Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Tip of the day: One page letter

Tip: Limit your cover letter to just one page

Chances are, you've got a good, solid standby cover letter all loaded up and ready to go the next time you find your dream job listed online. You've polished it to a sheen. It tells your story perfectly, and uses all the right buzzwords.

Yes, yes, yes, everybody has told you that you should write a fresh letter for each application, but this letter is sooooo gooooood. And besides, you're applying for fifteen jobs. You don't have time to write fifteen letters.

Good points. But no matter how many letters you're writing, they'll be better and your job hunt will be more successful if you do yourself a favor and write a strong, straightforward, one-page letter.

It's just as important to embrace brevity in your cover letter as it is in your resume. Your letter is your introduction, and it has one very important job to do. Everything else is secondary and should be chucked overboard the very first time you find yourself adjusting your page's margins. (You know what I'm talking about.) That one-page limit keeps you focused on the job at hand, and it makes it much more likely that your future boss will find the information she's looking for.

Writing a killer one-page letter

  • Get to the point. Don't spend more than two sentences on your commitment to the organization's mission or your passion for your profession. The person reading your letter wants to know who you are and what you can do. Pivot from the job and the office to yourself by your third sentence, then spend the rest of the letter talking about yourself.
  • Don't fear the bullet (point). Really. People skim cover letters. Bullet points provide anchors on the page that arrest the attention and guide people to your keywords. Try replacing one of your dense, juicy paragraphs with a bullet list of key qualifications.
  • Finish a first draft before cutting anything. Look at your conclusion. It's pretty good, isn't it? Now take that conclusion and use it as the start of your second draft. You'll find that your second draft will be shorter and tighter now that you know exactly where you're going with it.
And of course, the best way to keep your letter short is to break it into its components and make sure it's doing its job.