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A new cover letter for your new job

It might be the most important letter you ever write — but no one may ever read it.

It might be the most important letter you ever write — but no one may ever read it.

In the smartphone century, when job applications are often combed by automated software, the question of how to compose the perfect cover letter feels like a zen riddle: Why not just nail it to a tree crashing in an empty forest? Yet the document’s value endures, career counselors say. Here are three ways to update your cover letter for 2011.

Short is sweeter
“There is still a role for the cover letter, but it is increasingly shorter and shorter,” says Louise Fletcher, president of Blue Sky Resume says. “Two, maybe three paragraphs is the norm.”

Don’t expect the audience to make it to paragraph number two.

“Lots of people don’t,” Fletcher adds. “They look at the cover letter’s first sentence to see what job you’re applying for, then go right for the résumé.”

Spend time on the intro
Even if a machine is probably reading it, you’d be foolhardy to drum up a un-proofed cover letter — or worse, send out the same generic script for whatever position you put in for.

“Always custom tailor it,” Internet job-hunting expert Margaret Riley Dikel says. “Some people will look closely at the letter and if it isn’t personalized and didn’t specifically address the details of the job, they’ll ignore the résumé.”

Put their words to use
Don’t be afraid to re-write the ad, Dikel urges. “They actually want to see the same words they used in the post,” she explains. “This is the first cut for human resources. Do your qualifications match those of the position?”

 
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