Once you’ve cleared HR, you’ll always get a one-shot opportunity to show why you’re the best person for the job. But few people capitalize on their private audience with the key decision maker, because they submit a generic, lackluster cover letter that doesn’t deliver a resounding punch.
“It’s got to be masterfully crafted and to the point,” says Mike Skinner, the former CIO and now CEO of Specialized Marketing International, a provider of information management systems based in Dallas. “Because I won’t even bother to read a cover letter if it’s longer than two-thirds of a page.”
In other words, you’ve go to take your best shot, right there.
Keep it Succinct
Recruiters and hiring managers don’t have time to read a novel says Cyndi Tauer, a recruiter and corporate relationship manager for Rivet Software, a provider of financial compliance applications based in Denver. Tauer, who recently reviewed 800 resumes and single-handedly hired 74 employees in two weeks, decides whether to invest her time reviewing a resume only after reading the opening paragraph of their letter.
“I skip the filler words to see why they’re better than the next candidate,” says Tauer. “A lot of candidates have the same skills, so IT professionals have to separate themselves immediately.”
Don’t belabor points or regurgitate the information in your resume. Create a short, compelling narrative that proves you understand the company’s needs and describes how you intend to meet them.
Corporate recruiters are willing to consider candidates from other industries, but they expect them to read the job description, research the company and correlate their skills and experience to the environment. Actually, they expect everyone to do that.
“Don’t Java this or SQL that, because I can get that information from your resume,” says A.J. Pennington, director of operations recruiting and training for RuffaloCODY, a provider of fundraising software based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. “Our hiring managers want to see a strong thesis statement that illustrates why you’re a good fit for our industry and a well-constructed paragraph or list of bullet points describing how you plan to help our customers.”
Those who succeed understand the difference between a cover letter and a resume. The cover letter explains how you intend to use your technical skills and experience to help customers, generate revenue, create efficiencies or solve business problems. Your resume provides the details to justify your claims.
“I don’t want to hear about your certifications,” notes Skinner. “The only way to capture my attention in your cover letter is by getting down in the weeds and showing me that you understand our business and describing the specific value you offer.”
Don’t wait for the company to make the next move. End your letter by suggesting a time to meet, advises Skinner. Desirable candidates display a sense of urgency and inspire the hiring manager to take action.
Excluding critical information from a cover letter can absolutely be detrimental, says Missy Nodine, a recruiter with the Coppell, Texas, secure logistics firm Brink’s Inc. What could be worse? A letter littered with spelling and grammatical errors.
“I realize that writing may not be everyone’s forte, and I tend to be more lenient when I review documents from IT professionals,” says Nodine. “But why should I consider a candidate for a QA role that requires accuracy and attention to detail if they don’t even bother to proofread their cover letter?”