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Career Corner
Strong Cover Letter Opens The Door For Your Résumé

Ramon Greenwood -- A persuasive sales letter will separate your job application from the avalanche of résumés that land on the desk of employers.

In most instances, your cover letter will be your first and only opportunity to make a good first impression on the potential employer.

It's purpose is simple: capture the potential employer's attention and cause him to go on to read your résumé, which you hope will lead to an interview and an offer for a job. It is meant to open the door so you can make the case that your training and experience qualify you as the best answer for the needs of the employer.

Career advice: A few minutes is all you get

You only have a few minutes to grab attention and make your main point. Your letter must be well written, brief, and to the point...never more than one page, no matter how fascinating feel your selling messages are.

There's absolutely no allowance for mistakes in grammar and spelling. Your letter must be "Type written" hand written notes. Use top quality stationery. Make it first class all the way. A sloppy letter will stop your application dead in its track.

Career tip: Your letter should be comprised of three parts

The Opening:

Personalize your letter by addressing it to a person and a title. Be sure you've got the correct address. Cookie-cutter letters are a waste of time.

The opening paragraph is the headline. Its task is to compel the reader to continue reading. Hold it to no more than 40 words. Relate to the employer by demonstrating that you are interested and resourceful enough to have accumulated knowledge about the business as well as the opening for which you are applying.

The selling message:

Refer to the enclosed résumé; summarize the reasons that the assets you bring to the table are aligned with the needs and interests of the potential employer. Deal with overall facts; leave the details to your résumé.

The Closing:

Clearly state that you are seeking an opportunity for an interview to discuss in depth how your training and experience can be put to work for the employer. State a time, five to seven days out, when you will follow up by telephone to arrange for an interview at a time and place convenient for the employer.

Assure total quality and relevance of your job application

Have a third party (hopefully, someone with strong talents in composition, grammar, and proof-reading) to edit your sales letter and résumé. Errors scream lack of attention to details and ignorance.

Run a quality control check on the letter and résumé.

1. Is it logical and easily understood? Is the layout easy and quick to read?
2. Is it persuasive?
3. Is it free of errors?
4. Does it convey a message of quality and professionalism?
5. Is the message expressed in terms of benefits to the employer? Is it expressed in dynamic and action-oriented words and terms?
6. Does the message include a call for action?

Bottom line: Your résumé will be awash in a sea of applications, all of which are clamoring for attention. A strong sales letter can make the difference between your becoming a serious candidate for a job and an applicant who never gets considered.

Ramon Greenwood provides common sense advice on how to advance your career during tough times. Sign up for a free subscription to his popular e-newsletter and participate in his blog at He counsels from a successful career as Senior VP at American Express, author of career-related books, and a senior executive/consultant in Fortune 500 companies.

© 2010 Ramon Greenwood

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