Why I Won’t Read Your Cover Letter (Guest post from Jodi Glickman)

by Rich DeMatteo on March 24, 2011 · 22 comments

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Jodi Glickman is a former Peace Corps Volunteer (Chile) turned investment banker (Goldman Sachs’) turned communication expert. She is the founder of communication training firm Great on the Job, a regular contributer to the Harvard Business Review Blog and the author of the upcoming book: Great on the Job: What to Say, How to Say It, The Secrets of Getting Ahead (St. Martin’s Press, May 2011). You can follow her on Twitter at  @greatonthejob.

With 84% of the workforce saying they’ll look for a new job in 2011, there’s a good chance you’ll need to dust off that old resume and cover letter. And while a single resume may suffice for the dozens (if not hundreds) of positions you apply for, one or two cover letter templates most certainly won’t do the trick.

If you want to stand out from the pack, your cover letter is your shot at the title. If you want me to read it, it can’t be a standard form letter that simply repeats your resume. Here are three pitfalls to avoid if you want me to read your cover letter:

It’s Generic

It’s not hard to understand why recruiters ignore standard form letter emails. The worst thing you can do is start your cover letter with: Dear Sir or Madame or To Whom it May Concern. With social media platforms today, it’s almost inexcusable to not find a direct name at the company you’re interested in. Once you’ve got a name, then tailor your cover letter to the specific job and organization at hand. Don’t simply talk about why you’re great at sales or business development, highlight why you’d be great selling my product or winning new business for our specific target audience.

It’s not Impassioned

The last thing I want to do is hire someone who is wishy-washy about my company or organization. I want to know that you believe in our products or mission wholeheartedly. I want you to show me that you love what we do and that you’d be an amazing addition to our team. Go ahead and make it personal. Use a story or anecdote to convince me that this role is a perfect fit for you and me. Make it hard for me not to respond to you.

It’s Too Long

If you’ve grabbed my attention, you’ve got to hold it for the balance of the ¾ of a page you’ve got available to you. Don’t waste my time repeating your resume. Be short and sweet and to the point. Give me just enough information so that I’m intrigued. The goal of the cover letter isn’t to get you a job; it’s to get you past the front door, through to the interview stage.

At the end of the day, if you grab my attention, convince me that you are passionate about this role or position, show me that you’re the absolute right person for the job, and prove that you love my company; I will no doubt read your cover letter. It’s a lot to ask (in ~350 words or less), but it works.

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