Your cover letter is often the earliest contact you have with a potential employer, so never underestimate its importance as you make that critical first impression.

Studies have shown that reviewers spend an average of only about 10 seconds scanning candidates’ cover letters. So, you need to make your mark quickly and effectively or you run the risk of your letter – and accompanying resume – landing in the recycling bin.

How can you ensure that your cover letter will rise to the top and land in a decision maker’s inbox instead? These tips can help:

Customize and Personalize.
Make sure your cover letter is tailored to the job description and reflects your personality and interest in the position, as well as the added value you bring to the table.

  • Address it to a real person. Stay away from “Dear Sir or Madam” or “To Whom it May Concern” and if possible, address your cover letter to a staffing or HR decision maker within the company. Conduct research via the company’s web site, LinkedIn page, or other sources to find this information.
  • If you have a contact within the company, mention them. If you’ve been referred for the job by, or know someone who is a reliable employee at the company, use this to your advantage by referencing them and telling how they inspired your interest.
  • Zero in on how you can help the company. Demonstrate your knowledge of current issues facing the organization and/or its industry, and point to how your skill set and experience could help them improve and add value.

Quality Versus Quantity.
Nearly half of employers in a recent survey reported that a cover letter of about a half page in length is ideal. Other research cites three to five short paragraphs as the optimal length. So, choose your words carefully and keep your cover letter concise and to the point.

  • Make it easy to read. Remember the 10-second parameter. Bullet points are helpful in listing examples, details and data.
  • Include keywords. An increasing number of companies use computerized systems to track cover letters and resumes. When you include the right keywords, your documents have a better chance of being selected.
  • Settle for nothing less than perfect when it comes to spelling and grammar. Errors convey the perception that you’re careless, lack an eye for detail, and will continue to make mistakes if hired.

Show Your Value.
Your cover letter should present a compelling case for why you are not just a great candidate, but the candidate who will add the most value to the job.

  • Put yourself in the employer’s shoes. When you identify your pertinent skills and experience, keep in mind that this is determined by the hiring manager’s best interests.
  • Quantify your experience with data. For instance, if you’re interested in a manufacturing management position, consider a statement such as, “As plant manager at XYZ Company since 2009, I have reduced accidents by 33 percent, increased productivity by 17 percent and grown quality by 11 percent.” Be as specific as possible.

For additional tips on how to make your cover letter and related materials – and you – shine during your career search, contact the experts at Alternative Staffing.

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