By Mike Simpson
So you want to learn how to write a cover letter…
But let me ask you this:
Have you ever been on a blind date?
It can be overwhelmingly nerve wracking.
There you are, all dressed up in your finest, ready to sit down across the table from someone you know absolutely nothing about, and hopefully survive the meeting without too much trouble.
At the absolute best, you two hit it off.
Things are great and you discover through your first awkward meeting that you’re perfect for each other and destined for years of happy togetherness.
At the worst, you’re forced to sit across from someone you have absolutely nothing in common with.
You spend the entire date suffering through what can feel like absolute eternity, stumbling through awkward starts and stops in the conversation..
But what if you each had a cheat sheet?
A sort of pre-blind date rundown of who you’re going to meet?
A cheat sheet that includes all sorts of vital information like who you are and what you can bring to the relationship. It would make things so much easier, right?
Now, what if you not only had this cheat sheet, but you got to look at it and decide if you even wanted to go on that date in the first place? Even better, right?
In the business world, interviews are a lot like blind dates.
Employers sit down with potential employees and over the course of the meeting, both parties try to learn enough about each other to decide if working together isgood idea or a bad idea…just without the awkward hug/kiss thing at the end…hopefully.
See…not so far off from our blind date scenario from earlier…but there is ONE big difference.
Did you know that companies do have those little cheat sheets on potential employees and that they do ‘pre-screenings’ before the offer to interview is even considered?
That’s right! They do.
Every single piece of information you send a company you’re applying to is going to be thoroughly looked at to determine your potential for compatibility, starting with your cover letter.
“But wait,” you say, “what’s a cover letter, and more importantly, why do I need to send one along with my resume?”
Don’t worry, we’re going to explain exactly what it is…and so much more.
In fact, over the course of this article, we’re going to discuss a number of things you’ll need to know in order to make your cover letter not only right for who you are and what you bring to the table…but tailor it so it’s absolutely perfect for your first blind date…er, we mean…the job you’re applying for.
What Is A Cover Letter Anyway?
Before you learn how to write a cover letter, you first need to understand what it is!
A professional cover letter is a short, single page letter you should include with every application and/or resume you send out.
It’s a quick way for you to introduce yourself to an employer and gives them a taste of you…not just your skills (which they will get by looking at your resume.)
Not only does it act as an introduction, it will also let whoever is reading it (hiring managers) know exactly why you are sending them your information as well as potentially help open the door to future meetings…and interviews!
Remember, first impressions count…even when they’re on paper, so let’s make sure yours is as perfect as possible. You should start by downloading our “Perfect Cover Letter Cheat Sheet”, which will show you how to build your cover letter in quick, step-by-step format. Click here to download the cheat sheet now.
Why Do I Need One?
Okay, so I get what a cover letter is, but why do I have to write one?Shouldn’t my resume be strong enough on its own?
Ideally, yes, you want to make sure the resume you are submitting is as strong as possible and perfectly tailored to the job you’re applying for (more on tailoring in a bit) but simply sending it in without including a cover letter can work against you.
As we outlined in our article “How to Make a Resume 101,” a resume is a document that summarizes your skills, abilities and accomplishments.A well made one should clearly spell out what you can do…but does little to explain who you are.
That’s where a cover letter comes in.
A good cover letter serves a multitude of purposes beyond simply letting the hiring manager know the proper way to spell your name.
It gives potential employers information about you that they wouldn’t get just from looking at your resume alone.
To bring it back to our dating analogy from earlier…a well written cover letter is a little bit like a friend meeting with your date and telling them all the best things about you before you even get there.
It’s an opportunity for you to reach out as an individual, not just as an applicant.
It should highlight your qualifications as well as demonstrate how you stand out from the rest of the hundreds (or thousands) of other qualified job seekers.
It should also showcase why you’re the right choice for the position…what makes you the “Perfect Candidate”…and all this is accomplished before you’re invited to the date, er…I mean interview…
But what if I’m applying for a job that just asks me to send in my resume…do I still need to send in a cover letter?
Sending in a resume without a cover letter is a missed opportunity you can’t afford to take in this competitive job market.
Not only does a good cover introduce you and all your best qualities, it’s also an opportunity to help explain away any concerns a prospective employer might have about your ability to do the job they’re hiring for.
The last thing you want to do is turn in a resume or application for a job you’re perfect for and have it get tossed before you even make it to the interview stage because there was something that made an employer question your abilities.
Have a gap in employment on your resume? – Use your cover letter as an opportunity to explain it:
In the middle of switching careers and finding that your skills, while applicable to the job you’re applying for aren’t traditionally considered to be a match?Use your cover letter to detail why you should be considered anyway.
These days submitting a cover letter is just good form!
Many times employers expect cover letters even if they don’t explicitly ask for one.
A job seeker who sends in a resume without a cover letter is essentially letting an employer know they’re happy doing just the bare minimum…and that’s just not the way we like to do things!
By writing a solid cover letter, even when not asked for one, you’re taking that extra step as a job seeker and reinforcing that you’re not only enthusiastic about the opportunity but that you’re also motivated to do what it takes to get in the door for that face to face meeting.
**A WORD OF WARNING…if a company specifically asks you NOT to send a cover letter…then don’t.Always follow the instructions as outlined by a potential employer.
How To Format Your Cover Letter
“So I need to write a cover letter for a job application…what makes a good one?”
Because your cover letter is your first opportunity to demonstrate your communication skills to your potential employer, it’s critical that you make sure you’re doing everything you can to make your cover letter layout as flawless and business-appropriate as possible.
(This is why we spent a little extra time expanding on Cover Letter Format in our companion guide, “Best Cover Letter Format Guide for 2017.” Click the link to check it out now!)
