letters, which means skills and abilities," she adds. "Embellishment and fluff are not necessary. It's not necessary to write, 'I'm a hard worker.' That goes without saying."
Keywords are key
Because many companies use applicant tracking systems (ATSes) to find and screen candidates, skill-oriented keywords will boost your chance at being discovered, a recruiter at a large technology company says.
"ATS tools track keywords that identify skill sets," she says. "So even if you're not right for the job you're seeking, strong keywords improve the chance that your cover letter and resume will be retrieved in a future search or be selected for a more appropriate job."
Play by their rules
Take the time to learn the company guidelines for submitting resumes, and follow them. Many companies list these guidelines on their Web sites. Also, don't include attachments unless they are requested. Some companies block all emails with attachments to prevent viruses.
Check it again
Thoroughly spell-check and proofread your email letter. And remember, your email software's spell-checker won't catch grammar mistakes. Send it to a friend first and ask him to check it for content and style. If all your friends are tapped out, or even if they aren't, test your email cover letter by emailing it to yourself, and put yourself in the mindset of an employer when you read it.
Get recruiters' attention
Once your cover letter is polished and ready to go, make sure you get maximum use from it. After all, it'll do you no good just sitting on your computer. You need to get your cover letter in front of the people who are doing the hiring. Could you use some help getting their attention? Join Monster today. As a member, you can upload up to five resumes and cover letters—each tailored to the different kinds of jobs that interest you. Recruiters search Monster every day looking to fill top jobs with qualified candidates, just like you.