Cover Letters: 1 Get Started Tip and 4 Common Mistakes to Avoid

Cover Letter TipsIs it hard for you to write a cover letter?

For some job seekers, crafting this 1-page tell-all is so difficult it can bring the job search to a halt. Yes, you can hire someone to write a resume cover letter for you – but it’s also possible for you to pen it yourself, and get the results you need.

Before you write your next letter, consider this 1 get started tip…and avoid these 4 mistakes.

1 Get Started Tip

Simplify your hire-me message:

Why do I want this job? Let me count the ways…

If you are a seasoned pro, there are likely dozens of reasons why you’re a good fit. But you can’t include all of them in a 1-page letter. Instead, organize your thoughts with my 3-2-1 Rule.

First, study the job description and your resume; consider all the reasons why you are a top candidate for the job.

Next, answer this question:

Give me 3 reasons why I should hire you.

Now, give me 2 reasons.

Finally, state 1 reason why you should land this job.

As you work your way through 3-2-1, you’ll quickly distill the dozens of reasons into a short list – perfect for organizing your 1-page cover letter.

Now that you have simplified your hire-me message, you’re ready to begin writing.

4 Common Mistakes to Avoid

1. You have a bland opening line.

If there are dozens of people applying for the same job, what can you do to make your cover letter stand out?

I’m applying for a job I saw posted on, and I want to tell you why you should interview me, doesn’t work like it used to.

If you’ve done the 3-2-1 exercise, then you already have the Number 1 reason why you should be interviewed. Start the letter with that fact, and you will avoid a bland opening line.

It looks like this: My best memory of working with seniors was when I started a socialization program for the residents of a psychiatric hospital in Wilsonville.

2. You didn’t introduce yourself.

People forget to introduce themselves in the letter, and it’s so important. A cover letter is a letter of introduction. Most job seekers simply start with I am applying for the job I saw on Craigslist, and of course the reader doesn’t know who “I” is.

“I” statements are also unpopular because it makes the letter sound like it’s all about you. When you say, “My name is,” you shift the letter away from those annoying “I” statements and begin the process of defining how you benefit a company.

For example: My name is Joe Williams and I thrive on transforming concepts into award-winning customer and market solutions.

3. You write as if it’s all about you.

If you have too many “I” statements, you’re in danger of falling into this trap. Keep in mind: The cover letter is not about you, it’s about how you help solve a company’s problems in a way that no one else can.

This is a subtle mind shift. You have to think of yourself as a tool to solve a problem, an asset. The only reason there’s a job is because there’s a problem the company needs to have solved. No problem means no job.

Think of it this way: We don’t buy a hammer, we buy the dollhouse the hammer will build. So a hiring manager does not hire a CPA, she hires someone to make sure the company stays out of trouble with the IRS.

4. You didn’t deliver a “talk to me NOW” hook.

Your resume cover letter is a sales letter. Instead of the buy this, get that pitch that comes in the mail, your cover letter should emphasize: hire me, solve this problem.

Most people re-state their resume in the cover letter. That’s a mistake, because you’re not telling the reader anything new. Your resume is a listing of your job facts, the cover letter is the story of your career. Use the letter to share winning anecdotes or explain the statistics that prove your skills. The idea is to show, not tell, how you help a company solve a problem.

What you don’t want to say: I am a CPA with a keen eye for details.

What’s better: In my last job I conducted an internal audit that saved the company $2 million dollars.

Crafting your own resume cover letter can be a challenging and thought-provoking process, but so is the job search! Writing becomes easier when you organize your thoughts, pick a key message, and then deliver a compelling reason why you should be interviewed. Plus, you’ll be proving that you have strong writing skills – a must in today’s workplace.

Guest Expert:

Susan Rich writes and edits, then writes some more. She has a journalism degree and 20+ years experience in print, PR, and marketing. She has published more than 2,000 articles, that’s about 1 million words in print. An author and public speaker, Susan recently published her second book: Write it Rich! How to write a kick-butt resume cover letter. As the owner of RichWriting, she is the invisible voice behind website copy, ghost blogs, media scripts, and sales letters.

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  1. How do you phrase things if you have little to no experience in the field to which you are applying? You went to college for something else, but you want to move into a different field.

    • It’s not uncommon for people to shift industries — that doesn’t count against you. How you handle the transition, how you educate yourself about the industry, is key to your success.

      You should be looking at transferable skills: What similar skills and strategies have you trained for, what successes have you had in your prior career? These will help you move into a new field. While the industry is not the same, the core skills most likely are.

      If you are serious about making a transition, and not just desperately seeking employment, what can you do to earn that experience? Can you volunteer? Can you tackle a short-term job on a contract basis?

      What can you do to put yourself in the same place where your target employers hang out? Attend conferences/seminars/workshops in the desired field.

      When you form relationships in your target field, remember to leverage those on LinkedIn. If appropriate, ask for recommendations or referrals.

      If you struggle with “how” to position yourself in a new industry, I would invest in a career coach. Try to find someone who specializes in your target industry. You shouldn’t need more than a few hours to have someone walk you through your education and career aspirations. This will help you find the words and ideas that make the shift more likely to occur.

      Thanks for asking and reading my post. Regards, Susan Rich

  2. The standard cover letter is dead. It is presumptuous to assume that you know prior to going through a full discovery interview with the decision maker the key core competencies and skill sets that are needed to meet the bottom-line needs of both the company and the decision maker. The typical cover letter ends up in the trash or sent to HR where it is most often ignored or filed. What is needed is a “Spot opportunity” letter.

    Nothing can happen until you meet with the key decision maker. To accomplish this you must give that person a compelling reason (s) to initially open a dialog with you, next invite you in to meet and finally open an ongoing relationship which leads to the RIGHT POSITION for the right reasons. It is not unusual that a position does not exist upon initial contact, but that one can be created once the face-to-face dialogue has been initiated. It is estimated that 75% of jobs are never advertised or listed with recruiters.

    You must approach the decision maker positioning yourself as a SOLUTION to a set of well defined KEY CHALLENGES and not as a person seeking employment or a person trying to sell a consulting service. The only reason that an opportunity will be opened is that the core competencies, skill sets and accomplishments you bring to the organization are consistent with the challenges that the organization and decision maker are facing. Any good decision maker will look at you as a potential asset and as any good decision maker, will be looking at the return he or she will get on that asset. Your initial mission through a document (spot opportunity letter) is to present a high enough potential return to encourage the decision maker to open the dialogue. Once opened, the mission is to continue building the potential return so as to be invited in to discuss ways that you could make a major contribution to helping that firm meet those challenges. If at all possible you want to define those challenges as having a potential, measurable and significant negative impact on the organization. People are motivated more by fear of loss than opportunity or gain. This is part of the branding process which positions you as a unique and potential highly valuable asset and not just one more person who wants to waste the time of the decision maker. This will give you the competitive advantage you need to be successful in today’s highly challenging job market where it is now taking 17 interviews to get a job offer.

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