Get off the Pile: Cover Letters

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This week on Get off the Pile, we consulted our favorite HR expert, Andrew Flewelling. Andrew has a graduate degree from UVM and he is the Senior Director of Human Resources here at the UVM Foundation. (2015-ers, you might remember Andrew from last year). Today, Andrew is talking about how to write stand-out cover letters.

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Cover Letter Basics

When it comes to cover letters, the most common mistake I see is that the applicant merely restates what their resume says. I CAN read, so there is no need to make a sentence out of a bullet that is listed on the next page.

Instead, a good cover letter is one that does my work for me. It clearly articulates why the position is of interest; and illuminates the skills and abilities that make the applicant special.

It’s great to talk about a few (2-3 max) examples of success. Bonus points if the applicant can quantify the success (% increase, overall sales, maximized efficiency by x measure, etc…).

What Makes a Cover Letter Stand Out?

The letters that really stand out are the ones in which the applicant takes their experiences, skills, and successes, and synthesizes them for me, highlighting their direct and/or transferable nature for the position they seek. The best letters demonstrate that the writer knows enough about the position to be able to overlay their own skills on what we are looking for.

Tips for Writing a Stand-out Cover Letter

1. Keep it to one page. And be aware of the formatting — dense, long paragraphs in eight point type is not the way to go.

2. State the important. In the opening paragraph mention the position applied for and where the listing was posted. In the rest of the letter discuss what the position requires (skills, characteristics, temperament, values, etc.) and demonstrate/prove that you possess those requirements.

3. Mix it up. Use a good mixture of short declarative statements and longer, multi clause sentences to make sure the letter flows.

4. Be Yourself. Don’t be afraid to inject a bit of personal passion. Depending on the position, it may be appropriate to articulate your understanding of the importance of the position to the company, industry, society overall. You should also be able to articulate why the position is important to you.

5. Read it out loud. Hearing what you’ve written aloud and having others hear too will help you catch mistakes or missed references.

6. Proofread to perfection. Grammar, spelling, and punctuation are non-negotiable deal breakers.