Saturday, May 24, 2014

RHT: Job Hunting? Why You Still Need a Cover Letter

by Clea Badion  Robert Half Technology
May 23, 2014

An IT cover letter can provide hiring managers with insight into your personality, work ethic and soft skills.
For technology professionals in certain fields and areas of expertise, it may seem like a waste of time to write a cover letter. You’re in such strong demand a cover letter doesn’t seem like it could make or break a job opportunity.
But it could. For example, if you’re competing against someone with similar technical skills and experience, a cover letter can demonstrate your soft skills and perhaps give you an edge over another candidate.

And for most technology professionals seeking jobs, especially recent college graduates, a cover letter offers hiring managers some insight into your personality, work ethic and desire for the job, according to a recent article by John Reed, senior executive director of Robert Half Technology.

Reed offers some excellent tips on how to construct your cover letter and what to include. Take a look at the article or read on:

“Many technology professionals think cover letters are no longer an important part of the job application package, but that’s not the case. While your resume lists pertinent facts about your job history, your IT cover letter (sometimes called a letter of interest) provides hiring managers with insight into your personality, work ethic and soft skills, such as written communication and attention to detail. More importantly, it gives you the opportunity to let potential employers know specifically how you can contribute to their company’s growth and success.

Here are three tips to help you grab a potential employer’s attention with your IT cover letter:

1. Know your audience

A customized IT cover letter helps show hiring managers you’ve done your homework, and underscores your sincere interest in both the available position and working for the company. Search mainstream media or trade publications for news and other information about the company that you can reference in your letter. For example, maybe the organization recently made the shift to Scrum or has a history of nurturing innovation. Be sure to choose relevant details that can help highlight your experience or interest in a specific area of technology.

Your research can also give you an idea of the company’s culture, which will help you determine the proper language and tone for your IT cover letter. Also, while learning more about a potential employer, take time to find the name of the hiring manager. You’ll make a stronger impression if you address the letter to an actual person rather than the generic “To Whom It May Concern.”

2. Keep it brief and active

There’s no need for more than three paragraphs to make an outstanding impression with your IT cover letter:
Paragraph #1: For your opening paragraph, ditch yawn-inducing lines like, “I am very interested in this position.” Instead, start bold and active. For example: “A developer with six years of experience, I have used my SQL and ETL expertise, along with strong communication and analytical skills, to write and maintain a successful database for a large pharmaceutical company. I am excited about the opportunity to bring my passion for tool and feature development to [company name here].”
Paragraph #2: Next, highlight how you’ve provided value to employers in previous technology roles. Don’t dwell on technical skills and job responsibilities; those are already outlined in your resume. You want to show employers that you’re the full package: a problem solver whose blend of IT know-how, attention to detail and dedication will complement their existing team and benefit their organization.
Paragraph #3: End as you started: strong. Don’t mention salary requirements or the useless line: “References available upon request.” Do reinforce your interest in both the employer and the position, and conclude with a positive, future-looking statement, such as, “I look forward to speaking with you soon, and learning more about the technical expertise and interpersonal skills you’re seeking for this position.”

3. Use keywords wisely

As a technology professional, you’re no doubt quite familiar with search engine optimization. Many talent search services use an ATS (applicant tracking system) to sift through the hundreds of files they receive from job candidates. The right keywords and placement can pull your application to the top of the pile. Choose your keywords from the job posting. Working those particular words and phrases into your IT cover letter or message will increase your odds of making it past the automatic filtering phase, and earning an invitation to an in-person interview.

At some point, human eyes will be reading your letter, so use keywords as organically as possible. They shouldn’t be forced or sound unnatural; you don’t want hiring managers to think you’re gaming the ATS — though recent developments in the software can detect keyword padding. Also, be careful when using humor or wordplay in an IT cover letter, which could come across as corny and unprofessional if not executed well.

The three keys to nailing the IT cover letter are good research, active prose and the judicious use of keywords. Bonus hint: Proofread your customized letter for typos before uploading and hitting send. Then, you can focus on preparing for the next steps: nailing the interview and landing an exciting new IT job.”

— Clea Badion

Clea Badion is an editor for the RHT Blog. She’s been writing about the workplace, career trends and technology for the past decade. Clea has 15 years of professional writing and editing experience and a master’s degree in visual studies. She’s a little obsessed with cute animal videos and the show ”American Ninja Warrior.” Follow her on Twitter @cleabadion.

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