A cover letter might seem old-fashioned, but as I’ve said before, in some ways old-fashioned is good. As a recruiter, I often received hundreds of resumes in my e-mail box in response to an online posting. I was more responsive to those who took the time to write a thoughtful cover letter than to those who sent a one-line filler saying something inane like “my resume is attached for your review.” (Um, I think I can figure that part out for myself.)
Your cover letter is a way for you to express interest in a position, outline key reasons why you are the best person for that job, and show that you can organize your thoughts in a clear, concise, thought-provoking, GRAMMATICALLY CORRECT manner. Just like your resume, your cover letter should draw the reader in and make him want to find out more about you.
Tip #1 — Use Templates, Not Form Letters
Avoid using a form letter for your covers. I’m not insinuating that you have to start from scratch each time you apply for a job. One of the things you can do is create a variety of cover letter templates that you can pull information from. You need more than one if you are going to apply for different types of jobs. If you are thinking about applying for sales and marketing jobs, then you need to create two templates—one for each that highlights the skills most appropriate for these types of positions. In each template, point out all of your strengths, achievements and contributions that pertain to the particular type of position you are looking for in paragraph format. When it comes time to write a cover letter, pick and choose the elements that are applicable for the job you are applying for and add them to a custom cover letter. (Make sure that your fonts are all the same before firing it off!) With each sales point you make about yourself, be sure to tie it back to the job description. Make it crystal clear that you possess all of the qualities listed as prerequisites in the ad.
#2 — Target the Reader and Address the “Must Haves”
If an ad has “must have” clauses in it, address them. When I received a cover letter that simply ignored the qualifications requested in an ad I posted online, I didn’t feel compelled to read the resume. A few times I received cover letters that clearly expressed that the candidate had all the qualifications I was looking for…except one. In this scenario, there are two choices. Gloss over it because your other qualifications are so stellar and you have been so adept in pointing them out. Or, be up front and admit that you are missing that one qualification. If you go the latter route, make sure to follow up with a tremendous positive as to why you should be considered anyhow.
#3 — Use a Strong Opener
It’s important to open your letter with an unexpected statement, not a cookie-cutter one. So many cover letters I read started off with a variation of: “I saw your ad in x-newspaper and am submitting my resume for your review.” Everyone knows that you saw the ad somewhere and are responding by sending in your resume. This is not news. Get right into the meat of your positioning. If the ad is for a marketing manager with 5+ years experience in the legal arena, start off by saying “I am a marketing professional with 5 years of experience working for a top 10 law firm….”
#4 — Take the Initiative on the Follow Up
When it comes to closing your cover letters, make it clear that you will take the initiative to follow-up. Too many of us end our cover letters by saying one of the following:
• I look forward to hearing from you on this matter
• I can be reached at 212-000-0000…
• Please feel free to call me at…
If you want to get a job, it’s your job to do the follow-up. The end of your letter should say something to the effect of:
•“I will call you in a few days to discuss the possibility of my candidacy further. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to call me at…”
•“I will call you next week to discuss next steps. Don’t hesitate to call me at any time at 212…”
• “I will call you in a few days to set up a possible interview. Please feel free to call me with any questions at 212…
#5 — Prove your Point
Some of us may feel uncomfortable ending a letter so forcefully. However, it’s important to show that you are ready to take the initiative when it comes to getting the job you want. And, you need to exude an air of confidence. Afterall, you are trying to convince the recruiter or hiring manager that you are the best person for this job.