You are now selling the most important product in the world—YOU. Cover letters are your personal headline. They are the attention-getters that pique interest and entice others to read more about you. A well-written cover letter will make you stand out, and will open the door to the next step of selling yourself—the interview.
You are marketing and selling yourself to the recipient of your resume. That's it, plain and simple. How well your letter sells you in the first five seconds will determine whether your resume will be considered or tossed.
Consider how you react to advertising and packaging. Ask yourself, "What entices me to buy one product over another? What is it about one product that catches my attention?" Guess what—your potential employer is going through the same thought process with your cover letter. Your job is to figure out exactly what the employer wants, and to make it clear that YOU have it.
Hold on a minute! Before you fire up the word processor, you've got some work to do. You have to learn to think in terms of benefit selling.
Every advertisement that you see on television, hear on the radio, or see in a magazine is trying to appeal to a need or a want. Unless advertisers can appeal to a need or a want in your life, and can make a connection with you, they won't be successful in getting you to buy their product. They want that little voice in the back of your head to scream "I NEED THAT!"
You have to create in the mind of your potential employer a curiosity and interest in YOU. They have to see the real benefits that you offer the position. They must be able to see how you, above all other applicants, will make them shine. Trust me, this will not happen with a generic cover letter sent to both Jerry's Jerky Shack and Boeing Aerospace Division. Your approach must be well-planned for a specific employer and a specific position.
A well-written cover letter is the key to bridging the gap between your resume and the job requirements. First and foremost, understand that employers want employees with excellent writing skills—don't disappoint them in the cover letter. Employers skim hundreds of resumes and cover letters, looking for the few that grab their attention. Show them that you understand the job requirements and explain how you will exceed their expectations.
A quick word of caution: Generalities and hollow statements must be avoided at all cost. One more letter that says "I'm responsible and enjoy working with people" may just send the exhausted hiring manager over the edge!
Give specific information and examples of how your skills and experience relate directly to the new position.