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Cover me: Is your cover letter up to par?

As much emphasis that is put on resumes, choosing the right words, describing your skills effectively and presenting a document that is worth reading, the cover letter often is unfairly overlooked as being more of a given rather than a piece of work you've invested time and effort into as you pursue your new career.
The cover letter really is as much a part of the interview and screening process as the resume, as this short, synopsis of your career experience and education must be equal parts detailed and specific, but avoid being long winded or overly wordy so that is becomes hard to read.
The cover letter is about putting your best foot forward via writing in about 200 words tops. You want to focus on key goals you achieved and avoid the rhetoric that is overused and quite ubiquitous because good screening personnel will easily spot what they'll deem as a cover letter that is generic.
Walking a line between generic and adept often is more difficult that most job seekers assume, given that a short cover letter can suggest a lack of effort, while a longer one won't hold anyone's attention for very long.
Truthfully, the cover letter is a resume snapshot, and your opportunity to hit the bullet points as to why you want the job but more importantly why the person recruiting you should hire you. Let's say you increased sales by 10% from last year to this year; that's worth noting. What you want to steer clear of is using things like "good communication" or the always overexposed "works well with others in a team." That doesn't tell enough of a compelling story to get you beyond just another applicant status.

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Much like the interview itself, you also want to avoid bashing former employers in your cover letter. That practice has always been frowned upon and is clearly unprofessional. The cover letter should be very matter of fact, no stories about anything personal even if it relates to the job and certainly nothing disrespectful of your former boss, even if he or she was just that.
You want the cover letter to be fresh and full of flavor that talks about what you've done specifically not so much the characteristics that define who you are. Let them learn that at the interview but in the meantime the cover letter, if done correctly, should do all the talking for you initially.

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