Cover letters seem like such a waste of time for most job seekers. In truth, they are a waste of time and energy and resources, in most cases, mainly because the interviewers rarely read them. However, they are still required as part of the candidate submission process for several companies. While most interviewers don’t bother to read the cover letter, some still do. If you want to win the right to interview, and ultimately win the job offer, you will need to make sure you know how to write an effective cover letter.
Cover Letter Basics
The format for writing a business letter generally starts with the date at the top. You will want to have your contact information (Name, Address, City/State/Zip, email, phone) either a few lines down in the classic business letter format, or included in the letterhead at the top of the page. Either way is acceptable but no need to do both. Following your contact information should be the contact information for the person to whom you are sending the letter. Sometimes you might not know the person’s name as it is not included in the job posting. If you can do some research to find out who it is specifically then it is a nice touch to include. When it is not available you can either address it generally or leave the information out.
The salutation should be addressed formally, unless you have made direct contact with the intended person. For example, if you have never met Jane Smith, or communicated via phone or email, then it should be addressed to “Ms. Smith:” However, if you have had contact with Jane Smith then it would be acceptable to address it to “Jane:” When you use the person’s given name it adds more personalization to the letter and it helps put you on a level playing field. Some might prefer to keep it more formal if the organization is a little more rigid in its culture or the person to whom you are sending it is more formal in his/her demeanor. If you do not know the person’s name then you can use a general salutation such as, “Hiring Manager:” or “Search Committee:” A colon is generally the accepted punctuation for the salutation. Everything on the cover letter should be left justified so that it all lines up on the left side of the page. This is the classic business format.
Three Concise Paragraphs
The cover letter should all fit on one page, unless you are applying for an academic leadership position or for one that gives specific instructions for lengthy inclusions in the letter. For all others, keep it short, simple and to the point. The few people who will read the cover letter will want to scan it quickly and get the gist of who you are, what you want, what you bring to the table and what you want them to do next.
The first paragraph is the introductory preamble. You simply want to introduce yourself, what prompts you to write and a positive statement about your candidacy. You do not have to restate your name because it is listed above and will be listed again below. For example:
I learned of the opening you have for the senior vice president / chief operating officer position recently and wanted to submit my information to review as a candidate for the position. In my enclosed resume you will see my qualifications closely match the requirements you seek. I believe my experiences and skill sets would add significant value to your company.
The second paragraph should briefly highlight your strengths of what you bring to the table. Why should they care? How can you help them? You can list some of your biggest accomplishments here. Try to directly address some of the key points the company listed in their job description. The easiest way to sell anyone, anything is help them get what they said they want. For example:
In the job posting, I noted with specific interest that you seek a leader who has great experience leading an organization through periods of rapid growth and scaling up. I have led two such companies through times of rapid growth. In the first, XYZ Inc., we successfully increased revenues by 145% in less than three years and grew our workforce by 80%. The second example, ABC International, we successfully expanded into 14 new countries over a two-year period. Additionally, I bring great experience in the fields of supply chain management, M&A and LEAN/Six Sigma processes which you mentioned were similarly important.
The third paragraph should direct them to your resume, or your LinkedIn profile, to learn more. It should also include a call to action to prompt them to take the step you want. Ideally, you want them to schedule an interview with you so you can go into even greater detail of why they cannot live without you. The call to action should be confident and a little assumptive that they would want to take this step. It should not be a pleading or begging kind of statement. Confidence sells. Begging is a turn off. For example:
Enclosed, please find a copy of my resume, which also shows a link to my LinkedIn profile. I appreciate your consideration and look forward to the opportunity of visiting with you further in the interview process. I can be reached either by phone or email to make arrangements.
Recent research published in an article in Fast Company, https://www.fastcompany.com/3069126/use-these-words-at-the-end-of-your-emails-to-increase-your-chance-of-getting-a-re?partner=forbes, showed the very best way to close a letter, or email, was with a statement of gratitude. The researchers analyzed more than 350,000 emails to see which ones generated the highest response rates. The closing that scored the best was, “Thank you in advance.” It is hard to argue with such strong data. If you want to increase your chances of getting a good response, close your letter with the one that scored the best, “Thank you in advance.”
Whether we like it or not, sometimes we still have to write a cover letter when applying to a job. There is no need to try and fight the system and claim it is a waste of time and resources. Even though you might have a valid argument, you will not change the system. You will simply be eliminated from consideration. Instead, devote your efforts into writing a solid and effective cover letter that helps you improve your chances of winning.
Cord Harper, MBA CEO of Endeavor Agency, Inc