On the Job

Good Cover Letters Give You an Edge

By Kenneth Bredemeier
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, August 24, 2007; 9:00 AM

Today's job applicants often face substantial competition for open positions. Under such conditions, just getting called in for an interview can be a success.

So how can you get a hiring manager to notice you before you've even been asked to come into the office? That's what one job seeker, who wants to get a leg up on the competition, wants to know.

It seems like many of the jobs I'm applying to say "No phone calls, please." How does one stand out when competing with other job applicants in a crowded e-mail inbox?

The best way to grab a hiring manager's attention is with the cover letter, says Palmer Suk, president of Snelling Personnel Services in Tysons Corner, Va.

Don't send a one-size-fits-all cover letter, says Suk. Each one should be tailored to the position and company you are applying to. The job seeker's objective is to stand out from other applicants. In doing so, he should play up how his skill set and accomplishments can benefit the employer. If applying to a sales position, for example, he should mention previous work experience where he brought in new business, Suk advises.

When it comes to refusing phone calls, mentions Suk, many companies will include this on a listing to help stop unqualified candidates from contacting them. Recruiters may become so overwhelmed with responding to workers who don't meet the necessary requirements, that they are not able to fully focus on those that do.

If the job seeker truly feels that he is a good fit, however, he should ignore the admonition and call HR to check on the status of his application after a few days, Suk adds.

Kenneth Bredemeier has six years of experience writing about the workplace. On the Job, a column addressing real worker questions about office relationships, corporate policies and workplace law, is written exclusively for washingtonpost.com. To submit a question, e-mail onthejob@washingtonpost.com. We reserve the right to edit submitted questions for length and clarity and cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered.

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