The next question you might be asking yourself is, “How long should a cover letter be?”
Ideally you want to keep your letter between 3-5 paragraphs in length and definitely no longer than one page.
The eternal struggle regarding what to include in a cover letter continues to rage on. In our opinion the best cover letter is informative without being overly long or rambling.
Each paragraph should serve a purpose and shouldn’t be excessively lengthy or confusing.
Remember, the hiring manager is going to be faced with potentially thousands of cover letters so your goal is to make sure yours is brief enough to still be read but detailed and interesting enough to make them want to learn more about you.
Speaking of standing out, this isn’t the time to get creative with fonts, designs, colored paper, or showcase your artistic talents with doodles on the margins.
A cover letter, like every other piece of paperwork you submit to a potential employer, is a professional document and should look like one.
Use fonts that are simple and professional like Arial, Times New Roman, or Verdana and be sure to set your font size between 10 and 12 points.
Let’s take a look at standard cover letter formatting:
- Start by first including your personal contact information. (You want to make sure your future boss can contact you for that interview, right?)
- Follow that by the date you are writing the letter and then the company contact information.Be sure to separate each section with a space…it makes your letter easier to read.
If you are mailing a hard copy of your letter, make sure when you get to the bottom and your salutation to double space.It will give you room to sign your letter.If you are emailing your letter, or submitting it electronically and can’t sign it with your autograph, it’s still important to leave that double space.
For an easy-to-follow summary of the cover letter format info we’ve just gone over, click the following link to download our complimentary Perfect Cover Letter Cheat Sheet. It will help you make sure your cover letter is perfect by summarizing all of the key points in this article. Click here to download the cheat sheet now.
Here’s A Good Format Template
*You want to always try to address your cover letter to someone specific.Unfortunately that information is not always available.If you find yourself writing a letter and unsure of who to address it to, use “Dear Hiring Manager,” or “Dear Recruiter.”
*Don’t use “To Whom it May Concern” or “Dear Sir/Madam” as those are considered outdated and you run the risk of offending someone.You can also call the company directly to ask to whom you should address your letter.
*In some instances you can completely forgo the opening salutation and just start with a subject line, but we suggest at least making an effort to find out who to address it to.It makes the letter much more personal and shows your dedication to the position.
NOTE: For more information please read our “how to address a cover letter” article.
“Tailoring” Your Cover Letter
Now that we’ve covered the general format of a cover letter, it’s time to dive into the content!
Let’s pretend for a moment you’re the hiring manager and you’ve just gotten this letter:
Zzzzzz. Oh, sorry. Was I napping? Ugh what a snoozer!
Although professional, this is a generic cover letter and if you ask me, pretty bland.
It reveals little about Blanche beyond the fact that she thinks she’s qualified for the job and that she’s been in the industry for over 8 years. A letter like this is the bare minimum when applying for a job…and you’re not the bare minimum.
Don’t forget, you’re the perfect candidate, and a good cover letter is a great first way to let potential employers know that!
Rather than submitting a snooze-worthy letter that will blend into every other letter the hiring manager is going to read, you’re going to tailor your letter and help make sure it really stands out.
If you’ve spent any amount of time reading our other blog posts or watching our videos, you’re probably familiar with our world-famous “Tailoring Method” (If not, head over to our article Job Interview Questions and Answers 101 to learn more, but make sure you come back to learn how it applies to cover letters!).
Now what you might not know, is that the Tailoring Method can actually apply to other parts of your interview as well, including how to write a great cover letter.
You see, there’s a tremendous amount of power in identifying what the company’s desired strengths and characteristics are for the employee they want to hire.
Because demonstrating that you have these Qualities is going to put you in the drivers seat in terms of getting an offer from your interview.
So you need to identify what those “Qualities” are, and infuse them into your cover letter and support them with a real example from your past (and where necessary, a success story).
This is done by taking the time to do careful research of the company and the position.
Here, let’s spice up Blanche’s letter a bit…starting with paragraph one.
First thing you want to keep in mind is, those poor hiring managers are reading tens of hundreds of cover letters and after a while, they’re all going to start blending together…make your stand out…in a good way!
Much better, right?
This is how you want to start a cover letter!
Not only is it a break from the cookie cutter style cover letters that regularly flood a hiring manager’s desk, it shows that the applicant is excited to be applying for the job.
It also lets the hiring manager know the applicant isn’t just looking for a job, but that they’re looking to be a part of a team.
The letter is also properly addressed to who is actually reading it.Remember, “To Whom It May Concern,” and “Dear Sir or Madam” are too generic and can come across as lazy.
While we’ve already said it is okay to use “Dear Hiring Manager” or “Dear Recruiter,” going that extra mile can make all the difference with a weary reader.Don’t forget, you want to stand out!
Let’s keep reading…
Again, personal, engaging, and dynamic. This letter helps the hiring manager know that the applicant is ready for any challenge and that they’re adaptable.
Now we get into the meat of the letter and where you can brag a bit about what you bring to the table. Let’s say that through her research, Blanche discovered that the company she’s interviewing with really values someone who excels in (has the “Quality“) “attention to detail.”
Well, she better darn make sure she highlights that Quality and supports it with an example or examples from her past.
Nicely done, Blanche!
A little bit of subtle bragging while showcasing something the applicant is proud of accomplishing for the company overall without coming across as arrogant or too boastful.
The next paragraph is where you can engage the company on a one on one level and show how much research you’ve done on them and their current projects.
The applicant is letting the hiring manager know that they’re not just blindly applying to the company but that they genuinely know a bit about them and that they have a passion for what the company does.
