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Career Advice

From Marc Cenedella
Marc Cenedella

This Thanksgiving season all-around car guy Bob Lutz talks straight about the turkey that was the Pontiac Aztek.

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Personal Branding

Test Your Cover Letter

How does your cover letter rate? Use this test to score your cover letter before you submit it with your resume and job application.

By Lisa Vaas
FILED UNDER: Cover Letters.
Personal Branding

Before you submit your cover letter to recruiters and hiring managers, run through this battery of questions to gauge its readiness.

Q: How is your cover letter addressed?
A. Personally addressed to the person responsible for vetting job candidates
B. “Dear Hiring Manager” or “Dear Sir or Madam” or “To Whom it May Concern”
C. “Yo, wassup?”

Troy Harrison, president of sales training and development company SalesForce Solutions, told TheLadders "ho-hum" cover letters are overly generic. Letters addressed "Dear Hiring Manager" or that reference "the open position," suggest the job seeker isn’t taking the time to personalize his application. “I hire salespeople, so I assume that how the applicant pursues a job will be the way an applicant pursues a customer. If an applicant doesn't care enough to personalize a cover letter, they're really better off not even including one.”

Q: How does your cover letter show you’re the right fit for a job opening?
A. Mentions one or more stated qualifications from the job posting and outlines how you meet them.
B. Highlights your accomplishments regardless of whether they correspond to the job posting’s list of qualifications.
C. It’s the same letter I send for all job openings. Why tinker?

Cheryl E. Palmer, CPRW (Certified Professional Resume Writer) and president of Call to Career, said she counsels her clients to “take [the] guesswork out of the equation. If the vacancy announcement states that the candidate needs to have 10 years of experience in executive sales management in an IT organization, the cover letter needs to be clear that the job seeker meets this qualification.”

Q: How does your cover letter show the employer that you’ve read the job posting?
A. Follows instructions regarding how to apply, specifically mentions qualifications listed in posting, specifically mentions the job listed in the posting.
B. Talks about what a great job you do and why any employer would be lucky to hire you.
C. Well duh, of course I read the posting. I’m responding to the proper e-mail address!

“I tire quickly of ‛blast’ letters that are sent out 20 at a throw, just hoping something will stick to the wall,” Harrison said. “Let me know that you've read and understood the ad, and that you're a real, live candidate for it, and why.”

Q: What job opportunity does your cover letter say you’re interested in?
A. The specific job mentioned in the job posting.
B. The specific job for which your skills and experience have made you a perfect fit.
C. Any potential openings.

“The worst cover letters are the ones that are very specific — to a job that is nothing like the one I'm hiring for,” Harrison said. “It's great that you want to be a top-notch computer programmer; why are you telling me this when I'm hiring for an industrial salesperson?”

Q: Which most closes matches your writing style?
A. Standard business English with correct spelling, punctuation and grammar.
B. You totally should have a Facebook page for one, and for two you need to like lighten up, for a window frame company you guys are like a total drag, you have to see through your product, be more transparent, get it?
C. Im wrtng 2 u 4 the job.

Thanks to Catharine Bramkamp, adjunct professor and Writing Coach, for her example (B) of what college students tend to write and say in correspondence and the inappropriately casual tone they tend to take.

SCORING

Give yourself 2 points for all As, 1 point for Bs and 0 point for Cs.

10: Congratulations! You’re reading job postings carefully, customizing your cover letter to address what you see, and doing your homework to ensure your correspondence doesn’t sound like form letters.

5–10: You’re doing a fair job and might be interesting employers enough to interview you. To up the chances of an interview, focus on customizing your cover letters to make sure they fit the position.

0–5: Your cover letters are hitting the slush pile. Do more research on jobs; customize your cover letter for openings; and acquire a more businesslike, professional tone.

Lisa Vaas covers resume writing techniques and the technology behind the job search for TheLadders.

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