Thursday, October 25, 2012

Cover Letters in the Age of Email

The job search has changed so much in the last decade.  In the past, a job advertised in a local newspaper or trade publication prompted you to write and send off by mail a cover letter accompanying your resume.  The fax machine brought about a change in that resumes could now be sent to employers and received within a few moments.  But certainly the growing reach of email and expansion of job related web resources has dramatically influenced how job seekers connect with employers. Email messages, resumes attachments in various formats; on-line applications have all changed the format and speed of those interactions. Is the formal cover letter still necessary or are candidates better off writing an email? The answer is simple – do whatever positions you most effectively with the employer.

No matter what the format, you must practice articulate brevity – write enough to make your case and convince whoever is reviewing your materials that you are worthy of serious consideration for the job  - and no more. Looking for a job involves many steps, but when you apply for a position or communicate with a potential employer it is important to remember that it is a professional interaction and what you write and how you communicate will be viewed through this lens.

Here are some useful tips for a great cover letter in today’s fast paced and connected world:
  1. Write to a specific person.  If you are building and leveraging your professional network in applying for positions this is easy. In those instances be sure to indicate in your message who helped you to make the connection.  If you are writing “cold”, do your research first so you obtain a name rather then writing to an anonymous individual, title or department. There are many on-line resources to help you find out the names of managers and you can always make a phone call to the organization as well, where a polite inquiry will usually produce helpful results.
  2. Tell the employer in the first sentence why you are writing.  This should include the position title or job function area you are interested in.
  3. Let the employer know how you found out about the opening citing in particular a personal, mutual contact if appropriate or at the very least showing you’ve done some research about the company and its talent needs.
  4. If you are writing on an exploratory basis and there is no specific posted position you’re aware of, discuss how you have been following the company and feel that you would be an excellent addition to a specific area in the organization.

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