While it's wonderful to show your knowledge an appreciation of the brand, or say how much of a fan you are, you really want to be careful not to take this too far. Firstly, everyone who is interviewed is going to say "I'm a fan!". More importantly, the company is not hiring you to be a fan, but to get a job done. Keep it focused on how you are going to satisfy the company's needs and not just about being a fanboy/girl.
Okay, Blanche, time to bring it home.
When an applicant wraps up their letter this way, they’re outlining the next steps they hope the company will take (contacting them for an interview) and ensuring that the information they need to do that is right there in front of them.
By making it easy for them and including phone numbers and other contact information, a perfect candidate is empowering the employer to take the action the candidate wants.
By including their personal branded website, the applicant is also inviting the hiring manager to get to know even more about them and what they bring to the table.
When wrapping up your letter with follow up information, tread lightly but confidently.Whatever you do, don’t push too hard in this paragraph. You don’t want to appear manipulative or controlling.
Remember, you want a job interview…not a restraining order 😉
Now that is a great example of a cover letter that will get a hiring managers attention!
By keeping it short and sweet, you’re not overwhelming them with a ton to read…but at the same time by making it engaging, tailored, and personal, you’re ensuring that it stands out and highlights you in a positive way.
In our opinion this a wonderful example of how to end a cover letter that you should take into consideration when working on yours.
A good cover letter closing will leave a great taste in the hiring manager’s mouth and will go a long way to securing an interview.
If after sending your cover letter and your resume you don’t hear from the company in a couple of days, a quick “wanted to be sure you had received my application” email is an entirely appropriate follow-up, even without telling them that you will be following up first.
If you do end up needing to write a follow-up note, you absolutely should slip in a line like “I really think my (skills and talents that are relevant to the job) would be great for (the company), and want to make sure my application didn’t get lost or submitted incorrectly.”
You can also throw in something again about why you want to work at that company – mention some company values or exciting projects to show that you’ve done your research and are really interested in them specifically.
Sample Cover Letter Used Above
Top 10 Cover Letter Tips & Hacks
- SHORT AND SWEET:Your cover letter should never go over a single page.Keep it clean and concise.Keep your sentences focused and avoid using flowery words.
- KNOW WHAT YOU WANT AND GO FOR IT:Make sure you let your potential employer know exactly what you are bringing to the job.They have a need and you are there to fill it.Tell them how you are going to accomplish that.
- TAILOR! TAILOR! TAILOR!:Don’t be vague or generic.Make sure your letter is clearly targeted to the job you are going for as well as the company you want to be hired by.Do your research ahead of time.
- COVER LETTERS ARE LIKE SNOWFLAKES – NO TWO ARE ALIKE:Unless you’re launching a direct mail campaign, make sure you’re fine tuning each and every cover letter you sending out so it focuses on the specifics of the job you are applying for.
- KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE:Make sure you are addressing your letter directly to the proper individual.Do your research and find out who will be reading it…and absolutely make sure you have the proper spelling of their name.If you can’t get a name, make sure to address it “Dear Hiring Manager,” or “Dear Recruiter.”Don’t use “To Whom it May Concern” or “Dear Sir/Madam” as those are considered outdated.
- PROOFREAD!:The fastest way to end up in the circular file is by submitting a sloppy letter.Double check to make sure your spelling and grammar are correct.
- THE KEY TO SUCCESS LIES WITH KEYWORDS:Pay careful attention to what is said in the job postings.Look for key words and phrases in the description and make sure to echo those in your letter but don’t overstuff your letter.
- BE PROFESSIONAL:Keep the focus of your letter on the job you are applying for.Introduce yourself but don’t go into too much detail or bring up anything unrelated to the job.Do not speak badly of past employers or trash talk prior jobs.
- LINK IT UP:Make sure your letter includes a link to your personal branded website.A cover letter is a great introduction into who you are and what you can bring, and by including a link to your personal website, you’re allowing a potential employer to really explore everything you potentially can bring to the position.
- FOLLOW UP!:Demonstrate your dedication to the position by making sure to follow up on all your contacts if possible.Don’t become annoying, but at the same time, if you don’t reach out, you run the risk of being forgotten.
We’ve covered what what should be in a cover letter, but what should you NOT put in your cover letter?
- Rule number one of cover letters is…proofread. Proofread. Proofread. Oh, and then proofread it again. We don’t care if you’re writing the cover letter to end all cover letters. If you’re serious about a job you’re applying for…take the time to read your letter before you send it off. This includes making sure that not only are you spelling things correctly and that your grammar and punctuation is spot on, but that you’re also double checking the basics like the company name and the position you’re applying for.
- Lying about your past experiences or over inflating what you’ve done. Everyone’s allowed to brag a bit in their cover letter…as long as it’s true. Don’t lie to the company or yourself. If a company has nothing that appeals to you, you wouldn’t enjoy working there – and they’d rather not have you – so why bother applying?
- Talking about why you quit your last job. Remember, this is sort of like a blind date. Nobody wants to hear about your ex…and absolutely DO NOT TRASH YOUR PAST EMPLOYERS.
- Salary requirements. Save that for the interview.
- Getting too personal. The letter is a great way to introduce yourself, but remember…keep it about the position and keep it professional. The paragraph where you talk about the company can contain tidbits about you (I grew up watching the “Wonder Kids”) but don’t let it get too personal (After my alcoholic parents divorced and my father left the country to join the Amsterdam Travelling Cat and Flea Circus, the “Wonder Kids” were the only steady and constant positive in my life.) Save that for your therapist.
The Different Types of Cover Letters
As a job seeker, you need to be aware that there are different types of cover letters that align to the different ways jobs are posted and how you’re involved in the application process.
