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Cover Letters: Your First Chance to Impress

Hiring managers routinely receive responses from hundreds, perhaps thousands, of applicants for any given job.  To avoid having your resume sink in this sea of paper, it’s imperative to write a cover letter that stands out from the crowd and makes a good first impression.

A compelling cover letter that follows five essential rules will convince a hiring manager to read an applicant’s resume.

Rule #1 -- Appearance

The resume and cover letter must be aesthetically pleasing and consistent in appearance.  This would include using the same heading and fonts in each, both produced on a high-quality printer and paper (if documents are being “snail-mailed").  Save the designer stationery and stylish fonts for writing letters to friends.  A professional employment package never sets a casual tone.

Rule #2 – Target Your Audience

Always use the hiring manager’s name in the salutation.  If the contact’s name isn’t provided in the job posting, a bit of Internet research or a well-structured phone call can produce results.  In using the contact’s name, the cover letter is personalized, while also showing the applicant’s interest in the company.  Remember, a letter addressed "Dear Sir or Madam" or worse, "To Whom It May Concern," has the same impact as one addressed "Dear Occupant."

Rule #3 – A Strong Opening

A dynamic opening paragraph is essential to capture and retain a hiring manager’s interest.  Pared down to basics, for a quick and effective read, it should include a reference to the position sought and a brief statement as to why the applicant feels qualified to fill the job. Emphasis should always be placed on what the applicant can do for the targeted company, while also providing quantifiable proof as to why this is true.

Rule #4 – Showcasing Accomplishments

Include a bulleted area to emphasize accomplishments pertinent to the targeted job.  Not only does this break up large blocks of text that a hiring manager might find daunting, but it also draws the eye towards the most important part of the cover letter -- what the applicant has to offer.

Rule #5 – A Proactive Closing

Always initiate further action at the end of a cover letter.  A proactive closing indicates that the applicant will call within a few days to see if a time might be scheduled to meet.  To wait for a hiring manager to take that first step is to risk losing the opportunity to another candidate.




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