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By Terry Lende, careers specialist

We all know how important a first impression can be. When you're searching for a job, your opportunity to make a first impression is often your cover letter and resume.

Notice I said cover letter AND resume? For all the time people take to craft a resume, I am often surprised by how little time the job seeker devotes to the cover letter.

So why write one? And why not just use the same old template every time? You know the one I mean:

"Dear Sir or Madam, 
Please find attached my resume in response to XXX as posted on your website. I feel I would be a good candidate. I look forward to speaking with you."

Blah! Blah! Boring!

Tells the reader absolutely nothing about you and can take you out of the running – even though you have comparable skills to other job seekers.

Your cover letter is an opportunity to differentiate yourself from all the other candidates who are competing for the same role. Give it the attention it deserves!

So listen up! I'm now going to share a process to help you develop cover letters that generate interest and allow your personality to shine.

Top tips

First, a couple of general comments to keep in mind: 

  • Your overall intent is to 'sell' not 'tell'.
  • Whenever possible, get the name of the hiring manager or HR person who is doing the initial screening AND make sure you spell the name correctly!
  • Count the number of I’s, me’s and my’s in your cover letter . Now count the number of you and your’s. If the I’s outweigh the you’s, it’s time to revise and shift the focus to the employer. Link your skills to the employer’s needs.
  • Always, always, always generate a unique cover letter for every position. Yes, you can cut and paste from previous cover letters, but there is always something unique you can add depending on the role.

Step-by-step guide to your perfect paragraphs

To help you develop your own wording, I’ve included some examples of paragraphs you need to include.

In your first paragraph, talk about the company’s need for qualified employees.

"As a fourth year apprentice, I am writing in response to your need for qualified Millwright Apprentices to work at your XX mining site." 

Demonstrate your understanding of the role by talking about the demands and challenges of the position.

"As the XX mining industry evolves, it is essential to leverage the latest in technology to improve efficiencies in a safe and environmentally responsible manner. Working in remote sites, it is important that individuals understand both the challenges and rewards of operating in these environments." 

Now at a high level, provide a couple of bullets related to the job requirements. These might include:

  • Experience growing up in a small Northern Community…
  • Health and safety courses completed with test results as appropriate…
  • An accomplishment related to mechanical aptitude…

Next, show some personality. Your resume is, by its very nature, a formal document. Your cover letter gives you an opportunity to demonstrate another facet. Share something about yourself. What do you find most rewarding? What gets you energized about this type of work? What motivated you to pursue your training?

"I take great pride in my commitment to a safe and clean work site and will bring those same values to your company."

And now the close! Whenever possible, have a proactive closing paragraph. "I look forward to speaking with you" essentially says "Call me if you feel like it". This leaves the initiative with the reader and limits your opportunity to stay top of mind. Instead, consider using a close like this:

"I am very interested in having further discussions with you and will follow up next week to determine when we might speak."
"I will follow up with you by end of week to answer any questions you might have and learn when we might meet."

And there you have it! I am confident you will agree this approach creates a much stronger impression than the same old, boring cover letter. Give it a try!

More great career tips from Terry Lende:

Terry Lende is Vice President Professional Services & Operations with global talent mobility firm Lee Hecht Harrison, providing operational leadership for career transition services in Western Canada. She is an accomplished business leader with 25 years’ experience in program development, facilitation, client relationship management, training and coaching at all organizational levels.