This article is part of our 52 week journey through Bill’s latest book, The Graduate’s Guide to Life and Money. Each week, a full excerpt from his book will be presented from beginning to end. To get your copy of his book, visit www.TheGraduatesGuide.com.
Last week we wrapped up the job search discussions. Now we move on to landing an interview. This week you’ll discover the one document that is more important than your resume and how to create it.
I know, you’re probably such a charmer you can’t imagine why anyone out there wouldn’t want you to work for them, right? Well, no one is going to know how great you are without first meeting you. The way you set up that first meeting is with your resume and cover letter. You have to get a foot in the door by using your writing skills, then you can charm away at the interview.
Most people spend so much effort on their resume, they forget about their cover letter. In some cases, your cover letter may actually be more important than the resume. The cover letter (sometimes called a letter of interest) is a quick overview of why you want the job, where you heard about it, and why you should get it. The cover letter is your one chance to make a good first impression when the potential employer opens your envelope. Make no mistake; the cover letter is your first impression with a prospective employer. In fact, it is the cover letter that could help you get the interview.
To begin, use quality personal stationary if you have any. Quality does not include anything with kittens, teddy bears, or sports team logos. I’m talking about professional looking stationary. Something you might see as business letterhead. If you don’t have any, use the same quality paper you used for your resume. Do not use two different types of paper for your cover letter and resume. It will just make you look disorganized.
Limit your cover letter to one page. For most jobs, good communication skills are essential. If you can’t say what you want in less than one page, the employer may see that as a sign of someone who can’t get to the point. You also need to leave space between paragraphs. The cover letter should look professional and should be easy on the eyes. If too much information is crammed onto a page it will look cluttered. Trust me, if your cover letter gives the reader a headache, you won’t get the interview.
If possible, you want to address the cover letter to a person. A simple “Dear Sir or Madame” or “Dear Personnel Department” might not cut it. Try to contact the company if you can and ask for the name of the person most likely to be reviewing job applicants. If you know someone who works for the company, ask them to whom you should address your cover letter. If you absolutely cannot find the name of the person who will be reviewing your resume, use one of the following:
• Dear Hiring Manager
• Dear Human Resources
• Dear [Name of company]
Your first paragraph should be something that will interest the reader. You could mention something about the company:
Recently I have been researching the top performing companies in the Washington, D.C. area and I have noticed your company is constantly ranked among the top ten in sales…
If you spoke to someone prior to sending your resume:
In response to our telephone conversation on Tuesday, January 20th, I am forwarding my resume to you.
If you were referred to the company by someone who knows the hiring manager:
Bob Smith, your senior staff accountant, recommended that I should contact you regarding any openings in your finance department.
If you are responding to an advertisement or a job posting:
I am writing in response to your advertisement in the News-Post on January 20th for an entry-level economist.
If you are applying for a position more than one month before graduation, you may want to mention your availability:
In eight weeks, I will be finishing my bachelor’s degree in economics at Frostburg State University…
Next week we’ll put the finishing touches on the cover letter and look at a sample of the completed version.
Bill Pratt is a former credit card executive turned student-advocate. He is the author of Extra Credit: The 7 Things Every College Student Needs to Know About Credit Debt & Ca$h and The Graduate’s Guide to Life and Money. Bill speaks at colleges to educate and entertain students about real-life issues in money, leadership, and success. His goal is to help students succeed personally and financially so they can improve the lives of those around them. You can learn more at www.ExtraCreditBook.com or www.TheGraduatesGuide.com.