Tuesday, 16 April 2013

The Much Maligned Cover Letter – to write or not to write?

I read a lot of career pundits every week and many claim the cover letter is dead.   

I emphatically disagree!

The cover letter has been my best friend when it came to getting to not so certain interviews and I know, for a fact, that my ability to write a persuasive, descriptive and requirements-aligned letter (sometimes 2 pages long – I like to break the rules!) has won me interviews for jobs which I may have had no business getting, but I was able to ‘pitch my case’ as to why I was a good fit for the job.

For a Career Change job they are ESSENTIAL!  And, for a regular “I can do this job with my hands tied behind my back” posting, they are still a very wise move to make.


Most employers don’t read them! 

Why?  Because they don’t say anything new about you.  Most are just a blah blah rehash of the resume and BOTTOMLINE:  for busy HR and Recruiter types, they’re just not worth the time to read them.   

So, here are 4 distinctive ways YOU can make your cover letter worth reading…

1)      THINK LIKE AN EMPLOYER!   If you were reading that cover letter, what would impress YOU about that person?  What would make you want to hire them?  One of the biggest complaints about cover letters is that applicants often use the space to tell the employer how the job will enhance their careers. 

·         REALITY CHECK:  The employer doesn’t really care about your career.  They might, once they know you and have worked with you for a while, but this is a huge turn-off for most employers and can often get your whole application quickly deposited into the dreaded 3rd pile of applications (also known as the round file!).

2)      PERSONALIZE IT!  What differentiates my cover letter approach from others is that I make it PERSONAL.  I spell out why I’m a great fit for their job and I use examples that are directly aligned to the job requirements.

·         Use examples that DEMONSTRATE TRAITS & QUALITIES THEY ARE LOOKING FOR!  Even some they may not have realized they needed!

Here are a couple of sample excerpts from a few I’ve written:

This was for a client (she got the interview):

“Hopefully, both my resume and cover letter will demonstrate that I have often stepped beyond assigned roles to fill gaps and needs whenever necessary.  I’ve also developed financial and other counselling acumen on the job, by consistently volunteering to assist personnel (and occasionally their families) from all ages/backgrounds with issues requiring both research and the development of in-depth knowledge on various key subjects.  Over time, I have become recognized as the local Subject Matter Expert and go-to person for any concerns/questions related to pensions, financial and budget planning, severance pay and numerous other related topics.  Interestingly, one of my previous EMPLOYER’s ORGANIZATION NAME financial counsellors, CONTACT NAME, even used to call me for information on the NAME OF process and policies.”

And one of my own (I got the interview):

“I feel so many people have amazing transferrable skills, and yet they have no idea how to coherently describe that transferability either through personal networking or via their resume.  This is one of the specialties I bring to the table which could be a great asset for your clients and I would be happy to send you a few samples, if you are interested.  The way I write resumes with clients has proven to be very helpful in that it 1) helps the client prepare for job interviews, especially if a career change or various career options are involved, 2) builds the client’s self esteem and confidence as they learn how to promote themselves more effectively and 3) learn how to retool/adjust their own resumes for future opportunities/changes.”

3)      READ BETWEEN THE LINES:  Do your homework!  Analyze the job posting – think about what it takes to do the job and then write something that aligns seamlessly to that need. 

o   You can use a few bulleted Accomplishment Statements in your cover letter. 

o   You can use great quotes about you that others have written from your Personnel Evaluations or from people you have asked for Testimonials.  Keep them short but also long enough to showcase something that stands out about you.  Something that other employers would be interested to know about. 

·         Research the company/organization on the internet (dig in and look at ALL the pages, not just the homepage; check out their mission and values statements) and through any other means available then “SHOW” them -- through relevant examples --  why you would be a fantastic addition to their organization.  

·         Use LinkedIn to research the company and see if you have any connections to an insider.  Then reach out and ask for an information interview with that person!

4)      SELL YOU!  (this is your chance to have one more page to sell yourself for the specific job … make good use of it!)

·         Not in some smarmy salesy way but in a real and authentic way.  Figure out what about the job makes you excited or intrigued and “pitch” to that.  If you feel excited about an aspect of the job it will translate into your writing.

·         This is also a good place to SHARE your PERSONAL PHILOSOPHIES & BELIEFS about what you do and how you  do it.

Here’s another example from my personal stockpile.  I often use the cover letter to “explain” why I’m applying to a job that isn’t an obvious fit from my resume (Again, I got the interview – one of 10 out of 100 applicants).  I’m convinced this is an essential piece when seeking a minor or major CAREER CHANGE. 

So, you might ask: if you’re doing this kind of work, which you obviously enjoy, why would you want to switch gears to sell pet food?  Well, as someone who is interested in working more with my own gifts and loves, I have been hoping to find a way in which I might work more closely with animals and animal health.  Victoria – and BC, in general –is extremely pet-friendly. We have tons of off-leash parks, pet events and rescue organizations.  In other words, we LOVE our pets here and spend lots of money keeping them healthy and happy.  Just last week, our rescue group, NAME, met with our local SPCA to discuss partnering to bring in even more dogs from the US.  We want to help with the huge foreclosure problem in the States and we have many more homes wanting small-medium sized dogs than we actually have dogs for.”

FINALLY, to sum up:  Imagine your cover letter is the back cover blurb on a book about you!

If you read it, would you buy it?   


Interested in writing a kick-ass Cover Letter, I can help!  www.resumecoach.ca

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