Wendy S. Enelow, CCM, MRW, JCTC, CPRW
Did you know that most companies digitally review both a job seeker’s resume AND cover letter? When a job seeker uploads a resume into a company’s online resume database to apply for a specific job, there is often the opportunity to upload a cover letter as well. This is a great feature for job seekers because cover letters allow them to:
- Customize the skills, qualifications, and experiences highlighted in each letter, to closely align with the requirements of each job posting or advertisement.
- Communicate specific messages to specific employers about who they are and the value they bring to a new employer.
- Share career successes such as achievements, project highlights, and awards that are most related to a company’s or recruiter’s needs at this moment in time.
- Position themselves as the solution to a company’s particular challenges and/or obstacles.
- Prominently showcase the keywords and keyword phrases that are most important to the job at hand.
That last point is the focus of this article–showcasing keywords and keyword phrases to give job seekers an advantage in today’s competitive employment market. Even the slightest advantage is worth the effort if it will help a job seeker stand out from the crowd.
Step one is a clear definition of a keyword or keyword phrase. Most likely, the definition is broader than you expect. The classic keywords are hard skills related to a particular job or profession. For example, classic keywords for a sales representative include sales presentations, price negotiations, product management, key accounts, territory management and more. Alternatively, soft keywords, i.e. commonly sought traits or qualities for the same sales rep, include communications, relationship management, organization, and problem-solving.
In addition, keyword searches look for specific degrees (exp. BS in Finance or MBA), certifications (MCSE or ACLS), colleges or universities (Harvard or USC), technology skills (PeopleSoft and Google Apps), locations (New York City or Atlanta), and more. You’d be amazed at the diversity of words and phrases that people use in keyword searches to drill down and identify the candidates with the precise qualifications and attributes they are seeking.
The obvious next question is where to position keywords in a cover letter, and fortunately the answer is easy: ANYWHERE!
Keywords can be included in:
- a letter’s subject line
- every paragraph in the letter, including the introduction
- abulleted list of achievements, project highlights, skills, and qualifications in the middle of the cover letter
- the final closing sentence at the end of the letter
Direct jobseekers to LearningExpress’s Job and Career Accelerator Cover Letter Builder for even more tips, terms, and sample letters they can review when searching for jobs.
The final question for every job seeker is whether his or her cover letter has the right keywords to get noticed and not passed over. Are the keywords targeted to the industry and/or profession highlighted in the cover letter? Those words are generally easy to find–many of them will be listed in the job posting. In addition, are their showpiece qualifications (i.e. 4.0 GPA, internship with Google, fluency in 3 languages, etc.) prominently displayed?
Graduating students and young professionals are often faced with the challenge of not being able to include critical keywords in their cover letters because they don’t have the requisite experience. If you work with young adults who are trying to overcome this, consider using a paragraph such as:
“Now that I’ve graduated with my B.S. in International Finance, I’m anxious to begin my professional career and develop my expertise in economic analysis, foreign currency hedging, cross-border business transactions, and contract negotiations.”
Note that the words in bold (only for your review) are keywords that have been effortlessly–and accurately–integrated into the cover letter, using goal-oriented language. Job seekers may not have an established background in their chosen fields, but including keywords like those above demonstrates an interest in, and knowledge of, a prospective position’s requirements. You can use the right keywords even when the job seeker doesn’t have the right skills or experience.
A successful job search is all about capturing a hiring manager’s or recruiter’s attention, and getting in the door for an interview. Writing keyword-rich cover letters is just one of the many strategies you can deploy to help job seekers get noticed and get hired.