Cover Letters: Wow The Employer In 30 Seconds Or Less
September 17, 2015
It may be hard to believe, but you could change the course of your entire career in less time than it takes to sit through a single television commercial. In fact, according to Dr. Derek Chapman, professor of industrial organization and psychology at the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business, it often takes less than ten seconds for employers to decide whether your cover letter is a keeper.The stakes are even higher if you’re trying to break into the competitive life science field or if there will be dozens of applicants vying for the same position. The more application materials that the hiring manager will have to sort through, the shorter the window of time you’ll have to make a forceful first impression.
Make it Memorable
So, how can you make sure your cover letter will have the kind of "wow" factor that will guarantee you a spot on the short list of finalists? Experts say the secret recipe for cover letter success is a blend of smooth salesmanship and impeccable professionalism.
From the first sentence on, you’ve got to hook the hiring manager’s interest and keep them focused and engaged—all the while avoiding any cringe-worthy errors that could doom your application materials to the slush pile. Here are a few tips and hints to help you get started.
1. Kick things off with a knock-'em-dead first sentence.
This is the “hook” that will catch the hiring manager’s attention. Using strong, direct language and “action” words, explain why you are the best candidate for the specific opening you’re applying for.
2. Aim for a poised but confident tone.
To keep the hiring manager interested, you have to think and write like a salesperson, but without sounding overly brash or aggressive. You can achieve this by using straightforward language, concise sentences and action verbs. Walk right up to—but don’t step over—the line that separates "confident" from "cocky."
3. Build interest throughout the letter.
Think of your cover letter as a short story that draws the reader in, builds interest and suspense, and then ends with a bang. Use the “theme” that you established in your first sentence as the foundation for the entire letter, and make sure that each sentence and paragraph flows into the next logically and elegantly. End the letter by restating why you think you’re a perfect fit and asking to schedule an interview.
4. Show that you’ve done your homework.
Aside from your qualifications, nothing is guaranteed to catch and hold the eye of a hiring manager like a few well-placed facts and statistics about the company, the industry or the challenges the organization is currently facing. Don’t go overboard with a truckload of random facts and figures, but try to naturally work in a few key statements that will demonstrate that you’ve researched the company.
5. Do everything in your power to identify and eliminate errors, typos and other mistakes.
Even the most persuasive cover letter will likely wind up in the slush pile if it’s riddled with errors, misspelled words, or poor grammar. Before you drop your cover letter in the mail, go over each and every sentence with a fine-toothed comb. Better yet, recruit three or four friends or family members as volunteer editors—sometimes, “fresh eyes” are the best way to catch errors you might have overlooked on your own.
Most job seekers see their cover letter as being secondary in importance to their resume, but when it comes to catching and holding the hiring manager’s attention, the cover letter may just be the most vital tool you have at your disposal. If your cover letter can pass the crucial “thirty seconds” test and hold the attention of the hiring manager all the way through to your sign-off at the bottom of the page, you’ll stand a much better chance of getting called in for an interview.
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