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Write A Killer Cover Letter In 7 Easy Steps

Write A Killer Cover Letter In 7 Easy Steps

So you want to write that killer cover letter to land your dream job? Not so fast. You’ve got to give your cover letter the respect it deserves. For years, the Hiring Manager at XYZ Corporation has been reading all kinds of these letters, giving a few the green light… but she’s been rejecting all the rest. In order to grab her attention in all the right ways, follow these seven easy steps.

1. The Appearance

If your overall presentation isn’t top notch, then it’s not going to get the respect it deserves. Though it won’t be covered here, be sure to tune up your resume or your curriculum vitae (CV) alongside your cover letter.

Start by following a simple layout. In the top-center of the letter, have a letterhead bearing your name in a bold, large font. On a single line below your name, type out your address, your phone number, and your email address. (If you don’t have a letterhead, you may place your name, address, phone number and email in a heading in the top-left corner.)

Next, place the company heading as close to the top-left corner as possible. It should have the recipient’s name, his or her job title, the company name, and the full address of the company. In the top right-hand corner of your letter, you should spell out the date like this: June 1st, 2014. (You may also place the date directly above the company heading.)

The salutation should be placed a couple of lines down from that. It is acceptable to have a subject line underneath the salutation, for example: RE: C++ Programmer, Job ID: EG3-1228965.

The body of your letter should have EXACTLY three paragraphs: an introduction, a middle and a conclusion. These paragraphs ought to be brief, three to five sentences each. Be sure to use the correct terminology and active language. And, most importantly, omit needless words.

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The final statement is your farewell, also known as a valediction. This, too, should be brief and genuine. A few spaces down from the valediction, place your first and last name.

Remember, your cover letter should only be a single page. For a few examples of the overall layout of a cover letter, try using a search engine to view examples. Search images for: cover letter examples.

2. The Salutation

When you send out a cover letter, address the exact person who will receive it. You will have to research who this person is, of course. There are many ways to go about doing this, and I recommend you check the official company website first. From time to time, you will find a company directory, so check the Human Resources (HR) department to find out who handles hiring new employees. If you can’t find the hiring manager in this way, try looking up profiles on LinkedIn that meet the criteria. If you find someone who claims to be in charge of new hires for the company in your region, copy down his or her name for your cover letter. You may also try calling the company directly in order to learn the hiring manager’s name.

If you can’t find the name of the person to send your letter to, that is okay. The most accepted way to address a cover letter nowadays is “Dear Hiring Manager,” or “To the Hiring Committee:” followed by a comma or a colon. Some job hunters prefer to address their letters with “Dear Sir or Madam,” instead, but I do not recommend this salutation. DO NOT open by stating “To whom it may concern.” HR employees often remove these cover letters from the mix due to the broadness of the salutation – and it actually makes you sound unconcerned.

Form your salutation in the simplest way – address your reader properly – it’s as easy as that.

3. The Introduction

To stand out, you’ve got to have a killer first sentence. Picture the hiring manager a moment: he or she has to read a number of cover letters every day. All of the letters read follow a format to be sure, but he or she is tired of reading the same old stuff. That’s why you’ve got to WOW them.

Open your letter with the truth, plain and simple: “I have several years’ experience in the restaurant industry, and I hope you will consider me for the position of Kitchen Manager.” Or perhaps you’d prefer a slightly-augmented example: “Capitalizing on my accomplishments in web-based SEO analysis, I would like to express my interest in serving your online community as a Social Media Marketer.” Whatever the case, it is important that you are clear and concise. You ought to mention how you found out the company is hiring as well. If you were referred by someone within the company, it behooves you to mention his or her name and position in the first sentence.

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The opening paragraph is designed to show why you are a good match for the company. Mention two or three exacting qualifications you have that suits the position, drawing upon the skills your resume entails. (Take note of these qualifications as you write, since you will amplify their specificity to the position in question in the paragraphs to come.) Whatever you decide to include, DO NOT simply parrot what is contained in your resume/CV! Your cover letter is meant to reveal the strengths within your skill set, so showcase your abilities accordingly.

4. The Middle

In the second paragraph of your killer cover letter you must give concrete examples of your qualifications. The company you would like to work for has an exact need that they want to fill – be sure to target that need! Outline a few specific activities you have performed in your career that best pairs you for the position.

