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The Value of a Well-Written Cover Letter Or The Secret to Surviving Six Seconds

Amber Dawn Woods

Amber Dawn Woods

Reviewing resumes can feel a little like extreme speed dating. SO many resumes, so very little time. And at the end of the day, you know you passed on some qualified candidates that just didn’t stand out in the moment but, oh well, maybe next time?

 I’m not alone in this. A study came out several years ago that concluded that, on average, recruiters only spend six seconds reviewing a resume. Six seconds. Take a moment to count that out in your head…

 That’s no time at all! And with online application systems streamlining the process even more, it takes even less time to rule an applicant out than ever before! Some systems are setup for the automatic dismissal of applications that don’t match certain criteria or are missing information, which means, your resume might never even make it to a real live person.

 So, what makes the difference between a six second decision to reject an application and the choice to schedule an interview?

 No, seriously. Asking for a friend….

 The truth is, I don’t know exactly. So many different things can make rejecting the candidate seem like the right choice. Spelling mistakes, poor (or non-existent!) formatting, unexplained gaps in work history, location, no industry experience… There are so many things that can turn a recruiter off and have them hitting the Reject button and moving on. Some of those are personal, some are industry and job specific, and some are even regional!

 But I’ll let you in on a little secret. I always choose to interview a candidate if they’ve provided a well written cover letter – regardless of what’s on their resume or their seeming lack of qualifications.

 Now before you start submitting cover letters all willy-nilly, let me be clear on one very important thing – it must be a well written letter.

 Approximately 15-20% of the applications I receive include a cover letter. I will ALWAYS read them. No matter how awful they automatically appear to be…and I’ve seen some awful, awful cover letters. But sadly, many of those letters are too generic, don’t address the specific position, or tell me anything I couldn’t already learn from the resume. Or they’re just bad.

 What a wasted opportunity. A cover letter is a candidate’s chance to explain their application! It’s your moment in the spotlight to tell me whatever you think I should know. It’s your first and best impression. It’s your greatest opportunity to make me sit up and take notice.

 And, that cover letter just may be what saves you from the Reject button and makes me pick up the phone instead!

 Like everything else in life, advice on how to write the perfect cover letter is just a google search away! But as with most things, use your common sense, filter out the outdated material, and get your advice from those who are currently reading, and making decisions based on, cover letters daily.

To get you started here are a few pointers on creating that well-written cover letter that’s guaranteed to catch my attention:

 ·         Use your cover letter to answer two very important questions: Why you? and Why this job? What specific experiences or accomplishments gives you an edge over other candidates? What is it that only you can bring to the table? What was it about this job listing that made you raise your hand and say, ‘Ooh me, pick me!!’?

 ·         If you are changing careers, moving to a new area, don’t have all the requirements for the position but have skills you honestly believe will transfer… explain it in the cover letter! I see that you’re in Chicago and the job is in Memphis, I’ve noticed that you don’t have all the qualifications listed, and I’m very curious as to why you’ve applied for a sales position in robotics when all your experience and education has been in teaching elementary school! Use your cover letter to address the elephant in the room.

 ·         Cover letters don’t need to be the length of a short novel, but nor should they be just two to three lines on an otherwise blank page! This is a professional letter of introduction. Format it accordingly.

 ·         Don’t just regurgitate everything that’s already on your resume. Presumably, I have a copy of that too! Use your cover letter to tell me something interesting and compelling and let your resume list out the facts. There’s no need say it twice!

 ·         Take the extra 10 minutes to personalize your cover letter, customizing it to match the job you’re applying for. I do understand the desire to create a generic cover letter to use for all applications. But honestly, if you’ve applied for my accounting position and your cover letter is all about why you’d make a great administrative assistant for CompanyXYZ, I’m not going to keep reading. That letter wasn’t written for me and one size definitely doesn’t fit all.

 ·         Let your personality peek out. Pretend you’re explaining to a friend all the reasons why this is the job you really want! I want to feel that same energy, so I can get a sense of who you are. 

 ·         And finally, when you write that letter, be sure NOT to include spelling errors, missed words, incorrectly used words, or grammatical issues. If you’re going to take the time to write the letter and want me to take my time to read it, be accurate! Remember the old saying, you only get one chance at a first impression.

 And while we’re at it, here’s one extra little tip….

 ·         Until we’ve met, and you know all about the job, the company, the expectations, the culture, etc…. Please refrain from including the line, ‘I am confident that I am the BEST candidate for the position!’. Just resist the urge.

 

 

Amber Dawn Woods