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It's not about you

Great cover letters take the employer's perspective

Oct. 27, 2010 - 12:24PM   |   Last Updated: Oct. 27, 2010 - 12:24PM  |  
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Beginnings are important — especially in your very first contact with someone about a job. The cover letter you send with your résumé can make or break your chances of getting to the next step.

Most cover letters go wrong in the very first paragraph.

"Most people start off telling me how great they are," one employer told me. "It's all about them going on and on about how they have this background and that degree and how they are looking for an opportunity."

Here's a typical cover letter opening:

"I am very interested in applying for the position of X. My education and experience support your company and this job. Here is a summary of my skills and experience."

It's not horrible. But it doesn't accomplish what it's meant to — getting the reader interested and spellbound until the closing paragraph where you ask for a meeting.

"Hook me," said the employer, who gets about three cover letters a week, mostly as e-mail. "Get me excited so I want to read more and feel you have something on the ball."

Those ho-hum letters are self-serving, he said.

"They aren't tailored to me. They're not personal, strategic or thought-out." A good cover letter is more about the employer than the potential employee.

"The first paragraph should be about me and my company," how you can help him, he said. That's what he wants to know, just as you would if you were in his shoes.

Start off with something like, "I read about you in the XYZ report ..." or "Since you're looking for a resourceful and experienced manager who can oversee the daily activities of such and such ... we should talk."

In the next paragraph and the one after that, keep the employer in your mind.

Think, "What can I share to show I can improve your life and business?" Keep remembering, "It's not about me. It's about them."

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