Here is where your storytelling skills will come in handy. Describe scenarios in which you succeeded in overcoming some obstacles in a recent job. Each instance should show how you met the need that the company is looking for. If the position calls for troubleshooting skills and phone etiquette, then describe how you handled that difficult tech support call and turned the customer around. If your prospective employer wants someone to fill a sales position, don’t be afraid to show exactly how many contracts you secured for your corporation. These instances should come out of the experience delineated in your resume: make them colorful, concise and effective. Some examples:

“Recently, I was Vice President of Sales and Marketing for ABC Bank. Our account acquisition was in a slump, even though we had offered $150 for each customer who referred a new account. The bank manager had set a challenging goal for the third quarter – one hundred new accounts. Since we live in a small town, I decided to capitalize on a grass roots effort to get the word out. I posted flyers at the local college campus, supermarkets and mini-malls, and I even executed a social media campaign on behalf of the ABC branch. I managed to get 30 new accounts in the first month, and my own sales portfolio included over 100 accounts by the end of the quarter.”

“In 2013, I was Project Manager for TechGuru’s recent app, JoyfulNoise. There were a few hurdles to overcome: the interface needed to be tighter, there were a few bugs, and there were similar products on the market. As the lead, I decided to improve the user interface myself, thereby freeing up my team to work out the software issues. Finally, we added a new feature to the product which allowed users to share their ringtones with others on the platform. Since the time of its launch in December of 2013, JoyfulNoise has had an uptick in sales every single month.”

The story should have new information about your skills and abilities, within the framework of your resume. I repeat, do not just copy-and-paste the details of your resume into your cover letter. Beware: It will make your effort to WOW the hiring manager fall flat, forcing her to put your resume at the bottom of the pile.

A final note on bullets: it is en vogue nowadays to include bullet points in the middle paragraph of your cover letter. Using bullet points is a simple way to get the attention of the reader, but it can also distract from a well-thought out narrative.

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–          Bullet points can give quick detail

–          They effectively draw immediate focus

–          But they will also detract from everything else you wrote!

These are very easy ways to make things “pop” in your cover letter. If this is a very important position for you, take the time to follow the classic format of the cover letter. Besides, would you want the hiring manager to have to look at the same old bullet points she sees in every single cover letter? No! You want your letter to stand out. Therefore, nix the bullets.

 

5. The Conclusion

Your conclusion should be the shortest of your paragraphs. There are three aspects of a final paragraph: an invitation to look at the resume, an interest in an interview, and gratitude for the opportunity. First, you must direct the hiring manager to examine your resume. If this is a digital cover letter, say something like: “Please consider my attached resume for the position.” If this is a physical letter, then refer to the resume as “enclosed.” Also, if you are applying online, it is good to place any hyperlinks to pertinent web pages in this final paragraph, as in: “Please visit my LinkedIn page.” Where possible, incorporate the link into the text (as in the underlined portion), and avoid using cumbersome web addresses.

Second, express your interest in meeting the hiring manager. Now this could mean a face-to-face interview. On the other hand, many hiring departments choose to interview over the phone or over the internet using Skype. For this reason, keep the method of the interview ambiguous: “Looking forward to speaking with you further,” or “I would like to arrange an interview to discuss my qualifications and to learn more about the organization.”

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It is also acceptable in this paragraph to mention you are available immediately, and your salary is negotiable. While these are not requirements for the cover letter, certain positions are highly desirable and you may want to express your eagerness in this manner.

Most importantly, thank the hiring manager for her time. Just think of how many of these letters she has to read! If you show your gratitude in a genuine fashion, as well as your interest in the opportunity, she will be more apt to consider you for the position. Don’t just assume your abilities can speak for themselves: a little bit of kindness and deference can go a long way.

 

6. The Valediction

The closing remark in your killer cover letter should be short and sweet, not long and saccharine. The two most acceptable valedictions: “Sincerely,” and “Best regards,” to be exact (though many writers shorten the latter to simply, “Best,”). Sometimes I prefer to say “Cordially,” but that is just to shake things up. (Note: if you are writing to an employer in the UK, “Faithfully,” is the most effective valediction.)

 

7. The Final Draft

Edit your cover letter. Read it, re-read it, and then give it to someone else to read. Spell-check will overlook many grammatical errors, so you must be diligent. Try reading it backwards, sentence by sentence. Be sure to check that the content is sound, and you have told a good overall story. Verify spellings of names and addresses, ensuring every detail is correct. Finally, if you’re furnishing a physical copy for your employer, be sure to print it on decent paper.

