Tips for Writing an Effective Cover Letter
Posted on 25. Feb, 2010 by Erin Kennedy in Featured, Resumes and Letters
Why are cover letters so difficult for people? What makes a good cover letter, and how can you get yours to stand out?
Cover letters can be fun to write. There really aren’t many ‘rules’ to writing them so you can let your personality shine through. They allow you to positively present your skills, accomplishments, and credentials in a way that will encourage the reader to want to read even more about you (and then move on to the resume).
Here are some easy tips to remember when writing your cover letter:
- Make sure you state your intention. In other words, what is the job you are applying for? Clearly state it. Don’t make the reader guess. You could say something like, “…and this is why my qualifications make me a perfect match for the Clinical Informatics position.”
- Showcase your top achievements. Don’t repeat everything you wrote in the resume, just summarize some of your top accomplishments. Wow them with what you have done.
- Don’t forget your relevant skills or qualifications. Let the reader know what you excel at, what you are capable of, and what your brand is (what you are known for). This is a great place to talk about any extra credentials or training you’ve had that relate to the position.
- Write toward the position you are applying for. When preparing the cover letter, keep in mind the requirements of the position and add your qualifications that match them.
- Tell them why you like their company. This is your first attempt to woo the company, so tell them what you like about them. Is it the reputation, products/services, company culture? Let them know why you chose them (“I really need a job” doesn’t work here). “I’ve been following SmithHealth’s rapid growth and expansion for some time and am excited to be considered for the Clinical Implementation Specialist position”
- Remember, you are NOT writing your autobiography. Keep it short, simple and factual. You don’t need to go into why your old didn’t work out, “…my boss had unrealistic expectations of the staff, so I decided to check out my options…” Don’t air your dirty laundry or obvious dislike of your most recent employer. Keep it professional.
- Go through and double check the entire document for accuracy, errors, and syntax. You don’t want to miss a great opportunity because you wrote, “Dear Hiring Manger”.
You may even want to save that cover letter, copy and paste it onto a new document, and tweak it for another type of position you may be interested in. I encourage clients to have several “focused” cover letters for different positions they might have in mind. This way, if an opportunity presents itself, you are ready!
Erin Kennedy, CPRW, CERW, BS/HR, is a Certified Professional Resume Writer/Career Consultant, and the President of Professional Resume Services. She is a nationally published writer and contributor of nine best-selling career books.
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Back in the late 80’s, as an English major with a newly-minted degree, I landed in Washington, DC for a two-year stint to work as a junior paralegal for a very large and prestigious law firm, DPandR. Each paralegal was assigned to a team of attorneys, with a partner heading up each team - in my case the venerable Alan S. Rosenblat. Alan was brilliant, old-school, gruff, and … completely and absolutely intimidating. (To say he was kind of a stickler for detail is like saying that Michael Jackson is kindof weird.) Alan’s reputation as a grammar taskmaster was well-known throughout the firm, and subsequently his team was given the responsibility of vetting the hundreds of resume’s that were sent by DPandR wannabes.
Somewhere along the way, Alan discovered my talent for spotting typos and grammatical errors (others’, not necessarily my own), and put me in charge of making the initial pass. For my first assignment, I was given a stack of 30 or so application packets, and told to read each cover letter carefully, looking for glaring mistakes. According to Alan, they were all “technically qualified,” but the real evidence we needed to make a case one way or another was going to be found in the cover letter. I remember taking this job very seriously, as I realized that someone’s hopes and dreams were in the balance, and so I granted forgiveness for what I considered to be minor infractions and returned to Alan’s office with a stack of 24 candidates remaining.
“Here Mr. Rosenblat,” I timidly offered, “I have 24 candidates in this stack.”
“Good! Shred the losers!” he barked.
“Ummm. No sir, I mean I have 24 remaining after I went through the cover letters.”
Alan jumped up, slammed his hand on his desk, and bellowed, “I thought you understood!” I’m convinced he was getting ready to tell me in no uncertain terms what I could do with my English degree, but he suddenly stopped, took a deep breath, and told me to pull up a chair (I’ll never know for sure why he changed course, but I heard later from several people that he thought - correctly - that I was about to crumble in a heap on his floor). Alan’s theory was simple – if they didn’t have enough respect for the firm to submit a flawless cover letter, thereby creating a strong first impression, he didn’t want them as a colleague, and he most definitely did not want them representing the firm. Period. We spent the next 20 minutes going over each cover letter again. Misspelled the firm’s name? Loser – OUT! Used “there” instead of “their?” Rookie – OUT! Forgot to include the date or sign the letter? Moron – OUT! In the end, we emerged from our tutoring session with three candidates who had not "blown their cover" and were DPandR-worthy of a second look. For the next two years I sent the vast majority of the hopefuls a very nice, and most certainly grammatically correct, rejection letter.
Granted, when the market is such that qualified candidates greatly outnumber the positions available, it’s easier to be a stickler. In theory, however, I tend to agree with ‘ole Mr. Rosenblat’s stringent hiring standards. A cover letter is a first impression, and should be written with great care, attention to detail, and above all, respect for the organization that the candidate is hoping to join. Although healthcare IT professionals may not be called upon to wax poetic on a daily basis, the ability to put a sentence together correctly and clearly is certainly beneficial, particularly when leading a hospital IT implementation or training effort. Many healthcare IT recruiting companies are now including a grammar test as part of their discovery process – great idea! An online option that I’ve used personally can be found here – and while you’re at it, take the test yourself. Because as Alan used to say, “Sweetheart…never, ever blow your cover.”
Take a look at these Cover Letters From Hell - super examples of what NOT to do!