In most cases, the basic cover letter layout we went over earlier in this article can be used as a solid foundation for whatever you write…but we’re here to help you rise above the competition which means making that extra effort.
You’re the Perfect Candidate and that means ensuring that your cover letter is exactly right for whatever type of posting you come across.
So let’s take a look at what you might come across in your job-seeking travels.
A job posting is when an employer advertises an opening within their organization that they would like to fill.
This can be anything from a notice in a newspaper, to a posting on the company website.
Make sure you read the posting carefully and pay close attention to the description of the job.
This is when you will begin to start tailoring your cover letter!
Try to figure out exactly what Qualities (skills and abilities) the company values and make sure you highlight these in your cover letter.
As you go through the post, identify the key words and phrases that are used.
When you write your cover letter, make sure you use these keywords and phrases (but don’t just copy and paste the ad word for word).
As always, do your research beforehand and use that information to help tailor your letter and showcase how you would be a welcome addition to their team.
Application Cover Letter
For many entry level positions, the application process is fairly simple and straight forward.
You’ll go into wherever it is you want to work and ask for an application.
They’ll hand you a pre-printed form and you’ll sit down and fill it out before turning it back in.
Many job seekers who are applying for these types of positions will simply turn in their application after filling them out.
Submitting a well written cover letter along with your application will make you stand out to a prospective employer.
You’re showing them that you are willing to do the work to get the job and that can go a long way towards getting hired.
It’s also a great idea for individuals who are new to the job market and might not have prior employment history.
You always want to start out your letter with a personal salutation, so if possible, when picking up an application, ask for a few days to fill it out before returning it as well as the name of the individual who will be reviewing it.
While most employers are happy to let you take an application and bring it back later, there is always the possibility you will be asked to fill it out on the spot.For situations like this, always make sure you bring a copy (or two) of a pre-prepared cover letter and resume with you so you can hand them in all together.
Before heading out to pick up applications, make sure you have a few letters already typed up and pre-tailored to the locations you plan on applying to.
Yes, it means taking a bit more time at the beginning of your application process, but it will be well worth it and again demonstrates to the employer that you are invested in the position.
Online Application Cover Letter
Many companies these days utilize online job posting websites like Brass Ring and Monster to advertise available positions.
While this might seem like a convenience for you (hey, you can apply for jobs in your living room while wearing your pajamas all day!) it actually means your odds of getting an invitation to interview is going to be tougher than it would be if you were mailing in your information.
Why?Three little letters…ATS.
ATS, or Applicant Tracking System, is a computer based screening program used to filter applicants.
The program scans thousands of applications and quickly discards those that don’t fit the specific algorithm it’s been programmed with.
While that might sound like a great way to streamline the hiring process, it also means that whatever you submit has to be carefully crafted to ensure that it makes it through this robotic filter.
If not done properly, your submission could be discarded before ever being seen by a living human being…and we definitely don’t want that!
The first thing you want to do is wrap your head around the idea that you are going to first be facing a robot and that it’s been programmed to get rid of you.Okay, maybe not you specifically (we’ll save the Terminator analogies for another post) but certainly your application.
So how do you beat the bot?By thinking like one.
Start by reading the job description carefully.
Because the computer is going to be programmed to select only the candidates that perfectly match what the company is looking for, you need to make sure you are the right fit.
Re-read the posting until you clearly understand exactly what the company is looking for and that you are absolutely able to fill that spot with the skills, qualities, experience and education you have.
Tailoring your letter is something you should do for every position you apply for, but when it comes to online applications that are likely to be run through ATS, it’s absolutely vital.
You want to make sure that your cover letter is specific to the job you are applying for.
Clearly state the title you are applying for and verify that it matches the title in the posting.
Pay extra attention to the details of the position and the description of the job.Many of the key words the bot is programmed to respond to will be in there.
Use those same descriptions and key words in your cover letter and resume, but do it judiciously.
Try not to repeat them more than two times.Stuffing your letter with keywords might seem like an easy way to guarantee success, but it’s more likely to result in your application being flagged by the program and rejected.
Make sure to carefully check your letter for spelling and grammar errors.
This is a basic rule you should follow no matter what, but in this case, it’s even more crucial that your submission material is flaw free.
While a human can read a letter and usually figure out what you mean regardless of tiny problems or a misspelled word here or there, a bot is looking for exact matches…not “close enough.”
Keep this in mind when using acronyms as well.To avoid the risk of an acronym being rejected by the bot, use both the acronym as well as the spelled out words.
Ultimately you want your application to make it through ATS and into the hands of an actual human.
It’s a delicate balancing act between being specific enough to pass ATS and still engaging enough to catch the attention of the hiring manager.It’s tough, but it can be done!
Cold Call Cover Letter
A cold call cover letter is a letter you send out along with your resume to a company you want to work for that has NOT advertised any openings.
Generally this is something you do when you find a company that you really want to work for but they don’t have any openings that fit your skills or they’re not soliciting for applicants.
Applying for a job that doesn’t exist can be a risky venture, but it can also be a smart one.
If you’re thePerfect Candidate(and you are!) you could potentially gain early consideration for an opening that comes up down the road.Best case scenario, they think you’re so absolutely amazing that they find a job for you!
Keep in mind, you’re not the only person on this planet who has submitted a cold call cover letter and resume, and you’re asking a company for a job that doesn’t exist…which means you have to make sure beyond a shadow of a doubt that whatever you send in is absolutely perfect.
Remember, the company is NOT asking for people to submit to them, so you need to figure out what it is that you offer that makes you worth considering.What can you bring to the table that they don’t already have and why should they take the time to look at your materials?
