by Dino Londis
The cover letter is a one page narrative of only about a dozen sentences that communicates why you’re applying for a particular job, who or what referred you, why you’re the person to hire, and a summation. The customized cover letter is based on your research about the company and the position, and connects your specific experience with the advertised job. It’s never been more important to craft a customized cover letter for each job submission.Why?
Other Applicants Are Doing It
You know the numbers: Hundreds of applicants apply for every published position. We’re competing with each other for far fewer jobs. A well-crafted customized cover letter makes you stand out. Any hiring manager will tell you that after awhile one resume bleeds into the next, all boasting similar bullets and bold verbs. A pithy personalized cover letter moves a qualified resume into the short stack because its narrative gives life to the bullet points.
Not too long ago, research required phone calls, interviews, and hopefully a connection to a colleague in the company. Now, of course, we can research the company, its competitors, the name of the hiring manager and even his or her colleagues through RSS feeds, social networking sites and good old-fashioned search. Dig deep enough and you may discover a mutual connection.
It’s expected because other applicants are doing it and it’s so easy. You’ll save the hiring manager the time of searching your resume trying to fit you into the position. You’ve already done the math, so to speak. The more work you put into linking the position and your resume, the more you’re speaking to the effort you’ll put in as a member of the team.
The generic cover letter is as dead as the television commercial. No commercial will get my entire family’s attention, and yet advertisers pay a fortune in hopes of reaching their target audience. When I log into Yahoo, I get ads for Red Bull; my wife gets ads for the iPad. That’s called targeted marketing. Applying for a job is targeted marketing to one person. "To Whom It May Concern," or "Dear Sir or Madam," was once an acceptable introduction. Today it’s the kiss of death.
It’s Your Chance to Show Soft Skills
Such as communication. All the technical skills in the world won’t help if no one wants to work with you. A friendly, communicative, researched cover letter compliments the dry technical resume, showing a balanced employee.
You’ll Gain the Intangible
The one page cover letter allows for just a few connections to the resume, but you’ll gain so much more clarity about the position and the company from doing the research, which will also prepare you for the interview. Truth is, most people apply for a job because the company is hiring, not because they’re terribly excited about it. We see a job and try to shoehorn ourselves into it. By doing some research, you may discover a desire to do something with the company that results in more than getting that paycheck. If your efforts turn into an interview, you’ll be able to describe how you can help meet the manager’s needs – with genuine enthusiasm. Hiring managers have a way of picking that up.
What’s Worse than No Customization?
Bad customization. Today Show host Ann Curry found this out when she gave a commencement speech to Wheaton College in Massachusetts. She reeled off a list of distinguished Wheaton alumni – except they were alumni of a different Wheaton College – in Illinois. Google can do the search, but you have to do the diligence. Make sure you get your facts straight.
There’s a Fine Line Between Research and Stalking
If you’ve found that the hiring manager tweeted about evaluating a client-side hypervisor, that’s fair game to incorporate into your cover letter and interview. But you may learn from a tweet that he loves We Rule on his iPad or her kid is graduating high school. Although the information is technically public, there is such a creepy feeling knowing that someone you’ve never met knows this about you. When the interview comes, keep it to yourself.
Bottom line: The customized cover letter is critical and should be a standard page in your application packet.
Dino Londis is an applications management engineer in New York.