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Crafting the perfect cover letter

March 04, 2014

You've got a solid resume, some great leads for IT job opportunities, even a few insider contacts. Do you really need that cover letter? In short: Yes.

Cover letters are important because they give a quick glimpse into your personality and background while showing potential employers how interested you are in the job. Even in a digital age, the letter is a crucial part of the IT recruiting process.

"Some job seekers think cover letters are a thing of the past, but in our recent survey, 91 percent of executives said cover letters are still important as they consider candidates for a job," Diane Domeyer, executive director of staffing firm The Creative Group, told Business News Daily. "When reading a cover letter, hiring managers want to get a sense of an applicant's career aspirations and how they can contribute to the company's growth and success."

Unless you're the rare exception, you probably don't enjoy putting pen to paper and pounding out a classy, concise introduction. With a bit of guidance, however, it doesn't have to be that complicated. Here are a few tips to get started:

Do your research
You should tailor your resume to the IT job position you're seeking—you absolutely must customize your cover letter. This is your chance to convince executives and recruiters as to why you could be the perfect fit for the job. The first step is demonstrating that you know what the position entails and what the company stands for. Review the job description and dig a little deeper by looking through the organization's website and finding information about it on sites like LinkedIn. 

You should also address your letter to a specific person, not to a generic role like HR, career experts advise. 

"With social media, there's no excuse to not be able to find the name of a hiring manager," Jodi Glickman, a communications expert and author of Great on the Job, told Harvard Business Review.

Start your letter off strong by mentioning specifically why you're interested in the role and what you can bring to the table. Business New Daily recommended incorporating industry language and keywords from the job description to present yourself as an informed candidate.

Supplement—don't replicate—your resume
Although you should refer to your strongest qualifications, you need to be careful that your cover letter isn't just a summary or a replication of your resume. You have limited space to win over your reviewers, so don't waste it by saying the same things twice. Instead, consider whether you have any experience or interests that would make you a powerful candidate but aren't really resume material, advised US News. You can also present your accomplishments from a different angle, weaving a narrative that connects the dots for employers.

Present your story
The cover letter should be all about your story, emphasized The Daily Muse. Don't be afraid to let your personality shine through—as long as you keep the tone and language appropriate to the industry and company. Your enthusiasm and respect for the organization should shine through. Remember that recruiters are reviewing hundreds of applications. They want to interview only the candidates who are genuinely interested in the job.

You could also use the cover letter as an opportunity to discuss how you've overcome challenges or to address head-on some of the weaknesses in your resume, such as gaps in employment, Business News Daily suggested. 

Short and sweet
Brevity is the ultimate virtue of cover letters. You should include a fair amount of information, but that doesn't mean you can go on for pages. Most recruiters recommend keeping it to under a page—just a few paragraphs. That means you need to be concise and refine your letter so that every sentence packs a punch. Your goal is to express interest in the company and show how your skills connect to its needs. But you're also demonstrating your ability to write clear, engaging, professional correspondence. A succinct statement is a powerful one, and it'll get your message across at a glance.

Make it flawless
One of the most important steps in creating an awesome cover letter is proofreading. You're busy, you're probably applying to a bunch of IT jobs, but you absolutely must check for typos and mistakes. 

"If there are errors of any kind, it's a huge red flag," Guryan Tighe, chief culture officer of Highwire PR, told HBR. "This is your one opportunity to impress [the hiring manager] and show who you are. If there are typos, misspellings or formatting issues, it's generally an automatic out."

If you have time to take a break, put your cover letter away for a few hours and then come back to it. Print it out. Read it aloud. Ask a friend to take a look. Do whatever it takes to make sure the end result is polished and professional. It could be your ticket to an interview and an amazing IT career, so give it your very best shot.

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