Job search tip #5: Write a powerful cover letter

In the last article we talked about revising or writing your resume. Now we’re going to look at writing exciting cover letters. Your cover letters allow you to show your personality and demonstrate your strengths for a particular job.

All too often, though, the opening of a cover letter stops employers in their tracks. What’s your take on the following opening paragraph?

I read on Monster.com of a marketing communications writer position at ABC Company. Please consider my credentials for this exciting position.

Boring. That’s right, the opening paragraph of this cover letter is enough to bore employers to tears, yet this is a typical opening paragraph of many cover letters. In fact, you’ll see examples of this kind of opening paragraph in cover letter books or guides that display such apathetic, thoughtless verbiage.

You’ll be reentering the workforce, so make your mark with a cover letter that grabs the employer’s attention from the beginning. Let him know that you understand the nature of the position, the industry, and even the competition.

Are you looking for someone who has achieved success in marketing at one of your competitors? At my previous position I rose from an office clerk to authoring press releases and content for their website, as well as representing them at tradeshows in the New York City area. My supervisor at XYZ Company, John Bruce, told me to contact you regarding the marketing communications position you have in your marketing department.

Note: notice how the writer throws in a referral in her opening paragraph from her supervisor. Nice touch. 

Now you’ve grabbed their attention. But you won’t stop here. You’ll demonstrate your skills further in the second and third paragraphs.

At XYZ Company I was entrusted to write press releases that were published on the company’s website and featured in Mac World. My writing skills allowed me to pen “Words from the President” on the company’s website. So impressed was the president with my knowledge of the products and ability to promote them, that he rarely proofread the column that I wrote. I demonstrated the ability to quickly understand the company’s complex products and how to relate to our stakeholders. In addition, I became more involved in the organization of our quarterly trade shows, which was a testament to my diverse skills.

A quote from a supervisor or higher is a nice touch. The quote below can serve as the third paragraph.

“Maggie’s talent as a writer is truly impressive. She understood the direction of our organization, the value of our products, and our customers’ needs better than marketing writers that came before her. I wish we could keep her on at XYZ Company. Please don’t hesitate to call me if you have any questions regarding this fine, young talent.” Cheryl Masson, President, XYZ Company.

To conclude your cover letter, emphasize your interest in the position to show your enthusiasm and motivation.

I look forward to meeting with you to discuss this exciting position. I will contact you next Wednesday at 2:00 pm to arrange a convenient time for us to meet. If you would like to contact me before then, please call me at 815.555.0202 or at maggiejones@myemail.com.

Does this sound too forceful? Keep in mind that employers want job candidates that are confident and willing to take charge. Indicating a time you’ll call is perfectly acceptable, just as long as you follow through with your promise.

Some question the use of a postscript, but it will capture the reader’s attention. Finish with:

PS. Mr. Bruce will be willing to talk with you about my credentials.

The next tip is about creating your accomplishment list.

If you enjoyed this tip, start at the beginning with tip number one.


Yes, send the cover letter, and keep these five rules in mind.

A question was asked by a member of our career center’s LinkedIn group about the importance of cover letters in the job search. My response was to adamantly encourage people, regardless if a letter is requested, to send one along with the résumé.

Dianne Loiselle, who is a Human Resources Generalists, added to the discussion, “The fine art of cover letters seems to have nearly disappeared,” she writes. “These days, I’m more surprised if one is included.”

Laura Smith-Proulx, an executive professional résumé writer, writes in one of her blog entries, “Despite the myth that hiring authorities rarely read cover letters, some audiences (company owners, CEOs, and Presidents) might not even glance at your résumé until they’ve fully digested the contents of your letter.”

Not all will agree that sending a cover letter is necessary even if the employer doesn’t ask for it. And there are times when recruiters, employers, and HR will instruct us not to send a cover letter. The case may be that time is an issue or it’s a position that will require little to no writing. This is the only time we should not send a cover letter.

Dianne further advises to not assume that the company knows what position you’re applying to, especially when they’re trying to fill multiple positions. She adds, “Those that follow the instructions in the ad get processed first, so make it easy for the recruiter.…”

And another thing, the quality of your cover letter is essential.

Here are five general rules to follow when writing a cover letter.

  1. Make it your best writing. Remember that you are being judged not only on your qualifications but how you write, as well. Dianne added that she receives cover letters that contain, “no punctuation, sometimes no real sentences, shortened words and more words misspelled than spelled correctly.”
  2. Be absolutely sure that you have researched the position and can speak to how your skills and experience fit the role. Quantified accomplishments are a must if you want to impress the reader.
  3. As many will attest, researching the company and understanding its needs and the direction in which it’s going is paramount to getting the reader’s attention. In addition, be able to speak to the state of the industry and the company’s competitors.
  4. Know your audience. In most cases, since you’re reacting to an advertised position, you don’t know the person to whom you’re writing. This means that taking an informal stance is not appreciated. Until you are hired and on a first-name basis, address the recipient as Mr. and Ms. And yes, try your best to get the person’s name, correctly spelled.
  5. I’m a strong fan of grabbing the employer’s attention with the first sentence, so make it spicy and entice the reader to read on. I think an opening sentence like, “I read with great interest on Moster.com of your program management position” is boring and typical. Start with something of substance: “If you’re looking for someone to manage your job development program in a tight economy, I offer you the energy and industry experience you’re looking for.”

Take my humble advice and that of others; send a cover letter with your résumé. The proper job search can only be done one way. It must be an all-out endeavor. At the very least, send a two-to three-page paragraph.

What documents do you need to conduct a successful job hunt?

