How to Write a Compelling Cover Letter
Anyone who has read a few of my articles will know that I do not place much emphasis on resumes, and by extension, cover letters. I am a big believer that the most effective job search strategies revolve around networking and using contacts to land interview opportunities. Nevertheless, there is certainly a place for cover letters and resumes in this process.
Of the two, for my money, the cover letter is the more important. Why Because the cover letter is the approach. In relationship terms, how many guys have ended up punting because they blew the approach? The best resume written with scintillating panache will mean nothing if the reader cannot get past the cover letter. Or the cover letter is so poorly written, both get tossed in the circular file.
Occasionally, some job seekers lose sight of what cover letters and resume are for. Both documents’ sole purpose is to secure an interview. Neither document will get a job for you; both can open doors, though.
Sending a poorly written cover letter will crush you. The instrument that can excite him into wanting to read your resume will, instead, devastate you. Spend at least as much time composing and crafting a cover letter as you do a resume.
Take a good, hard look at the last cover letter you sent out. Did it garner the interview for you, as it should have? If yes, keep it up, you are on the path to being hired. If not, immediately give that letter to a trusted friend and ask for the most brutal assessment as possible. Check your ego at the door and open yourself up to hard, constructive criticism.
I am not going to get into the psycho-babble of why you may or may not be able to write effective cover letters. If you have some hang-ups that keep you from promoting yourself, get over it.
Instead let us talk about the putting together a compelling cover letter. Keep the following in mind:
- We read letters with our senses first; the touch, the feel of the paper – followed by the visual, the look of the letter.
- We look to our name; is it spelled correctly, is it address to “me.”
- We skim the letter; look for highlights, what draws the eyes – is it a long letter?
- Finally, we read the letter.
This is how I believe most people read a letter. So, what does that tell you? It tells me that I need to first, and foremost, address the style issue. The approach is all visual and touches.
- Use the best paper you can get your hands on. Hold it, feel it, move your fingers around it. The paper quality is very important.
- Research and find out everything about your interviewer. Simple as it is, a misspelled name means game over.
- Use bullet points. Bullet points draw the eyes.
- A strong, closing paragraph asking for action.
The substance of the cover letter should be straightforward. Remember, the purpose of the cover letter is twofold. First, it is to create a compelling need for her to move on to the resume. Second, it is to put her in a receptive mood for whatever is in your resume.
You essentially want to answer the following questions in his mind, as he opens the envelope to pull out the cover letter and resume.
- Who is this person?
- Why is this person writing me?
- What can this person do for me?
- What does this person want from me?
If you effectively address those four concerns, then you are on the right track. So, what do you actually put in the letter?
The first paragraph should be a one or two sentence introductory statement that clearly states why you are writing:
- “Your need for a licensed dietitian with a pharmaceutical background as come to my attention”
- “Rocky Balboa suggested that I contact you with regard to your need for a sales manager”
The second paragraph goes right to what you can do for the reader. It is the benefits statement. This is where the hard research comes in. Is the company expanding, is it shrinking, or is it redefining itself. Answer the question, “what can this person do for me?” Perhaps, something like this:
- As you seek to expand your sales force, consider what I have accomplished using the skills, knowledge, and abilities as shown on my enclosed resume:
- Grew sales revenue 45% with company xyz.
- Hired and Trained 8 new sales representatives across 3 new sales territories.
- Expanded new accounts by 28%.
Each accomplishment was significant in driving expansion at company xyz.
What he wants is to expand his sales force. The cover letter drives home the same point, as an example.
The third paragraph is your features statement. What makes you special or what makes you effective. One or two sentences at most.
Yes, you got it. It is a sales letter. First, there is the introduction and statement of the buyer’s need. Second, you state the benefit of the product – what you can do for her. Third, you briefly state the features of getting you – the bells and whistles. Finally, the close – asking for the order. A cover letter is a brief, succinct sales letter. If done right, the resume becomes an afterthought.
Again, for the closing, ask for action. Ask her to call you. Or state that you will contact her within the next few days to set up an appointment. Be firm in asking for action. Otherwise, what would be the point of sending the cover letter?
A side note – some suggest using keyword or buzz phrases to catch the reader’s eye. I do not think that is necessary. Just speak to his needs and how you can solve those needs, and the rest will follow. Write naturally and with sincerity.
Lastly, proofread, proofread, and then proofread some more. At least one other person should also proofread before you send the letter.