The first step for cold contacting a company is doing your research.
Of course, as a student of The Interview Guys, you’re already well versed in the art of researching, but when it comes to a cold contact like this, you have to go above and beyond in your digging.
You want your cover letter to contain knowledge of specific current situations within the company and how you can help.
Just writing to a company and telling them how much you love them and want to work for them very rarely results in a job offer.
You’re more likely to get a thank you note and a package of free corporate bumper stickers than an offer of employment.
Open your letter with a solid salutation addressed to a specific individual.
Because this is a cold contact, it’s absolutely imperative that you address your letter to exactly the right person.You want to make sure that your information ends up with whoever is most likely to hire you.
Open your letter with a generic salutation and you run the risk of it being either immediately tossed or passed onto someone who can’t do anything with it except send you that package of corporate bumper stickers.
Make sure during your research that you determine exactly who should receive your information and address it to them.
The body of your letter is going to be critical to your success in this adventure.You want to make sure that you open with a paragraph so strong, so focused, so dynamic, that whoever is reading it can’t help but keep reading. You want the first paragraph your intended audience reads to hook their attention and draw them in, and this will come from your research.
Have you found something in your digging that indicates that the company has a need you can fill?
Are they preparing for an expansion and you know they’re going to need someone with your skills in the very near future?
Is there an aspect of their business that is lagging and you know you can help strengthen it?
**SIDE NOTE:Make sure you are careful when addressing a failure within a company, even if you are offering them a solution.You want them to see you as a viable answer to their problem, not an annoying upstart pointing out their flaws.
It’s a delicate balance, but we have faith in you!
Follow up your opening paragraph by expanding on your key strengths and skills and how you plan on using them to benefit your target company.
Try to include achievements and examples of how you’ve succeeded in the past and be prepared to back it up with proof should they reach out to you.
Another great way to help strengthen your chances of securing an interview (and possibly a job) is to mention any connections you have to the company.
Be sure you let whoever you are name dropping know that you’re doing this…you want to make sure if they get asked about you they have nothing but good things to say about you!It’s a good idea to put this information early in your letter.People are much more likely to read your letter if they see that you have a personal connection.
Close your letter out with options on how to move forward to the next step.
While your ultimate goal with your letter and resume is a job interview, you might not feel comfortable straight out asking for one in a cold call situation.Of course, if you are…more power to you…but if you feel that a softer approach is called for, try asking instead for information about their hiring practices, job fairs, a tour of the company or even for an informational interview.
What’s an informational interview?
An informational interview is one where you sit down with someone who works in a career or job you want to learn more about.You’ll learn about what they do, what skills they need to have in order to succeed in their position and what it’s like to work where they work.
It is NOT an interview for a job…but it could potentially lead to one down the road as whoever you are doing the interview with is now personally acquainted with you.
Remember, the key to success with a cold call cover letter depends on a number of factors including timing and how well you understand the company you are submitting to as well as how thorough your research is.
Recruiter’s Ad Cover Letter
Many companies these days have turned their entire employee hiring process over to executive search firms staffed by highly trained recruiters.
These recruiters might work with a number of companies (their clients) and are usually focused on a very specific category of job placement (e.g., engineers, paralegals, etc.).
The recruiters will often place ads which allows them to pull together large numbers of qualified job candidates.
Then they’ll go through those candidates and present the best of the best to their clients in the hopes that one of them (or more) will be hired.
To put it bluntly (and in keeping with our blind date analogy) recruiters are the matchmakers of the job world.The companies tell the recruiters who they are looking for and the recruiters go through the piles of candidates they have on hand and try to find the best fit.
When you respond to an ad placed by a recruiter and submit your cover letter and resume, you’re not usually submitting it for a specific job…rather you’re providing them with your information and skill set in the hopes that it matches up with a job assignment or opening they get from their corporate clients…and that means you have to take a totally different approach to how you write your cover letter.
Because a recruiter is looking for a specific set of skills to fill open positions, they will almost always start by first looking at your resume before ever looking at your cover letter.
Hang on, if they’re looking at my resume and ignoring my cover letter, then why even include one?
Don’t worry…your cover letter will get looked at…just not right away…which is why the information contained within it needs to be a little different than the information you would normally put into a cover letter.
If after reading your resume a recruiter decides you are a good fit for the position, they’ll turn to your cover letter for more information about you…and what they’re looking for is fairly specific.
A cover letter to a recruiter needs to quickly answer questions they might have about your eligibility and willingness to do the job they are pitching you for.
You want to use your cover letter to explain what you can do, what you are qualified to do, and what you require in order to accept the job if it’s offered to you.
Start your letter out with a personal salutation.You are essentially going to be represented by your recruiter so it’s a good idea to know who is passing your information around.
Your first paragraph should be a quick introduction into what you are and what you do.They need to know what you are currently doing and where you are doing it.You should also include in this section why you are looking for a new job and what you hope to get out of establishing a relationship with your recruiter.
The second paragraph should outline your skills and accomplishments as well as your background.This is the paragraph where you lay out exactly why you believe you would be an asset to the recruiter’s clients.
The third paragraph should cover the jobs and industries you are looking for employment in. It’s also the paragraph where you discuss your salary history as well as your current salary range requirements.
**SALARY SIDE NOTE:Normally with cover letters you do NOT want to include salary information.We’ll discuss this more in depth later on in this article, but for now, be aware, this is one of the few times when it’s not only acceptable, it’s necessary.
Make sure you also include whether or not you’d be willing to travel or relocate.
Finally, make sure you include your availability and when you would be able to start a new job if offered.
