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How to Get Employers to Actually Read Your Cover Letter

How do you approach your cover letter?  Do you carefully customize it for each position?  Or do you just slap a generic letter onto each resume?  The cover letter is probably the most underused job search tool.  It gives you the chance to show them the person behind the resume, to demonstrate your passion for your work, and to draw a connection between your skills and the requirements of the job.  Here are some tips that will help you make the most of this opportunity:

Use keywords.  Since many employers will be using an applicant tracking system to screen resumes, it is often the case that if you don't have the right key words, human eyes will never even see your resume  Look at the job description and use your knowledge of the industry to identify relevant keywords and ensure that they appear in your resume at least three times. 

Use your network.  Your most important mission in your cover letter is to get the employer's attention and to distinguish yourself from the other applicants.  If you know someone who works for the organization, put their name in the first sentence.  In many cases, that's all you need to get an interview.  If you don't know anyone that works there, but it's your number one target company, it might be worth focusing your networking efforts on making those key connections.  Social media can be an excellent tool when you're trying to make contacts at a particular organization.

Keep it brief.  If your cover letter rambles on and on, nobody will ever read it.  Employers will usually give each cover letter thirty seconds to a minute of attention, so you need to say your piece quickly.  Three paragraphs is enough to introduce yourself, show that you are a strong candidate, and set up the next steps.  Make sure that your cover letter is focused on the employer's needs and that it presents you as a competent professional.

Pay attention to appearance.  When it comes to your cover letter, appearance is important.  Try to look at it objectively:  Is the layout attractive?  Do the headings look good? Is there enough white space?  It feels superficial, but it could make all the difference when the hiring manager is deciding which cover letter to pick up and read.

Let your personality shine through.  Some people are under the mistaken impression that cover letters are supposed to be boring.  It's not true!  Remember that the hiring manager who is reading your cover letter is also human, and in addition to the required skills and experience, they are looking for the right personality for the job.  Let them see your passion and enthusiasm for the position.  Give them an indication of the type of person that you are.  There is nothing worse than a cover letter that sounds like it was written by a computer.

When you're looking for a job, you never know what's going to get the employer's attention. You need to use every tool you have and hope that something works.  Your cover letter gives you the opportunity to address the hiring manager directly.  While it's true that some employers don't read them, it could be the thing that gets you an interview for your dream job!

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