Blame it on your English teacher, text-messaging, sloppy blogging or even your mother. Then get over it. You should struggle with your cover letter. It’s a hard task that requires dedicated writing — and these days most PR pros don’t get enough solid practice on dynamic narrative writing to nail this critical aspect of their job-search.
Often, job candidates think of their cover letter as a last-minute item. Yet the letter that accompanies your résumé has a very specific purpose. It is a demonstration of your comprehension of the organization and the position you are applying for. It is also a litmus test of your overall writing and communication skills.
These tips may help you pass human resources’ screening and end up on a potential employer’s interview list.
o Avoid creating letters that are obvious and full of clichés.
Don’t waste your cover letter rehashing your résumé. If you really want the job, research the organization and the open position. Then, using the organization’s tone and style, explain specifically how your skills match the job. To do this, check out Web site documents that will demonstrate the narrative writing style of the organization. For example, consider the average sentence length and what technical jargon is used.
o Address your letter to a specific name.
It may be challenging to do this with online job applications, but it’s worth the effort to find a specific hiring manager’s name. Don’t limit yourself to the company Web site: try LinkedIn, Facebook and Google searches. A phone call may be all that is necessary. Please don’t address your letter “To Whom It May Concern.”
o Tell employers how you enthusiastically and specifically can serve their needs.
They don’t care about what the company can do for you and your career. Your cover letter is your declaration of how well you know this company, and how you will contribute to their philosophy and mission.
Your letter should ask for an interview so that you may present your skills, commitment and expertise. Then you must follow up in a timely manner with a phone call. Repeat as necessary. Since you now have the name of the hiring manager, that person may tell you how frequently to check in and possibly offer insights into their company’s hiring process.
o It is unacceptable for your application materials to have any typos.
Proofreading is a must: There should be no misspellings or punctuation errors. When proofing, make sure to modify your modifiers from insecure thinking terms (I feel, I believe, I hope), to active action terms (I am committed, I am confident that). Use a friend; don’t rely on your own proofreading skills for such an important document.
o Even your mother doesn’t want to hear your life story.
If your letter is longer than a page, you may be over-sharing or rambling. Follow the rule of three for successfully writing a dynamic cover letter.
1. Keep sentences short.
Like a well-written article, use clear, grammatically correct and meaningful short sentences. No slang or texting jargon is permissible.
2. Keep it succinct.
Stick to the points that communicate your understanding of the position and what corresponding strengths you possess to become an asset to the organization.
3. Use active voice to describe why you are writing, what you have to offer and how you will follow up.
Mara Woloshin, M.A., APR, Fellow PRSA, has managed Woloshin Communications, Inc. in Portland, Ore. since 1991. She is also on the faculty of the University of Portland. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.