An excellent cover letter requires you pay great attention to detail, and that you put yourself in the shoes of the HR department. It is more-than-okay to showcase your talents and to entertain (a little bit). Be empathetic, and imagine what you would want to read. Most of all, recognize that you are the best person for the position, and reveal your wondrous story – you’re bound to land that job with your killer cover letter!

Featured photo credit: Ninja The Last Thing You See/Joey Gannon via upload.wikimedia.org

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Last Updated on December 4, 2020

13 Critical Things to Consider Before Switching Careers

13 Critical Things to Consider Before Switching Careers

Do you have a path not taken? Maybe you had big career dreams when you were younger, but somehow they didn’t materialize.

Maybe you took your first job, thinking it would be a stepping stone to a better job. It seemed like a good idea at the time, you recall, except the better job never came along. Or perhaps, saddled with student loans, you took a job that helped you pay them off. You paid them all right, but now you feel stuck in a career you don’t really like.

The average person spends 90,000 hours in their lifetime at work[1]. That’s too much time to be doing anything you don’t love!

Is it time to think about switching careers? Here are 13 things to do when making the big leap.

Diagnose Your Current Work Situation

Before switching careers, it’s important to figure out why you’re currently unhappy so you don’t step into another situation that isn’t right for you. Start with these considerations before making any big decisions.

1. What Are You Passionate About?

It’s somewhat shocking, but research shows 87 percent of workers have no passion for their jobs[2]. Passion can be measured many ways, and one person’s passion is another’s poison. Still, if you believe in your company’s core mission, it really helps.

How can you find your passion? You may have to switch careers. Try to arrange informational interviews with as many people as you can who work in the field of your dreams to be certain that making the switch will make you feel more engaged with your work.

Your aim: To be as happy walking into the office on Monday morning as you are leaving the premises on Friday afternoon. When you love your job, no day feels too daunting. When you love your job, it doesn’t feel like work.

Need a little help finding your passion? This article can help: How to Find Your Passion and Live a Fulfilling Life

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2. Can You Keep up With Technology?

Are you keeping up with it? And is your current company supporting your efforts? The speed of technology is so fast that many companies today can’t keep up. This may result in anxiety among the company’s leadership. The sense of anxiety can filter down and impact the workers. Morale is low, and everyone fears for their job.

When switching careers, try to find a company that will allow you to learn as you grow. It also helps to consider yourself a lifelong learner. These days, we all have to be.

Invest the Time to Dream Big

If you’re now sure of why you want to make a move, it’s time to dig into your dreams to find exactly which direction to go.

3. What Does Your Vision Look Like?

Athletes visualize their signature moves. Politicians fantasize about winning. Your task is to visualize your dream. Where do want to be working five years from now? Ten years from now? Fifteen years from now? Figure out what your titles will be at each point along your new trajectory. Will you be living in your current geographical area or will you have moved?

Ask yourself the hard questions as well. Can you afford to switch careers right now? Will you be making more money or less than you currently do? How will you support those who depend on you?

Once you have your vision clearly committed to paper, run your vision by a few of the people who know you best. Do your friends encourage you to pursue your vision? (If they don’t, consider finding more supportive friends.)

4. Do You Know What to Expect?

It’s harder to switch careers than to find a new job in your current field. You may have to accomplish the move in several discreet steps. Will making a lateral move at your current company take you one step closer to your ultimate goal?

In addition to researching your dream field online, try to surround yourself with some friends who have recently switched careers. After you have formed a rough idea of the steps you will need to take to get from where you are now to your new career, consider committing it to an action plan. The more concrete you can make your Plan, the better.

Should you be attending more networking events? Do you need to burnish your online profile? Commit to action steps, and then put those steps into your daily calendar. You’re going to do this!

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If, for instance, you’ve decided to move from marriage counseling to financial planning — you’ve seen enough divorces resulting from money matters to know there’s a better way to help people — your listening skills and discretion will be an asset. Your research will reveal whether you need specialized training or licensing to qualify. If so, go online and add your name to every list you can find to learn more information. Start calculating how to pay for your courses. A bonus you’ll get with continuing ed courses: you’ll gain access to a strong peer network.

Take Action

Time to make the move. Start considering how you will approach these steps to get where you want to go.

5. Who Will Support You?

What if, early in your career, you made a job switch that you regret? Now is the time to call your ex-boss and try to get together for lunch or a cup of coffee. Let them know you are thinking of making a U-turn back to your former field.