Recruiter Cold Call Cover Letter
Submitting a cold call cover letter and resume to a recruiter is a lot like submitting a cold call cover letter to a company; you’re reaching out to someone who is not soliciting for applicants in the hopes of being considered for a position that may or may not exist.
When we went over Recruiter Ad cover letters, we told you that the recruiters would look at your resume first and your cover letter second…which in that scenario is true.
In this scenario, where you are reaching out to them rather than responding to an ad or solicitation they’ve generated, they are absolutely going to look at your cover letter first…if for no reason other than to figure out who you are and why you’re contacting them.
The best way to ensure that your letter and information gets a serious look is by doing your research on the recruiter you are contacting ahead of time.
Recruiters are usually very specific about who they’re looking for and what they’re recruiting for, so it’s important that you contact someone who represents the field you are qualified to work in.
The first paragraph is where you introduce yourself. Let the recruiter know who you are and what you are/what you do.You also want to let them know what you would like to do and what sort of job you are looking for and why you are looking for a new job.Make sure you are specific and provide any details you think might help them in matching you with the right company should an opportunity arise.
The second paragraph should outline your skills and accomplishments as well as your background.This is the paragraph where you lay out exactly why you believe you would be an asset to the recruiter’s clients and should be included in their pile of potential pitches.It’s also the paragraph where you let the recruiter know clearly what type of work you are interested in, be it full time, part time, permanent or freelance.Make sure you decide ahead of time and stick with it.A recruiter needs to know your level of commitment to the jobs they are submitting you for.
The third paragraph is where you discuss your salary history as well as your current salary range requirements.
**SALARY SIDE NOTE PART DEUX:As we said above with Recruiter Ad Cover Letters, discussing your salary in a cover letter is normally not done.We’ll discuss this more in depth later on in this article, but for now, be aware, this is one of the few times when again it’s not only acceptable, it’s necessary.
Make sure you also include whether or not you’d be willing to travel or relocate.
Finally, make sure you include your availability and when you would be able to start a new job if offered.
With a recruiter cold call letter, you don’t normally include how you plan to follow up with them.
Recruiters are incredibly busy and are highly trained in what they do.Although you might be tempted to reach out to them, hold off.Bothering them isn’t going to get you anywhere.
If they see something in you that warrants their attention, they will reach out to you.
Direct Mail Campaign Cover Letter
A Direct Mail Campaign is where a job seeker sends out hundreds of letters and resumes to potential employers in the hopes of securing an interview or position.
Although similar to the Cold Call Cover Letter in that you are submitting to companies that aren’t currently advertising positions, it’s a much less focused process and involves you sending the same cover letter and resume out to everyone in the hopes that someone responds back.
When you do a Direct Mail Campaign Cover Letter, you want to avoid anything that would specifically apply to one company over another.
Because you’re sending this same letter out to multiple companies, you want to be general enough for it to apply broadly, but not so general that it works against you.
Your cover letter should start out by introducing the reader to who you are and what you do as well as what job you are seeking.
The next paragraphs should detail your skills and experience with the job you are seeking and why you are qualified to do it.
Finally, be sure to wrap your letter up with information on how the company can contact you if interested.
**A WORD OF CAUTION WITH DIRECT MAIL CAMPAIGNS:While it might seem like this method is more efficient than targeting and tailoring your information for specific companies and jobs, it can also work against you.Most hiring managers can quickly recognize a direct mail letter and will discard it as ‘spam.’
Referral Cover Letter
A Referral Cover Letter is one you send after someone who works with the company or has contacts within the industry refers you.
It is similar to any other company cover letter with the exception of the opening paragraph.
Make sure to introduce yourself and also mention the individual who referred you to the company or position.
If possible, include anything specific your contact has told you about the position or the person you are reaching out to.
Once you have finished your introductory paragraph, use the rest of your letter to discuss your skills, education, background, training…anything that will help to show that you are a good fit for the position.
Finally make sure you close your letter with your plans for following up with them and how they might contact you with any questions.
Blind Posting Cover Letter
A blind job posting is one in which a company posts a job opening but decides to remain anonymous.
A company might decide to blind post for a high profile position they don’t want to call attention to so as not to appear lacking in leadership.
Other times it’s meant to build excitement and mystery to help increase the number of applicants.
Submitting to a blind listing means tailoring your letter to the company is going to be difficult…but it doesn’t have to be impossible…and that extra bit of sleuthing can help really elevate your application above the rest of the entries.
A good place to start is by taking a closer look at the posting.Is there a fax number or email included?Sometimes you can get lucky, and with a bit of internet digging, trace those backwards to find out what company those are attached to.The same goes for a physical address or P.O. Box.
Look for key phrases as well.
Is the company referencing anything specific like “we have been ranked number one in employee retention and satisfaction for the past five years.”?
Type that phrase into your favorite search engine and see what pops up.
Of course, the goal of figuring out who the company is isn’t so you can reveal how smart you are in your letter…rather, it’s to help with your tailoring process.
Proving you’re a master detective could potentially backfire…especially if you’re wrong.Instead of bragging about your digging skills, use what you learn to help show why you’re a perfect fit for the job.
How do you address a cover letter for a blind posting?
Ideally you want to make sure your letter is personal and that means addressing it to a specific individual, but in a situation like this, you have to consider other options.
In the event you figure out exactly what company is hiring for…and there is absolutely NO DOUBT about their identity, then you could potentially go online, look at their website and see who is overseeing hiring…but we’re going to strongly caution you against this.Again…you could be wrong…or worse…look creepy and stalkerish.
This is one instance when using “Dear Hiring Manager” is perfectly acceptable.
Once you get this all done, it’s time to tackle the content of your letter.Again, because this is a blind posting, it’s going to be tough tailoring your information.
