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Effective cover letters for business professionals focus on telling a potential employer what she wants to hear rather than focusing on what you want to say. Your goal with a cover letter should be to tease a reader into wanting to read your resume rather than trying to make the sale before she even gets to your resume.
The person reading your cover letter will probably want to get to your resume and will scan your cover letter quickly to determine if it contains any information not in your resume, including the name of a person you both know or an important fact that might get lost in your resume. Avoid a generic opening sentence, such as, “I am applying for the position of account manager advertised in the Anytown Tribune.” Consider asking a provocative question that will pique the reader’s interest. For example, if you have experience in the company’s field, you might start with, “Are you looking for a sales rep who has experience increasing sales to chemical companies?” You might also drop a name, such as “I understand from Bob Johnson that you are looking for an HR director with experience in benefits management.”
Hiring managers know the general skills a person needs to hold an accounting, marketing or HR position. Your job is to tell a potential employer that you have more than just those general skills and, if applicable, experience specific to the company. Try to analyze the potential employer’s needs and pick two or three skills you have that will solve the employer’s problems. For example, if your research finds that a company looking for a sales rep is seeking someone who can open a new territory or who can do product demonstrations, put your experience in these areas in your cover letter’s second paragraph, after your intro.
Focus on the Reader
Put yourself in the reader’s place. The recipient might be the owner of a small business, a department head with specific experience relating to the job or a human resources manager with no experience in the area for which she’s conducting the job search. Help the reader quickly know why she needs to bring you in for an interview. If possible, use your online and business network research to determine what the company’s needs, problems or challenges are. Targeting your cover letter to address the reader’s needs is more important than listing your awards, education and professional certifications.
End with a hook that makes the reader want to get to your resume. Finish with a summary sentence that restates your lead sentence, or add a P.S. to the letter. A P.S. stands out visually, and letter readers often go to it first. Use your last sentence to put the most important fact you want the reader to have in mind. Just as you don’t get a second chance to make a lasting impression, your last impression should also be a positive one.
Proofread and Get Feedback
Professional cover letters don’t contain typos or misspellings; they get the recipient’s name, title and company right, are organized and don’t overwhelm the reader with a solid page of text. Use the spelling and grammar check functions in your word processing software. Ask a peer with a professional communications background to read your letter and offer suggestions. Do the same with one or more peers who manage jobs like the one you’re seeking. They will tell you if you’ve included too much or irrelevant information.
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