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.