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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

Cover all your bases

By Shannon Jackson
Special to The Toronto Sun


I am often asked how important a cover letter is in a job search effort.

The truth is, the degree to which a hiring manager considers your cover letter is a matter of personal preference. Not every employer spends a lot of time reviewing cover letters, even though you have spent a lot of time writing them.

However, some employers pay greater attention to the cover letter than they do to your resume. What's worse is that you respond to the job posting having no idea whether or not the cover letter will be read, or how much impact it may have.

In short, it is better to have provided a well-constructed letter in case the reader is one of those employers who views the document as critical.

What constitutes a well-constructed letter? An interesting opening line, a demonstrated understanding of the position and company, a statement of why you are the best candidate for the role, and a clearly identified "next steps" call to action.

Customized

It is critical that your cover letter be customized to the position for which you are applying, and be free of spelling or grammar errors.

Your cover letter should not just be a reiteration of what is in your resume. It should inspire interest in the reader sufficient to make them want to spend time reading the resume.

Use the language of the job posting to highlight how your knowledge, skills and abilities are well suited to the position. An opening line that reads, "Your hiring need for an accomplished sales closer is well matched by my demonstrated competence in consistently exceeding sales targets" will capture a reader's interest.

In a traditional cover letter, an appropriate second paragraph would detail one or two sentences that highlight why your experience makes you the best-qualified candidate for the position.

A third paragraph may offer details about why the organization/position is of particular interest to you.

If the organization has received strong media attention (check out the press room on their corporate website for an easy review of recent press releases), make note of it in your cover letter. It's a great opportunity to show that you've done your research.

Final paragraph

In your final paragraph, you should offer a call to action. Keep control of your own job search. Rather than simply offering them the opportunity to contact you, suggest that you will follow-up with a phone call by a particular date, and then be sure to do so.

If, and only if, you have all of the requirements of a position, an executive brief provides an effective, easy to read checklist of your experience as it relates to their qualifications. It should be presented in a word table format. For example:

Because a hiring manager reviews your resume and cover letter with a checklist of their requirements in mind, this format gives a quick snapshot of the fact that you have all of the experience they are seeking.

However, if you are missing any specification on the job posting, this format will highlight those skill deficits.

(Shannon Jackson is the national recruitment manager for Manpower Services Inc. www.manpower.ca)



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