There is probably just as much, or just as much confusion, misunderstanding, and downright misinformation regarding cover letters as there is about networking. Why there should be so much “controversy” or angst over this piece of paper is beyond me.

Here it is: you need one, and you need a good one.

Why, you ask? I’m glad I did.

Some time ago, my boss handed me an envelope and asked if the applicant was writing to us or to the competition. None of us wasted time looking at the attached resume. Who has time to read a stock cover letter that someone cut and pasted?

In fact, I read somewhere that most letters that are sent are never read. Because, frankly, most say nothing or declare too much. Worse yet, sometimes you wonder if they passed their high school grammar. Canned letters copied or cut/pasted from an example are worthless.

You need to send a compelling, well-written cover letter that will make the recruiter or hiring manager look at your resume with interest!

And yes, you guessed it; there is a catch. Writing a great cover is not easy. But it’s not difficult, nor is it overwhelming.

The key is that for all the tools and tips out there for you, at the end of the day; you should take ownership of that introductory piece. When you do, that cover page takes on your personality, and that letter makes its way to the hiring manager.

Because if it’s not, you’re a dead duck in the water.

So how do you make your cover letter sing? Well, for the deaf, here it is:

First, the mechanics of writing a cover can be found on the Internet, bookstores or libraries. You have to do your homework.

But as you work on the outlines of your letter, here are some of the points to keep in mind.

Pleasant or sterile:

Your resume is a “business document.” Your cover is a letter (I know, duh). So, have you written any covers recently that start with “To Whom It May Concern,” or “Human Resources,” or “Hello?” That letter my boss gave me began with “Dear Store General Manager.” Wow. Not good. What does it say about you if you don’t make the effort to find a name? With all the social media available, a letter beginning “To Whom It May Concern…” is unacceptable.

Conversational or formal:

Once again…with feeling…your resume is a “business document.” Your cover letter is a letter (I know, again duh). The letter has to be real. Define a formal letter, I don’t know; maybe anything that isn’t handwritten. Maybe the question should be rewritten as “real or canned”. The canned letters are full of buzzwords and words from industry insiders. Be real. be you. Don’t use buzzwords, business jargon or acronyms. Be professional, purpose conversational.

You or potential employer:

The resume is all yours. The cover letter is all about the employer. More specifically, it is about how you can be the solution to the employer’s issues and problems. Now you absolutely need to submit a customized resume modified to meet company specifications. Still, that modified resume is all yours. It’s what you’ve done in the past. The cover should convey the impression that you understand their problems and that you are the future and the solution.

Focused or Canned:

There’s a dimensional difference between canned industry buzzwords and writing specifically for the needs of that company you’re applying to. Aside from that, it’s weaving appropriate keywords and key phrases into your letter. And those terms come from the job offer. Those terms are specific to that job.

In essence, the cover letter answers the following questions in the mind of the recruiter/hiring manager:

  • Who is this person?
  • Why is this person writing?
  • Why should I care?
  • What does this person want?

By the way, you’d think that last question should be obvious, but as any good salesperson will tell you, “if you don’t ask directly for the sale, you won’t get any sales.”

Cover letters are absolutely critical. However, for some, writing a succinct but compelling argument on a single piece of paper can be intimidating. You research yourself to write a resume. You research the company to write a cover. That can be daunting.

But, it is what it is and you need one. The good news is that there is a lot of help out there. But most importantly, it’s a mindset. The time and energy required to send hundreds of cover letters and resumes is probably the same as sending fewer, but more specific and precisely written. It’s the argument of quality versus quantity.

I will always bet on quality, and you should too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *