Why it is important for your cover letter to make the right first impression

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that the economy is still in trouble. Financial experts are even talking about the possibilites of a second recession. The recovery that happened during the first half of this year may not now be sustainable.

A Yahoo Financial article reports on the latest U.S. employment statistics released by the Government last week. It is reported that 71,000 new jobs were created in July. Unfortunately, that is no reason to celebrate, since 200,000 were needed to allow the unemployment rate to hold steady.

4.7 people apply for each new opening. This is better than the 6.3 who were applying last year, at the peak of the recession, but still much higher than the 1.8 who were applying back in 2007.

This means that on average, you are up against nearly 5 other people applying for the same job. Depending on the industry, this could be much higher. Since there are more people looking for work in security roles than as brain surgeons, it stands to reason that you will be up against even more competition as a security professional.

So, how do you differentiate yourself and stand out from the crowd? First of all, you got to get past the initial application/screening process before you can even hope to get called in for an interview and impress them with your dedication/experience/training/honesty/ambition, etc.

Resumes and CVs are critical, but your cover letter is what will get your foot in the door or have the door abruptly slammed in your face. Speaking as someone who has received thousands of resumes over the years from interested job seekers, I can attest to the fact that I wind up spending more time slamming doors shut than opening them.

To this day, I receive many resumes which come without any cover letter. Probably half of all we receive fall into this category. Many current and former Law Enforcement personnel continue to take this approach. What’s even worse, many come without a subject line in the e-mail.

Think of your cover letter as your “salesman”. Would you be interested in buying anything from a salesman who dropped a bag of widgets on your doorstep and expected you to buy, buy, buy? Unless you were a mind reader, how would you even know what he wanted?

What would your “first impression” be of that salesman? Probably that he was either too arrogant to even introduce himself and explain why you should spend your time listening to his sales pitch OR that he was too inexperienced and probably didn’t even believe in his product. Either way, you’d most likely shut the door on him.

If you send a resume to a potential employer and you don’t take the time to include a well written, thought provoking cover letter, then you are missing the chance to create a lasting first impression. Eventhough you probably won’t be alone, there’s a good chance that one of those other 4.8 people will add a cover letter and a good chance that they’ll be called in for an interview.

Just as bad as not sending a cover letter at all, is sending one that tells the potential employer that you are “exactly what they have been looking for”, or that “your search ends here”. You may laugh, but I still receive e-mails with those phrases. I will also tell you that they get deleted without the resume being viewed.

You are not alone in your job search. Employers have more choice now than they have ever had and will be interested in getting “the pick of the litter”.

“Many are called, but few are chosen”, doesn’t really apply to the hiring process these days. It’s more like; “Few are called and even fewer are chosen”.

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  1. jimmy sweeney cover letters says:

    You made a great analogy to put into perspective the importance of a cover letter. Hopefully those that read this will take heed.

  2. John Sexton says:

    Thanks Jimmy. The most difficult part is getting them here and to do that, they should already be reading. It's a slow process, we just have to take it one article at a time.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Great information, John. I find sometimes find myself sending out resumes without a cover letter and when I do it's the body of the email. What's your suggestion on that? Should the cover be an attachment? Thanks again.

  4. John Sexton says:

    No, the cover letter should not be an attachment, as that defeats the whole purpose of a cover letter. Think of e-mail as the modern version of the "old fashioned" letter. How much junk mail do you receive in the mail? If it doesn't look like something you're expecting, or comes from somebody you don't know, most time you will probably throw it away. Same thing goes for e-mail. Your cover letter serves the same purpose as a fisherman's bait. A bare hook probably has very little chance of catching a fish, while one that is ordorned with a clorful fly or a writhing worm, probably will. When you are applying for a job, you are fishing. If you want to land a big one, you better be using some attractive bait and they had better be able to see it as soon as possible!

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