What if your sister disapproves of every idea you have? Either resolve to avoid her for the next 12 months or call her right now — and tell her you’re switching careers and you don’t care whether she approves! Keep all naysayers at a distance during this transition time.

6. What Can You Do Each Day to Accomplish Your Dream?

Switching careers can be quite time-consuming, but if you break down the task into small chunks, tracking your progress as you go, you’ll have a better chance of success. Whether you spend a few hours today googling your dream career, or refurbish your LinkedIn profile to emphasize the skills you have that will help you land this new job — just keep at it.

Career-switcher’s hint: Working on your new dream for one hour each day is more productive than spending 12 hours working at it on a Sunday. The more committed you are to achieving your goal, the faster it will happen.

7. Does Your Resume Highlight the Correct Skills?

First, research the qualifications of the position you hope to land. Then, look for ways to mesh them with your own skills. While some careers require specific degrees and credentials, there are many positions you can transition into that require no additional education. Sometimes, what you bring from your own background is perfect.

Take inventory of all the hard and soft job skills you possess. For the skills you don’t have, put a plan in place to acquire them!

Highlight your qualifications in a way that makes a well-argued case for your compatibility with the organization and the position you’re after. Keep in mind that all employers look for candidates with skills that show leadership and the ability to solve problems, persevere through challenges, and get results.

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Refine the skills on your resume to incorporate these resume “musts.” Make sure, though, to only claim skills you truly possess. Unless you’re proficient in a software program or are fluent in a second language, leave any mention of them off.

Switching Careers Shortcuts

When switching careers, there are ways to make it easier. Look into these questions to see what can work for you in your search.

8. Do You Have Any Contacts in Your Desired Career?

People are remarkably forthcoming on their LinkedIn profiles. This helps when you search out employees in your dream field or a targeted company. But before you take full advantage of online networking, first make sure that your profile content is fresh.

Curate all social media accounts to reflect your new direction. Social media can increase your networking opportunities exponentially. Comment on the posts of your targeted contacts and pose pertinent questions to get on their radar.

9. Are You Networking Enough?

While it may be considered old-school to tap your organically grown (offline) network, it still comes with the best odds of success. Reach out to your friends and acquaintances with industry connections who can help you make a connection.

Make a point of meeting face-to-face with anyone who can offer you a lead or provide a reference. You never know what kind of opportunity will unfold from these offline connections.

Learn more about networking here: How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life

10. How Can You Become an Expert in Your New Field?

Start building the skills you’ll need to make your career switch. LinkedIn and many other providers offer online courses in everything from accounting software to mastering Excel. For extra credit, see if you can find classes that award online badges for completing each course. Don’t be shy about adding these certificates to your online profile.

Read trade magazines and study up on industry trends. Write and post articles on timely topics. Develop an online presence in the field of your dreams.

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11. Are You Willing to Put Yourself out There?

Nonprofit organizations often look for volunteers to help them with their outreach, social media, fundraising, and more. Once you’ve mastered the needed skills, be sure to have the head of the organization or a board member write a glowing recommendation for you.

Depending on your desired career, it may be possible to take on a contract assignment at a company where you learn on the job. A freelance gig allows you to polish your skills, make connections, and prove you’re serious about this career change.

For example, if your dream is to transform your knack for attracting followers through pithy postings into a career as a social media manager, don’t be afraid to pitch your services. Most companies need someone to manage their online presence and may welcome your fresh new strategy.

Switching Careers Results

Now that you’ve taken the steps to switch careers, bask in the success you’ve found in doing so.

12. How Can You Reward Yourself?

Set whatever benchmarks you need to achieve as you embark on switching careers, and think of them as cause for mini-celebrations. Find frugal ways to reward yourself.

However, hold out for the big, pop-the-champagne celebration until you land your dream job.

13. Has the Risk Paid Off?

People who prefer to play it safe throughout their careers often fall short of their potential. Research shows the primary reason executives derail is an inability to change[3]. It takes a large measure of courage to pursue a new path. And when you succeed, it fuels your confidence.

You have an air of self-assurance about you and a can-do spirit that stands out. And best of all, you’ll have moved from a dead-end or lackluster job to one into which you can pour your passion and realize the feeling of self-fulfillment.

The Bottom Line

Don’t be afraid to switch your career path once you’ve outgrown the one you’re in. Set out to intentionally pursue career satisfaction and you’ll reap great rewards by realizing the joys of job satisfaction.

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Featured photo credit: Kevin Bhagat via unsplash.com

Reference

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