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Stand out from the Crowd with a Winning Cover Letter and CV

by Crystal Campbell, ACPC, PCC

As part of the job search process, it’s important to set yourself apart from the pack. Those first impressions formed by hiring managers will have a significant bearing on whether or not you secure an interview. So you want to be sharp! Your Curriculum Vitae (CV) and cover letter are critical tools that can not only attract employers, but can cause them to pick you over someone else.

With so much riding on these two documents, it makes good sense to take steps to ensure they stand out. So what will help keep your CV and cover letter from the “maybe” pile and land them in the “worth interviewing” stack? Read on for some essential tips.

Take a customized approach. One CV or résumé will not do for every interview. If you’re using the same résumé for every position, you’re likely not emphasizing your most appropriate qualifications. Create one CV and one cover letter that is a draft version, and then alter them to fit each employment opportunity. Your résumé should highlight your applicable experience and accomplishments. Omit everything else if it’s not directly relevant to the job you’re seeking.

Follow the employer’s lead. Review the job description and notice which key words are valid for you. Mirror back the relevant key words by incorporating them into your résumé and cover letter. Some organizations use scanning software which enables them to electronically determine how well candidates match their select criteria.

Deliver the right message. Think WIIFT, or What’s In It For Them. Your CV and cover letter should convey what you can do for the employer rather than simply what you have done. Show the benefits of hiring you to potential employers.

Demonstrate fit. Use your cover letter to reveal how you’re the right candidate. Specifically, be sure to communicate two points: 1. how you can meet the employer’s qualifications overall, and 2. how the position you are seeking aligns with your professional goals.

Try a personal touch. Whenever possible, address your cover letter to the person responsible for hiring. Making the effort to locate a contact name – rather than using a generic salutation like “To Whom It May Concern” or “Human Resources Department” – shows your resourcefulness. An admirable characteristic.

Be polished. Résumés and cover letters with coffee stains and 10 different fonts are an instant interview killer. Choose a consistent font throughout and increase the readability of your CV by separating it into clear sections such as Professional Experience, Education, Awards, Certifications, etc.

Avoid technical difficulties. Not all software is compatible and could lead to formatting problems. To ensure your CV doesn’t go from formatted to an illegible mix of coding, use a common font like Helvetica, or save your résumé in Rich Text Format (RTF) or as a Portable Document Format (PDF) file. Another tip, prepare an e-résumé, or an electronic résumé that is compatible with electronic data bases. Just be sure to avoid using italics and bold typeface as well as bullets since these features will either not convert, or will become changed, when saved as ASCII or Plain Text.

Check for typos, incorrect contact information and faulty grammar. Spelling mistakes and bad grammar make a résumé and cover letter look shabby. Have one or two people proofread your documents, and then comb through them yourself one final time before sending.

Use a professional e-mail address. Avoid addresses like “blueeyedbeauty” or “surferdude@something.com”. It will send the wrong message and won’t convey a positive image. Set up a professional e-mail address that uses your first initial/last name, or combine your first and last name. As well, if you’re presently employed, don’t use your e-mail address at your current job when submitting your CV and cover letter. Future employers don’t look favorably on candidates who use current company resources to find other work.

Include some sizzle. Lack of detail can cause a potential employer to pass your résumé over. Be specific and include as many numerical facts as possible to address job requirements and to prove your competence. For instance, mention that you increased customer satisfaction scores by 20%, or led a Direct Mail campaign that generated $50,000 net profit, etc.

Go for quality, not quantity. It’s better to apply for a few key positions—and to put your full energy into them—then to apply for heaps of jobs, increase the likelihood of making errors and submit shoddy documents. Take a targeted view and be select. Taking the time to ensure your cover letter and CV are top-notch will have a positive impact on potential employers and should help move you to the head of the “to be interviewed” list.