Words to the Wise

September 10, 2018

Cover Letters: “Putting Yourself Ahead of the Pack” – August 1, 2018

Starting Strong.

Conventional wisdom says you never get a second chance to make a first impression. So, it only stands to reason that what you do in advance of that moment is critical. In an interview scenario, it’s pretty straightforward. Most instinctively know to get plenty of rest ahead of time, read-up on the details, arrive on time, and look the part of the position they want.

Just like in stock car racing, you can’t win the race on the first lap, but you sure can lose it!

For the most part, it’s common sense. But often, many job applicants are thrown for a curve when it comes to making their first impression on paper. In general, that’s the exclusive territory of the cover letter. Unfortunately, those who overlook or underestimate its importance seldom get past the starting line.  

The Mechanics of Engagement

If you think of your resume as being a document that’s “built to last,” it’s not at all outside of the realm to consider the cover letter as being “built for speed.” In essence, the cover letter should be a nimble, sleek, and easily customizable document that specifically addresses the employer in ways that convey what you know and why you believe it makes you a perfect candidate for the job.

Whereas a resume is basically a comprehensive list of what you do, the cover letter seeks to reveal a sense of who you are. Does it provide a glimpse of your work ethic? What about your enthusiasm for the role? Have you done your homework on the company itself, and what makes working for it an attractive proposition?

One word of caution is to avoid thinking of the cover letter as a shorter version of the resume.

Recruiters and HR staff members of every stripe look to the cover letter for answers to these questions and others that are rarely found in resume form. On top of that, a professionally written cover letter—yet phrased in your own language—can cover a lot of ground in terms of putting an employment gap or other setback into a positive context.

“Keywords” for Victory

Although the resume and the cover letter should be distinct from one another, they both share the same need for relevant keywords in common. The applicant tracking systems (ATS) used by 95% of today’s Fortune 500 companies scan both primary professional documents for the presence of terms pertinent to the position—ranking every online submission higher or lower, accordingly.

The “keyword” discussion is no time to fall asleep at the wheel!

In one way, it’s much like what drivers on the race track do as they scramble to achieve a stronger position on the course. On the other hand, failing to use language specific to the industry is sure to land your cover letter in the pits. Now that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re out of the race.

It merely suggests some retooling from Resume Professors is in order.

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