A cover letter serves a specific purpose in the hiring process. While potential employers can turn to your résumé to see your work experience, a cover letter is an introduction to who you are and why the company should invite you in for an interview.
Handshakes are another form of introduction, so think of your cover letter as handshake. While you may think you’re offering a warm handshake, your cover letter actually could be strong-arming you out of a job. Take this quiz to find out what type of handshake your cover letter is most associated with and the impression it’s giving to potential employers:
1. Your cover letter’s opening sentence is:
A. “I want to tell you why you should hire me for this open position at your company.”
B. “I’m interested in the open position at your company and would like to submit my qualifications.”
C. “I was surprised to hear of the open position at your company and was hoping you could look at my résumé if you get a chance.”
2. If you’re currently employed, do you mention your job in your cover letter?
A. Yes, I explain that my current job should pay better, and I’m interested in receiving a promotion.
B. Yes, I relate my current job to the open position and explain why I’m ready to assume more responsibilities.
C. No, I don’t want the hiring company to think I’m not ready to leave my current job.
3. Your experience matches about 90 percent of the job requirements. Do you address the requirement you don’t meet in your cover letter?
A. Sort of. I tell them how experienced and smart I am and how impressed my past boss was with how quickly I picked things up.
B. No. I address the requirements I do meet and include my relevant experience; I can mention the other requirement if I get asked about it in an interview.
C. Yes. I point out that I don’t know how to do it and say I hope I get the chance to learn it.
4. Where in your cover letter do you write about the company of interest?
A. Briefly in the middle; most of the room was used for boasting about my qualifications and why I’m the best choice.
B. After the introduction paragraph about my interest and experience, I write a short paragraph about why I admire the company and the values I share with it.
C. Most of the cover letter is about them. I only included a few sentences about why I’d be lucky to work there.
5. How do you end your cover letter?
A. Thank you for your time, and I know you’ll make the right choice.
B. Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you.
C. Thank you for your time, and it’d be so incredible to hear from you.
Mostly A’s: Death-grip handshake
Being assertive and confident are great qualities, but you’re coming on too strong. If your cover letter were a handshake, you’d break a few bones with that death-grip. Keep your cover letter balanced with the qualities that would make you a great pick for the job as well as why you’re interested in working there. You want to build a relationship with the potential employer, not muscle them into a decision.
Mostly B’s: Confident and approachable handshake
You may be getting a call for an interview soon, because your cover letter made a great first impression, just like a confident and approachable handshake. You clearly understand what it takes to write a great cover letter: expressing a genuine interest in the position and the company and relating your past experience to the new role. By presenting yourself as a strong candidate, you set the stage for a more in-depth conversation about if the job is a good fit for both parties.
Mostly C’s: Dead-fish handshake
You’ll need to muster up more courage in your cover letter, because your writing is the equivalent of a cold, limp handshake. It’s wonderful that you’re impressed by the business and you’re trying to be polite, but that won’t help the hiring manager understand who you are and why you’re a good fit. A cover letter is an introduction, but it’s also a tool to help the company make an informed business decision. Focus on the key points that company should know about you — why should they hire you over everybody else?
Susan Ricker is a writer and blogger for CareerBuilder . She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.