It's easy to find resources that teach you the best practices for writing cover letters. You can find several right here on this blog, more in our Career Corner, and plenty of others on the web. But I'm not sure it will be any more helpful than hearing these somewhat harsh words from Blaine Hilton, a business owner and hiring manager who tells it like it is regarding cover letters. In his Blaine on Business blog, he gives a 9-point reality check that might make you rethink the way you've been writing your letters.
Although Blaine's post is titled "Resume Writing and Submission," it provides at least as much insight into cover letters. In fact, his first two points are:
1. Have a cover letter.
2. If your cover letter is a form letter, forget it.
He also gives great tips on how to focus your letter on the business and its needs, rather than on you and yours. Here's one of his big complaints:
4. Cover letter is focused on the applicant
While it is great you are telling me about you, I quite frankly don’t care. I’m trying to run a business and make a profit. 99.9% of people talk about only themselves if they send a coversheet at all. If you really want to get my attention on a cover sheet, focus on talking about me and my business. Tell me how you are going to help me. Tell me how you are going to solve my problems and [make] me money.
Read that again. He frankly doesn't care to hear about (gasp!) ... you. Don't worry, once you're hired, your employer will (probably) come to care about you as a person. But at this phase of the hiring process, when they're comparison shopping among applicants, you're just one of the products they're considering. So your cover letter should be like a product advertisement; a clear and memorable message about the benefits you have to offer the "buyer."
Or, as Hilton puts it:
7. Answer my concerns
Hiring someone is going to have the single biggest impact on my business. It is my business and thus I'm going to have many concerns for you. The applicant that realizes this will tailor their writing to answer the questions I have and make me feel confident that I should choose you.
I thought Hilton's candor was a valuable reminder of what you're really trying to do in a cover letter. It's easy to get wrapped up in talking about past jobs, but your real objective is to convince the employer that you'll do a great job for them in the future.
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