I recently read an article from Laura Smith-Proulx, CCMC, CPRW, CIC, TCCS, CPBA, COPNS, on the types of documents executive-level jobseekers should have in their arsenal. She is correct in asserting that a résumé is not enough to conduct a successful job search.

I am sharing her article with you (below) with this addendum; the documents she suggests for high-level jobseekers (executive biography, LinkedIn profile, cover letter, and full Résumé) are not exclusive to them. Mid-level people in the job hunt can benefit from these documents, as well. Read on to learn what Laura has to say:

If you’re an executive planning your next career move, it might surprise you to learn that you’ll be judged by more than just your resume during your job search.

In other words, a full resume is NOT necessarily the best fit for every job search contact.

Surprised? You’ll find that recruiters, company owners, Boards of Directors, and other hiring decision-makers often look at your experience through a series of interviews and investigations—which means that your executive resume is just one part of the process.

Here are 4 must-have documents for an executive portfolio designed to capture attention at all the right levels—along with recommendations for the timing of each component:

1 – Executive Biography.
A short, narrative-form document, the Biography often appeals to readers that are not engaged in the technical detail of a full resume.

The best readers for an Executive Biography are usually networking contacts (who are easily overwhelmed by a full resume) or Boards of Directors (who typically interview you in the later stages of the hiring process).

2 – LinkedIn Profile.
While not technically a “document” created just for job hunting, your LinkedIn Profile is a critical—and often underutilized—piece of an executive portfolio.

Most executives set up a Profile very quickly and then abandon it, becoming preoccupied with their work, which is a costly job-hunting mistake.

Your LinkedIn Profile may actually be the first piece of information encountered by a recruiter. Therefore, it must be polished, professional, and keyword-heavy (to aid others in finding you through LinkedIn’s search engine).

3 – Cover Letter.
Despite the myth that hiring authorities rarely read cover letters, some audiences (company owners, CEOs, and Presidents) might not even glance at your resume until they’ve fully digested the contents of your letter.

These groups are usually probing for leadership abilities that they feel are more evident within the letter. Investors, in particular, like to read a very short, bottom-line value proposition letter, in lieu of a resume.

In short, don’t write off a cover letter as an important document in the hiring process, as you might find that it was this part of your portfolio that influenced an interviewing decision.

4 – Full Resume.
Not a month goes by when a social media or recruiting expert poses the question, “Is the resume dead?” No, the need for a resume won’t go away soon. You’ll absolutely be asked to send your resume to many contacts at different stages of your search.

No matter who reads it, an executive resume serves as the centerpiece of your presentation, and therefore must convince employers of your brand, value proposition, and leadership standing—no small feat.

Often, the best readers of a full resume will those that thrive on analytical detail (such as operations or technology executives hiring EVP and Director-level candidates).

In summary, an executive portfolio is a must for serious job hunters ready to assume a leadership role. The days of distributing an executive resume without backup in the form of an Executive Biography, LinkedIn Profile, or Cover letter are gone.

Your job search will be smoother, faster, and more effective with a well-rounded and branded portfolio that appeals to the diverse audiences you’ll encounter.

Grab an employer’s attention with your cover letter; don’t be boring

The Wall Street Journal online, wsj.com gives some sound advice on writing a cover letter, How to Write a Cover Letter. Like any article, there are some points on which one agrees and disagrees. For example, wsj.com recommends that you include a quote from a supervisor that praises an accomplishment or two. What someone else says about you carries more weight than if you write it.

On the other hand, the article suggests you use a post script at the end, as in “PS. Did I mention that I was voted best employee four months in a row?” Obviously you forgot to mention it, so why bring it to their attention?

A very important point. I was a bit disappointed that the article didn’t advise jobseekers to do something I think is commonsense. This is to write an opening line that grabs an employer’s attention with what is called a “tag line” or a “hook.” This is similar to how the first two or three pages of a novel will entice you to buy the book.

We are used to seeing an opening like: “I read on Monster.com with great excitement about the Marketing Specialist position and am submitting my résumé in consideration for the position.” Boring.

Instead, start your cover letter with something that shows personality. The wsj.org piece mentions researching the position and company, so use this information in your cover letter. “Twice voted employee of the year at company ABC, I will bring to your company a dynamic Marketing Specialist that will help your company excel in the corrugated box market.”

Perhaps you’d like to show your knowledge of some challenges the industry is facing: “With the employment rate growing and fewer jobs being advertised, I realize the need for jobseekers to learn how to penetrate the Hidden Job Market (HJM) by networking. I am champion of the unemployed and would like to bring my knowledge of the labor market to your organization.”

I find these two openings more interesting and eye-grabbers than the traditional, boring, predictable openers. You can come across as the typical jobseeker, or you can separate yourself from the normal. Unique is in, boring is out.

Go a step further with your cover letter. One of Katharine Hansen latest blog entries on cover letters talks about how story telling can add some character to your cover letter.  To close this entry I highlight her view on how stories can spice up a cover letter and  have chosen quotes from two of her contributors. Katharine writes, “But many of the cover-letter wants and needs that hiring decision-maker opinions expressed in the report could be met by stories in cover letters.”

[I want to see] a cover letter that shows some personality as we are looking for someone who will complement our company culture and will fit in. — Sheri Graciano, human resource manager, Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau

I want to be tantalized and teased by a cover letter! I do not want a rehash of the resume. I want to see the 3-4 juicy accomplishments from a candidate’s career (that match my advertised need). These highlights must excite me to such a level that this candidate becomes a can’t-miss prospect. If I am not swept away by the cover letter, then reading the resume is often anti-climactic and doomed for failure. — Ron Kubitz, recruiting manager, Brayman Construction Corp., Saxonburg, PA

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