A great cover letter can have as much impact as a great resume and increase your odds of landing an interview. If you're not sure your cover letter is effective, a critique can arm you with valuable information to make this essential document the best it can be.
"The benefit of a cover letter critique is to not only catch blatant errors such as spelling, grammar and formatting, but to receive feedback on how well you address the employer's needs and separate yourself from the competition," says Norine Dagliano, a certified resume writer and president of career services firm EKM Inspirations.
Follow these three steps when seeking a cover letter critique:
Step 1: Find a Cover Letter Reviewer
Sally McIntosh, nationally certified resume writer and owner of Advantage Resumes, suggests finding a certified resume writer who has been in business a few years to review your cover letter. She recommends searching professional association Web sites to find certified members and then checking out individual Web sites to see if the members offer free assessments or paid critiques. You can search for resume writers at these organizations:
Dagliano says that a colleague or other professional with experience hiring people in your field could also be a good resource for a cover letter critique. "If you ask for free advice from someone with good proofreading and writing skills, you could receive good feedback about spelling, grammar, typos, format and content flow," she says. If you know someone who could offer valuable feedback regarding your letter, don't be afraid to reach out and ask for help. You can also visit Monster's Cover Letter Tips forum and ask questions about how to improve your cover letter.
Step 2: Help Your Reviewer Understand Your Background
Whether you’re receiving a free or paid critique, the reviewer needs to know your employment situation to assess your letter accurately. Dagliano recommends providing the reviewer with the following:
- A copy of the job posting or details about your objective if there is no advertised position.
- A copy of your resume, since your resume and cover letter must work together to sell your qualifications.
- Information about work circumstances that might need to be explained in the letter, such as time off, relocation preferences or reasons for a career change.
Step 3: Take the Advice that Works for You
With 20 years in the business, McIntosh has reviewed her share of cover letters and knows what hiring managers are looking for. She explains how graders of the Nationally Certified Resume Writer certification exam evaluate cover letter components:
- Introduction: Is the opening paragraph strong? Does it grab the reader’s attention?
- Sales Pitch: Are the middle paragraphs compelling? Do they demonstrate the candidate’s worthiness by focusing on accomplishments and proven performance?
- Closing: Is there an assertive call to action in the closing paragraph?
- Writing Style: Is the letter concise yet persuasive? Is it error-free? Does it contain a “wow” factor?
- Relevancy: Is the letter focused on relevant skills?
- Accomplishment-Oriented: Does the letter highlight quantifiable accomplishments related to the career goal?
- Employer-Focused: Does the letter focus on what the candidate can do for the employer, not the other way around?
- Formatting: Is the letter appropriately formatted as a business letter?
After receiving your critique, analyze the feedback and work on the changes that will give your letter the most added impact. "If you feel overwhelmed, ask the reviewer to break the recommendations down into must-do changes that would make the letter error-free and should-do changes that would make the letter rise above the competition,” Dagliano advises. “If the professional is unwilling to do this, find another reviewer."
Bean counter in San Jose, California said: Can't believe one cannot write a decent resume himself, who knows better than yourself of what you actually do in your job? One can also copy-and-paste some of the job description that match yours so that the scanner can pick up the key words/phrases resulting in your resume made the cut for HR to review.
I don't know why the "you have to do it yourself" attitude persists when it comes to writing your resume. It's essentially like saying you should do your own taxes because nobody knows your finances better than you.
For people who are comfortable writing their own resume – and can produce an outstanding one – fantastic. For those whose strengths lie elsewhere, there is no reason not to hire a professional. In fact, I would say that recognizing where you can benefit from others' expertise is a far more valauble skill than being able to write your own resume.
You are correct that one needs to take automated screening systems into account. However, while cutting and pasting pieces of a job description may get your resume through the automated scanning process, but what happens when you resume is in the hands of a human? Is that person going to be engaged and compelled to move based on a resume that parrots their company's job description? Not likely.
Again, if you can create an accomplishment focused resume that clearly highlights your impact, do it. But there is no shame if you need to partner with someone to identify your strengths, uncover your acomplishments and present that info in the best light possible.