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October 17, 2011

The Ridiculously Easy Cover Letter

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The Ridiculously Easy Cover Letter

By Leslie Ayres, The Job Search Guru

If you can introduce yourself, you can write an effective cover letter.

The other day, a longtime friend--one of the most lively, articulate, engaging and pretty much irresistible people I know--emailed to ask me if I'd take a quick look at a cover letter she had composed for a job she really wanted.

It was a lot like most cover notes I get in my work as a recruiter: several paragraphs long and dense with dry business language and polysyllabic words, the kind you only use when you're writing, not in conversation. To me as the reader, it felt overwhelming and a little boring, and it didn't feel at all like my friend.

It wasn't badly written; she's an educator and a great writer (I know because I follow her blog.) The writing style was perfect for a corporate report. But for a cover letter, she'd made two common mistakes: 1) it was too formal and 2) it tried to communicate too much information, to do more than its job.

A cover letter's job is really quite simple: to get someone to read your resume.

So keep your cover note brief, drop the convoluted business language and trying-too-hard-to-impress formality and just speak like the real person you are.

Essentially, all you need your cover letter to communicate is "Hi, real person here. I understand what you're looking for, and I fit your profile in this way and that way, so please read my resume."

Nothing intimidating, nothing you have to slave for hours over, nice, friendly and to the point. You're simply introducing yourself and letting them know you have what you think they're looking for, and then you let your resume do its job as the place they can get the details and story.

Want an easy shortcut to a perfectly adequate cover note? Just write like you talk.

What would you say if you ran into the hiring manager at the coffee shop and knew this was your chance to make an impression as a candidate. Imagine yourself walking up, reaching out to shake hands, feeling friendly, confident and relaxed...now, what would you say?

In person, you'd probably say something along the lines of, "Hi, I understand that you're looking for a director of purchasing and I have ten years of experience heading up purchasing for one of the biggest manufacturers in the country. From what I know, this sounds like a great fit, and I'd love the chance to interview with you for this job."

You will notice when you speak, there is no "Dear Mr." or "To Whom It May Concern," and the big business words are forgotten, and it sounds friendly and to the point. (Here's a tip for the salutation: Start your note with 'Hi,' 'Hello,' or 'Good morning,' for a familiar tone.)

Tell just enough to make them interested in learning more.

The right, easy cover note is pretty fail-proof because you have told them enough to know you're not wasting their time but you haven't told them anything that will knock you out of the running, which means that anyone who reads it will want to look at your resume to learn more about you.

Include a couple of intriguing specifics.

It helps to give some context about why you're sending your resume ("I heard about it at The TED Conference" or "I saw your posting on Monster.com"), or add a highlight or two about your background ("I saved my last company more than $100K when I simplified our inventory process"). Definitely mention at least one of their requirements and how you fit the bill. Always mention if a friend referred you, since being referred from in-house dramatically increases your chances for an interview.

But don't get carried away. Short and simple is the goal, just a few friendly lines.

Then invest the time you just saved not sweating over your cover letter into customizing your resume so that it makes it very easy for them to see what it is about you that they want. Your resume has its own important job to do, which is to get you selected for that interview. Your cover note can get them to read your resume, but your resume will have to convince them that you've got what it takes. Then your interview's job will be to get you the offer.

So relax, take it one step at a time, and prepare so that each step of the process--from ridiculously easy cover note to bullseye resume and confident interview--will do its job to keep you moving forward until the job is yours.

Leslie Ayres is The Job Search Guru. A staffing expert and executive recruiter for more than 20 years, she currently places senior executives for cutting-edge technology startups. Leslie also is a job search coach and speaker, sharing her expertise in how to get a job that fits, even in a very competitive market. Visit Leslie at: http://www.thejobsearchguru.com

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