Good Cover Letters Do Make a Difference
Good Cover Letters Do Make a Difference
How to create an effective cover letter and why you should devote time to this task
By Claudine Vainrub
In the process of finding a job, most of our focus lies in developing a compelling resume. However, another marketing document, essential to the job search process, is the cover letter. It is the one area of the application where we demonstrate writing skills, are able to include personal opinions and make a good case as to why consider us.
Should we or should we not include a cover letter when we send a resume? It is certainly very important not only to include a cover letter, but a customized cover letter, specifically written for the job targeted. Sending a template letter not directly drafted for the company and job that we are responding to can have a negative effect. A canned letter might dissuade the recruiter from considering a good resume. So be prepared to work hard on the cover letter, and make a strong case on why this position is the right one for you and why you should be considered. If you are genuine about your strengths, insightful and informed about the company, demonstrate it through the cover letter. This can make a difference when competing for a position with other candidates with similar profiles.
In the case of B.B., an executive seeking a position in marketing management, she expressed how the company that she now works for confessed that it was her cover letter that made them make the call. Her writing skills, along with arguments on why she was the right person for the job, caught the eye of the decision makers within her new employer. She was considered beyond other candidates and ended up accepting the opportunity. Good cover letters do make a difference.
Now about the format… We start with a header which should be copied and pasted from the one used on the resume. If margins differ, the cover letter header, although very similar to the one on the resume, can be slightly modified to fit the cover letter format. The important thing to keep in mind is that we want to have a unique identity in all our professional documents. As with the resume, make sure to check that your contact information is correct, and also appropriate for job search. Screen your email and change your address if it sound other than professional – firstname.lastname@example.org will not be appropriate for job search purposes (or for your personal brand).
Right below the header comes the date when the letter is written. This is followed by the address of the company you are sending the letter to. Sometimes, we are answering anonymous ads. In those cases, we can address the letter to the attention of the Human Resources Department, in reference to the position targeted. We can include their fax and/or phone information, or any information about the company included in the ad. Most of the times, when we do have the full company information, we start with the name of the person we are addressing the letter to, their position in a second line, followed by the name of the company and their full address. If appropriate, we can add a line right below the full address to point out the position or reason why of the letter. In this way, the reader can easily distinguish the purpose of this writing, funneling it through the right channels more quickly.
To begin our writing, we address the letter to Dear Mr. or Ms. and the last name of the addressee. If we do not have their name, we can also address it to Dear Hiring Professional or Dear Employment Manager, however, it is worth our while to research and find someone within the organization that we can directly address a letter to. Not only it will become more personal, but it will be taken under more consideration by the letter recipient, who could eventually become a cheerleader for your candidacy within the company. You will have also demonstrated that you are able to make things happen, that you possess great research skills and have the ability to find information when it is not readily available to you.
The cover letter content should be short and sweet, not more than four short paragraphs that state a strong case. The first paragraph of the cover letter should include information regarding where you saw the posting and what specific opportunity you are seeking. It should give a reason why of the letter and address in a line or two at the most that you are the right candidate for the position, and why.
The second and third paragraphs of the cover letter should talk more in detail about skills, professional experience and aspects of your education that directly relate to the position. To be effective while writing this content, make sure to read and re-read the position’s advertisement. The more you understand the job requirements, the better you will be at making a compelling case for yourself on why you have a perfect fit with the job. For example, if you are seeking a financial management position and the posting requires five years of experience in trading, if it is true, you should include in the cover letter a line stating that you earned over five years of trading experience as trading manager for Goldman Sachs, conducting transactions valued at over $200MM per month. This will put in perspective the fact that you have an excellent fit with the position.
Two words of Caution: do not make the letter too long and do not copy information directly from the resume. You can go up to four paragraphs, but you can also limit yourself to three. Both lengths are acceptable. The most important thing to remember is that the information always and in every part of the letter needs to be compelling to the reader and directly related to the position targeted. Give the information on the resume a twist, include sentences that give an overall picture of you as a professional, while always considering the requirements of the job you are applying to. A cover letter is the one document where it is acceptable to include soft skills – A.K.A. – excellent communication skills, ability to work in teams, creativity, people person, a great motivator,… Make sure you have both soft skills and data on previous positions and accomplishments.
In the second and third paragraphs, it is possible to include bullet points with relevant information. These bullet points should be completely different from those utilized for the resume. However, information can be presented in this format, to make the letter more enticing to the eye. Bullet points can include what you specifically bring to the position or career highlights as they relate to the position. These can take the place of the second/third paragraphs.
The fourth and last paragraph or closing should be used to state what you would like to achieve through the cover letter. Whether it is an interview, further discussion, a time to meet to review how you can mutually benefit from each other, this is where you want to express this interest. You can be proactive and say you will make the contact by the following week, unless you hear from them before then.
The letter should be signed sincerely, your name and enclosure, to indicate that the resume is also included in the package.
Although they require hard work, attention to detail, and often times take long to create, results from sending a compelling cover letter can be very favorable. Cover letters can make a difference when getting your foot on the door, or not securing that interview that you know you deserve. With cover letters, the reward is worthwhile the effort.
By Claudine Vainrub, Principal of EduPlan