“Enclosed please find my résumé for the advertised position." How many cover letters have you written that started like that? How many other people do you think have done the same? Now imagine that it's your job to read résumés and cover letters all day, looking for people to hire.
"Employers sift through more cover letters with attached résumés than is humanly possible every day," says Romona Camarata, Regional Director for R.L. Stevens & Associates, a national career management and outplacement firm.
"My colleague, who has been a recruiter for 20 years, receives an average of 400 cover letters and résumés weekly." As a result, you have only a very short time to get the employer's attention.
"Employers may spend between two and four seconds scanning the cover letter. If it doesn't match what they need, it is overlooked," Camarata says. So how do you break out of the pack and write an opening that really wakes up the HR person -- and gets them to read your résumé?
"I don't suggest that you get too gimmicky," says professional résumé writer Louise Kursmark, co-author of "15-Minute Cover Letter" (JIST Publishing). "But do avoid dry, overused introductions. Instead, write something that will make your reader want to know more about you."
Kursmark offers five ways to open your cover letters with impact:
- Refer to a prior conversation with the hiring manager.
Of course, you won't be able to do this if you've never spoken with the manager. But if you have, you're at a distinct advantage. Open by mentioning your prior contact with him or her.
Example: "Thanks for taking my call last Thursday and discussing your available mechanic position. I am very interested."
- "Drop" the name of the person who referred you.
People are more likely to read cover letters that mention the name of a trusted colleague or friend.
Example: "At the suggestion of Dana Whitman, I am contacting you to express my interest in the open position of principal pianist with the Omaha Pops."
- Lead with one of your most startling and relevant successes.
State your astounding achievement and show how you can do something similar for your potential new employer.
Example: "Under my leadership as sales and marketing vice president of MoneyMakers, market share grew from 10 percent to 24 percent on a shoestring budget. I'd like to speak with you about opportunities where I can deliver this level of sales results for Acme Funds."
- Quote your contact directly.
If your contact has been interviewed in the media or has posted anything business-related to the Internet, quote it and show how your philosophy meshes with theirs -- and makes you an ideal person to hire.
Example: "In your recent interview in the Chicago Tribune you said, 'Companies succeed by hiring the right people -- people who want to make a difference, not just do a job.' When I read this I knew that General Widget was a great fit for my energy and passion as well as my skills as a machinist."
- Quote a recent industry statistic or relevant article.
Doing this shows that you've done your homework and are in tune with the latest developments at your target company or the industry in general.
Example: "I was interested to read in Business Monthly that San Marcos Manufacturing plans to expand its Asian operations to Vietnam and China. With seven years of experience launching production (both plant start-up and supplier development) in both of these countries, I can help make this important venture successful for you."
Your first paragraph should also make it clear why you are writing. Are you confirming a scheduled meeting, applying in response to an advertisement, or being referred by a mutual acquaintance?
"Don't be mysterious! Share this information up front so that your reader can place your letter in the proper context," Kursmark says.
Follow these tips and your next letter might go from making the hiring manager yawn to making him or her pick up the phone and ask you to come in for an interview.
Lori Cates Hand is the Trade Product Manager for JIST Publishing. She has collaborated with America's top careers authors to develop dozens of popular job search books, including the "Help in a Hurry" series, "Quick Resume & Cover Letter Book," and "Job Search Magic."