Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of.
— Benjamin Franklin
Some employers focus on a cover letter, while others will bypass it and go straight to the resume. If the resume is strong, some employers will then go back and read the cover letter or cover email. Regardless of how an employer treats the letter, make sure you invest an appropriate amount of time writing a well-thought-out cover letter. A well-written cover letter immediately begins to differentiate you from other job seekers by highlighting strong points in your background and provides a sample of your writing ability. A well-written letter can also serve as a customizable template for different job opportunities.
Types of Cover Letters
In general, cover letters fall under three categories:
A letter of application is used to match a specific employment position.
A letter of inquiry is written (frequently to HR) when you are exploring whether the employer may have a possible open position within the company.
A marketing letter (or email) is written to quickly grab the hiring executive’s attention. The goal of this “attack” strategy is to showcase your qualifications and create enough interest so the hiring executive reads your resume and engages you in conversation. You are proactively marketing yourself directly to a potential hiring executive who could likely hire you for the position you seek.
The Cover Letter Success Formula
The kind of cover letter doesn’t matter: getting your cover letter read increases the odds that your resume will be read. Be concise. With your cover letter (as well as all your written communications), proofreading is mandatory. Executives are reading not only for content, but for sentence structure and how you express your thoughts. Spelling or grammar errors broadcast that you don’t pay attention to detail, or are careless. Have someone who’s unfamiliar with your letter read it. You could also let your writing sit overnight. Some claim that reading it backward helps. And when it comes time to send your letters, don’t send the same one to every executive. Having a template is fine, but customize each one. And don’t mention salary, compensation, or benefits in a cover letter.
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To maximize your effectiveness when writing cover letters, use the following approach, which has proven effective over the course of time:
• Create interest (first sentence)
• Showcase an accomplishment/qualification
• Provide additional information
Here’s an in-depth look at how to do this:
You must quickly get the attention and interest of the employer. Personalizing the letter with their name (found by searching LinkedIn or the company website, or calling the company) will go a long way. Adding a “RE:” line (meaning “regarding”) lets the executive know what your letter is about and the position you’re interested in. Generating interest increases the time the executive will spend on your letter. All too often, people do the opposite by beginning their letters with something similar to:
I am writing you today regarding any potential need you may have for a director of operations. I believe I have the qualifications you are looking for.
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Provide additional information
In the following paragraphs of the letter, elaborate on your experience, skills, background, and achievements. This is where you have a fair amount of latitude on what you want to showcase. Choose those topics you feel are the most relevant or impressive to the employer. Once again, inform the employer what you did, in addition to how this produced positive results.
I am a motivated sales professional with a positive track record of opening new territories. At Ins. Company, I took over a three-state, virgin territory with no sales or business contacts. I researched and identified broker-dealers, set appointments, traveled, and made sales presentations. Within the first year, I generated over $1.2M in product and exceeded sales goals by over 300 percent.
Another approach is to add a strong recommendation. This paragraph should be indented and single-spaced. To realize this technique’s full impact, identify the person providing the recommendation by name and title. Here’s an example:
My supervisor, Susan J. Smith, Director of Operations, Cyban, Inc. states: Sandra has a strong work ethic. She is organized, resourceful, and can work successfully without supervision. She is flexible and will roll up her sleeves to get the job done!
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Remember, it is always more influential when others speak well of you than when you promote yourself.
Another technique you can use in this section is to reveal a professional insight about yourself to personalize the letter. It must be something relevant or important to the employer. This paragraph can start with a phrase such as: “I am passionate about . . . ”, “I am professionally rewarded when . . . ”, “I continue to be intrigued by . . . ”, and so on. For example:
I am passionate about wellness. I get a great deal of satisfaction knowing that the wellness services I promote to clients will have a personal impact on the health and well-being of that employer’s employees.
You may choose to add some information about your personal life that could have relevance to the job. Some hiring executives occasionally want to know about you as a person as well as a professional.
I am competitive professionally as well as in my personal life. In fact, I routinely compete in local tennis tournaments . . . successfully I might add!
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Use these paragraphs to inform the employer about any other piece of information relevant to your job search, such as relocation.
I will relocate to Portland in the next sixty days as a result of my wife’s promotion.
Conclude your letter by using a brief closing statement, followed by your intention to follow up:
Based on my track record of successful operational efficiency, I believe I have the qualifications and accomplishments to make a positive impact on ABC Inc. I look forward to discussing this opportunity with you and I will contact your office next week.