How long should your cover letter be? A simple question, right? But if you ask different people, you might get a different answer each time.
While there are exceptions, in general, a page is fine. Of course, there is a lot to cover in a page. Alison Green of Ask A Manager has some great advice on how to ensure your cover letter stands out without being too long:
The litmus test is this: Does your letter make a compelling case for why you’d be awesome at the job, without repeating your work history?
If your letter does that but it’s longer than a page, look for ways to edit it down without losing its essence. If it’s half a page or less, you should just be damn sure that it’s truly passing that litmus test. It’s hard to meet that test if you’re writing very short. Not impossible, but a lot harder.
Read the rest of her advice here.
Determining how long your cover letter will be is just one aspect of crafting an application. You have to figure out what will be in it. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- Follow any and all directions: Sometimes employers will ask you to answer questions in your cover letter. Regardless of how long your cover letter is, if you don’t follow directions, you risk not getting a chance at an interview.
- Demonstrate a genuine interest in the mission: Hiring managers value commitment to the cause and experience. Showcase both in your cover letter without simply repeating your resume. This also requires that you craft a unique cover letter for each position.
There are examples of standout cover letters (and resumes) and a step-by-step guide to crafting a cover letter in the presentation below.
What cover letter writing tips have worked for you? Share them in the comments.
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Cover letter tips for technology professionals
A hastily written letter or no letter at all could be stalling your IT job search. Follow these nine tips to compose a winning cover letter.
How much time do you spend on your cover letter? If the answer is “not much,” you could be missing out on quality interviews. Technology career experts say that a hastily written letter -- or worse -- no letter at all, could stall your IT job search. Follow these tips to write a winning letter.
1. Always send a letter
The ease of applying online has led many IT professionals to skip sending a cover letter, but that’s a mistake. Mehdi Hanbali, technical recruiter for TEKsystems in San Jose, says he rarely receives cover letters, but always reads the ones he gets. “I can tell if the candidate is just shooting over templates to postings,” Hanbali says.
To make your letter stand out, show how you meet or exceed the job requirements. “Always cater your letter to the job description that you are targeting,” says Abigail Eddy McMillan, IT recruiter for Reston, Virginia-based Open Systems Technologies. “When job seekers address the job ad rather than send a generic letter, they are more likely to be interviewed.”
3. Show passion
Kinga Wilson, president of Lincoln, Nebraska-based recruitment firm Leaders IT Recruitment, is likely to notice a cover letter that relays a sense of passion. “You can talk about your factual experience, but that’s only part of the equation,” Wilson says. “I’m looking for candidates who want to contribute to the growth of an organization.”
Include a line that relays your passion and speaks to the employer’s needs, such as: “Your opening will allow me to combine my interests in wireless networking and embedded security, and I am confident that I can facilitate major upgrades while maintaining the highest levels of security of your WiTrack product.”
4. Emphasize accomplishments
Since past success is a good predictor of future performance, Thomas Wolff, a certified professional resume writer based in Kansas City, Missouri, suggests adding significant career accomplishments to show employers that you have been a top performer.
“Potential employers will see how your technical and business accomplishments have made you a valuable employee and that you are likely to do the same for them,” he says.
Here’s an example of how a network engineer could describe the benefits of his past work: “Most recently, I have designed and delivered technology solutions that have elevated productivity, customer satisfaction and profitability to record levels.
Bottom-line impacts (realized through both cost savings and revenue gains) for my present employer total nearly $1.4 million to date.”
5. Incorporate relevant terms
Hiring managers look for job-related skills, so incorporate relevant technical terms in your letter. McMillan suggests prominently featuring technical skills vital to the job. “If the position calls for technical expertise such as Java or object-oriented design, state your proficiency in these areas towards the beginning of the letter,” she says.
6. Be honest
Technical professionals often list skills in their cover letters, including those in which they aren’t exactly proficient. Exaggerating technical or other skills may be tempting, but it’s not a good idea.
For example, if your knowledge of HTML is limited to helping a friend set up a personal Web page, don’t tout HTML as one of your key skills. “You will feel good about what you’re talking about since you know it well,” Hanbali says.
7. Be concise
Busy hiring managers don’t have time to read your life story in your cover letter. “Respect the reader by keeping your letter concise and focused on the key points,” Wilson says.
Hanbali suggests combining paragraphs with bullets to emphasize important credentials and enhance readability. An effective strategy is to lead with a paragraph that summarizes your strongest technical credentials, followed by a line such as, “Highlights of my credentials include:” Then present a bulleted list of your technical skills, training, certifications and significant accomplishments.
8. End confidently
Include a strong and confident closing. “Instead of ending your letter with a passive line such as, ‘I look forward to hearing from you,’ tell the reader what you want, which is to arrange a meeting,” Wilson says.
For example, a systems administrator may close with a line such as, “I would welcome the chance to discuss how my systems administration skills would benefit your IT department, and I will follow up with you in a few days to see if we can arrange a meeting.”
Your letter is representing you in your absence, so it should be perfect. McMillan says errors in the cover letter will cause her to think twice about interviewing the applicant.
Hanbali agrees, saying, “Make sure that 100 percent of your spelling and grammar is correct.” The extra time and attention you give your cover letter could help you land your next job.
Learn more about technology careers.