That means you have to pay extra close attention to exactly what the posting says.
Go over it carefully and pay attention to exactly what the company is looking for.
Make sure you highlight exactly how you fit what they’re looking for and include examples demonstrating your skills, knowledge and experience.
If the posting contains specific instructions, be sure to follow them to the absolute letter.This is a good thing to do no matter what, but in a blind posting, it can be the make or break.
In a normal job posting where you know who you are applying to, your closing paragraph should always include how you plan on following up with the company.
Unfortunately with blind job postings, that’s not possible.Regardless, you want to make sure your final paragraph is strong and lets the hiring manager (whoever they are) know that you are looking forward to the possibility of discussing the position in greater detail at an in person interview.
Internship Cover Letter
An internship is a great way to get your foot in the door and learn more about a company/career you are thinking of pursuing.
Just because it’s an internship and not an actual job doesn’t mean you shouldn’t treat it just as seriously.
Make sure when you’re addressing your letter that you’re sending it to the right individual.Many times with internships they’re facilitated by the educational institution you’re attending and will provide you with specific contact information.
If you are securing your own internship and not receiving university assistance with the process, make sure you do your research ahead of time and find out who will be reading your letter.
Start out your letter by clearly stating your intent to secure an internship so there is no confusion and your letter ends up in the wrong pile…or worse, the trash.
Always include your educational background information; what you’re studying and where.
As you continue into the body of your letter, don’t allow yourself to be intimidated by your lack of “work” experience.When applying for an internship, it’s okay to have less experience than someone who is employed in the field you are entering.In fact, it’s expected!
An internship is an opportunity to learn.Including a paragraph about what you hope to take away from this internship and how it will help you achieve your long term goals is a great way to show enthusiasm and set you apart from the crowd.
Finally make sure you close your letter with your plans for following up with them and how they might contact you with any questions.
No Prior Work Experience Cover Letter
If you’re just entering the job market or a recent graduate, it can be intimidating writing cover letters without any experience.
Not to worry!
It’s still absolutely essential to send out a cover letter…we just have to tailor it a bit differently.
Writing a cover letter for an entry level position, or to a job you have no experience in is very similar to the letter you would write as an intern.It’s perfectly fine to highlight your non-employment related experiences…if they are relevant to the job.
For recent graduates, make sure to include where you went to school and how what you’ve studied relates directly to the job you are applying for.
Volunteer experiences, internships, related classes, projects, leadership experiences, extracurricular activities and your skills that pertain to the position you’re applying for all can and should be mentioned in your cover letter.
A lack of experience doesn’t mean you’re allowed to have a lack of knowledge about what you’re applying for and the company you’re applying to.
That means you still have to do your research!
Make sure you know everything you can about the company. Visit their website. Read their blog. Get inside their corporate heads and figure out how you and what you bring are the perfect fit!
If the job posting has buzzwords, be sure to include those in your letter and make sure they relate to the skills you’ve got.
Finally, as with any and all cover letters, be honest, be succinct, be professional.
Check out our new blog post that covers 12 great cover letter examples!
Let’s Talk About Salary, Baby
As promised, we’re going to quickly discuss if and when you should bring up salary requirements in your cover letters.
Generally you DO NOT and SHOULD NOT include this information in your cover letters (with the exception of the two Recruiter specific letters we discussed above).
If an employer does not require you to include any salary information (including history, requirement or range) then don’t put it in there.
There is a time and a place for the salary discussion and we cover that in our article “How To Negotiate Salary During The Interview Process.”
If an employer asks you for your salary information but doesn’t require it, hold off on passing that information on until it becomes an actual requirement.
But what do you do if an employer says you must include this information in order to apply?
One way to tackle this tricky subject is to give a salary range.Make sure you do your research ahead of time to determine what your job is worth and be sure to make your range realistic.
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City, State, Zip
Your Best Contact Phone Number
Your Professional Email
Your Personal Branding Website
City, State, Zip Code
Dear Mr./Mrs. Last Name:*
PARAGRAPH 1:Because this is your opening paragraph, you want to make sure it’s strong and draws the reader in.Explain why you are writing.Describe the job you are applying for, including the position and job title.
PARAGRAPH 2:Now we move into the actual text of the letter.This is where you get to introduce yourself and tell your potential employer why you are qualified to do the job you are applying for.This is your chance to let them know what you have to offer and why your skills and knowledge are perfect for the position.Don’t forget to tailor based off your research!
PARAGRAPH 3-4:If needed, these are the paragraphs where you can explain away any concerns an employer might have about your ability to do the job. It’s also where you can share accomplishments , success stories, and any other bits of information that will help convince the hiring manager that they have to bring you in for an interview.
FINAL PARAGRAPH:This is where you wrap up your letter.Make sure to thank them for considering you for the job and let them know they should feel comfortable reaching out to you with any questions or concerns not addressed in your letter/resume.This is also the paragraph where you let them know how you plan on following up with them.
Finally, be sure to direct the hiring manager to yourYour Personal Branding Websiteso that they are able to get a feel for who you are as a person. This simple step can land you way more interviews!
Sincerely (or any other closing comment),
Your Personal Branding Website
EXAMPLE OF A BAD COVER LETTER
To Whom It May Concern,
I recently came across your job post looking for a Production Office Coordinator for the educational television series, “Wonder Kids.” I think my skills and experience would be a good match for the position and I am submitting my resume to you in the hopes of obtaining an interview.
For the past eight years I have worked as a Production Office Coordinator on a variety of other shows, providing crucial administrative support as well as maintaining and managing the day to day operations of a busy production office.I am familiar with all aspects of production including contracts, budgets, proper paperwork distribution, and travel coordination.I pride myself on my organizational skills as well as my ability to run an efficient staff of over 10 employees.
