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Catch Their Eye with a Captivating Cover Letter

Catch Their Eye with a Captivating Cover Letter

Alison Hart | Special for

April 20, 2009

You’ve circled the ad in Sunday’s paper and loaded your resume with punchy verbs. Your dream job is in sight, but you’re not ready for the job hunt until you’ve crafted the perfect cover letter.

The cover letter is your chance to give the powers-that-be more than just your name, rank and serial number. But if you don’t pay attention to detail, your cover letter may land in the circular file.

Try these tips to keep your cover letter out of the trash and in the hands of the people who matter:

1. Make sure you’ve written it well. You might not be Ernest Hemingway, but your letter must be “well written and thoughtful,” says John Bakos, president of the Bakos Group, a Massachusetts-based career management firm. “People who don’t have writing skills will do a very poor job, which will reflect in a decreased candidacy.” If you’re not comfortable with your writing style, find someone who can help you craft a vibrant letter.

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2. Get the name of the person reading your letter. “To Whom It May Concern,” is a thing of the past. Use it as a last resort, like when you’re answering a blind ad. If you do know the name of the company, call and ask for the hiring manager’s name, and be sure double check the spelling.

3. Don’t ramble. Cover letters are generally three paragraphs long and fit on one page, with a few exceptions. “If your background is such that you need more than one page to express it, why decrease your marketability because of the one-page myth?” Bakos says. But for most recent college grads, one page is enough to go over qualifications and interests.

4. Focus. Recruiters may look at 50 applications a day, and the average cover letter gets “probably five to 10 seconds of time, if that much,” says Mark Mehler, co-author of Career Xroads, a directory to Internet job sites.. Use the first paragraph to get to the point quickly. Executive recruiters, like Sara Nolfo of New York’s Lynne Palmer Executive Recruitment, want to know up front, “What are you writing for? For instance, is there a specific job you are interested in? Has somebody recommended you to me?” Be sure to reference the job code, if there is one.

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