I am attaching my resume which outlines all my past work experiences as well as a detailed listing of my qualifications and skills.I look forward to the possibility of speaking with you about this position.
Blanche D. Oatmeal
Dear Mr. Sorensen:
When I saw the job posting looking for a Production Office Coordinator for the educational television series, “Wonder Kids,” I knew I had to submit my resume. I am a hard-working and enthusiastic Production Office Coordinator with over eight years of practical hands on experience and am ready for my next adventure! I am currently looking for an opportunity to continue working within the industry and know my skills and experiences would be a good fit for the position and the “Wonder Kids” team overall.
As a Production Office Coordinator, my skills include scheduling, contracts, paperwork distribution, and budgeting.I’m also comfortable dealing with vendors, hiring and managing staff, and ensuring the smooth day to day operations of a busy office.My experience has included both small and large budget companies, and as a result, I am familiar with the need to be adaptable and find myself excited by the prospect of a challenge.
I am proud of my attention to detail and as a result of my experiences with companies of different sizes and budgets, have been able to develop skills not normally associated with the more traditional Production Office Coordinator role, including graphic design, managing social media and web development. I enjoy working with a wide variety of people and am a multitasker, diligent self-starter and eager team player.
I also wanted to take this opportunity to let you know that my interest in working for you extends beyond my desire to simply be a Production Office Coordinator.I grew up on the show “Wonder Kids” and consider them to be a huge part of my early education.I am a strong believer in quality children’s programming and have always felt that “Wonder Kids” provided not only entertainment, but educational value as well.If hired, I would be proud to be a part of the “Wonder Kid” family and help continue that legacy for future generations.
Thank you for taking the time to review my resume and consider me for this position.You can contact me with any questions by emailing me firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling me at 555-555-5555. I would also love if you could take a look at my website, blancheoatmeal.com.
I look forward to the possibility of discussing this exciting opportunity with you.
Blanche D. Oatmeal
Ah, writing the dreaded cover letter. The vital piece of the job hunt that almost no one enjoys. How can you possibly convey to an employer the depths of your awesomeness in just one page? Or, more importantly, what can you write to keep the reader engaged for the minute plus it takes to skim through one?
While writing great cover letters takes effort and practice, it’s imperative that you get that practice by a) including a cover letter with each application, and b) changing it for each job. No two jobs are exactly alike and therefore your cover letters should not be either. By tailoring your letter to the job you demonstrate to the reader both your understanding of the position as well as your desire to fill it. Speaking of the reader, always remember to address the letter to a specific person. Call the company, or check LinkedIn or the company site to avoid a generic greeting.
As a career coach, I always tell my clients that the key to writing a powerful cover letter is perspective. You have to put yourself in the position of the reader and think about what the employer needs to see in order to prove your value in the role. While you are writing, always keep this perspective in mind. Use the job description, both in terms of style and content, as well as other research on the company and position to suss out exactly why you are the perfect candidate. The following outline will make sure your cover letter actually contains this pertinent info:
1. First (short) paragraph–WHO are you?
This paragraph should grab the reader’s attention and announce your qualifications right away, e.g. “As a curator with over 10 years of experience building, producing, and executing art shows for my own gallery, I was inspired to see the MOMA’s posting for [X] position.” If a specific person referred you, make sure to drop her/his name in the first line. Getting a personal reference is the most important way to assure that your letter (and attached resume) will be read. This paragraph contains a quick sentence or two summing up your elevator pitch, e.g., “My extensive management training combined with a strong sales track record will allow me to immediately add value to your team.”
2. Second (longer) paragraph-WHY this job/company?
Here’s where you tailor the letter to demonstrate that you know why you want this particular position. Most job applicants skip this part completely! No employer will hire someone who can’t articulate what makes the job desirable, e.g., “Working as an engineer for [your company] would provide the exciting opportunity to innovate in a staid industry.” If you don’t express why you’re applying for this specific job, the letter will seem formulaic and have less of an impact. Even if you’re perfectly qualified for the position, the reader wants to see why YOU want this job. Explain to the employer how this job is suited for you as well as vice versa.
Do your research on the company and the particular role offered. Glassdoor and LinkedIn are helpful resources for research, but also read articles, talk to your network, and do your due diligence. This also ensures that you don’t waste your time applying to a job you never wanted in the first place.
3. Third (longest) paragraph-WHAT makes you a good candidate?
The real meat of the letter is in this paragraph, which communicates why you’re the best fit for the role. Remember the adage about writing, “show, don’t tell”? This portion is the perfect application of it. Instead of just listing your accomplishments, SHOW that you understand and appreciate the intricacies of the position by giving specific, translatable examples from your prior work. Something like, “By designing and orchestrating [x company’s] social media relaunch, I increased user engagement by [X] percent and drove traffic up by [X] page views. Some ideas I had for [your company’s] brand redevelopment include….”
Before you get started on this section spend some time carefully reading through the job description as well as any other ancillary research you’ve compiled on the employer and the job. Sometimes even highlighting the description line by line and taking notes about your correlating experience can be a productive starting point. Be sure to include the key terms mentioned in the listing.
4. Fourth (shortest) paragraph-SALUTATIONS and follow up details
The final section is where you summarize your qualifications, e.g., “Throughout my career, I have taken on diverse challenges and proven my ability to deliver positive results. I would be thrilled to further discuss the possibility of doing the same at [X].” In addition, be sure to offer references or other materials, state that you look forward to hearing from the company.
Now, about those resumes…
This article was originally published on GoGirl Finance.
Photo: markusspiske / Pixabay