Features Of A Cover Letter

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by Jimmy Sweeney©

Just like the late, great Rodney Dangerfield, the humble cover letter gets no respect either.

Job-seekers spend so much time and energy on their resume they’ve got nothing left to offer their poor, neglected cover letter.

Big… big mistake!

It is the well-written cover letter — not the resume — that can single-handedly land you more job interviews. The cover letter is your one chance to really market yourself to an employer using proven marketing strategies rarely found in the typical cover letter.

Conversely, there is only so much you can do with the traditional CV or resume. I believe the carefully crafted cover letter is more important to your job search success than any other written document including the resume.

As a direct-marketing professional for almost 20 years, I bring to you my seven elements of a highly effective job search cover letter:

  1. ADDRESS your cover letter to a REAL PERSON! Do your best to find out TO WHOM you should address your cover letter. “Dear Manager” is lifeless.
  2. OPEN with an attention-grabbing first sentence to really grip the reader. This approach will almost guarantee your cover letter and resume get a much closer look.
  3. REMEMBER — Less is MORE! The best cover letters have plenty of white space. Clear, focused, short and sweet gets the interview every time.
  4. FOCUS on what you can do for the employer. How can you benefit the company specifically? Do a little research and relate this value-added simply and clearly in your letter.
  5. CHOOSE WORDS that show enthusiasm and passion for the position you seek … (big, big secret!) Then, carry this passion into the interview with you.
  6. REQUEST ONE ACTION you want the employer to take: “I would really like the opportunity for a personal interview this week.” (You never know until you ASK)!
  7. END your cover letter with enthusiastic and telling verbiage, such as, “I look forward to being interviewed at your earliest convenience. Thank you so much for this opportunity. Sincerely, Jane Jobseeker.” (Notice how Jane assumes she’ll land the interview? This approach is clever, smart, and it works like a charm).

Think of your cover letter as a sales letter. The only purpose of your job-search cover letter is to land you job interviews. That’s the bottom line. By using the proven marketing strategies I’ve outlined above, you will land a great number of quality job interviews than your competition.

You must get your foot in the company door first to have any chance at all. With the right cover letter, you can blow several doors wide open immediately. More job interviews translate to a wider range of opportunity and (drum roll, please) … more job offers.

Finally, the most important advice I can offer you is this: Follow up every job lead, contact, and communication. Following up is the “golden key” to getting hired for the job of your dreams. Use follow-up cover letters, thank-you letters, and follow-up phone calls. Following up actually doubles your chance for success. It is also the one missing ingredient in 99 percent of all job seekers recipe book. Good news for you.

Now go out there and make your own luck!

Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.

Jimmy Sweeney is the president of CareerJimmy and author of the new, “Amazing Cover Letter Creator.” Jimmy is also the author of several career-related books and writes a monthly article titled, “Job Search Secrets.” You can visit Jimmy on the Web at Amazing-Cover-Letters.com for your “instant” cover letter today.

Go back to the Cover Letter Resources for Job-Seekers section of Quintessential Careers, where you will find a collection of the best cover letter tools and resources, including articles, tutorials, and more.

Maximize your career and job-search knowledge and skills! Take advantage of The Quintessential Careers Content Index, which enables site visitors to locate articles, tutorials, quizzes, and worksheets in 35 career, college, job-search topic areas.

While ad industry jobs are scarce and candidates are plentiful, it's more difficult than ever to stand out from the crowd. A cover letter that I received recently does exactly that. I'd call it a near-perfect cover letter -- and if you're looking for a job, you should pay attention to Mary's approach (name changed to protect her identity).

Here's what makes a near-perfect cover letter:

1. It's skimmable. Your potential employer is likely working 12- to 15-hour days and doesn't have time to sit down, relax and peruse cover letters. Creating a letter that's an easy skim is a big win.

2. It quickly illustrates that she knows the agency and gets the culture of the brand.

3. It kisses a little ass. It never hurts to tell your potential employer how awesome they are, in a subtle, classy way.

4. It covers the past, the present and the potential. In three bulleted paragraphs, Mary manages to summarize her relevant past experience, show what she's currently working on and illustrate why she's a perfect fit.

5. It has just enough name-dropping. Relevant experience is everything in our business, so name-dropping a couple of key clients to show a command of the industry helps position your background as appropriate.

6. It's original and well-written. Not a single "I'm a team player, self-starter" craptastic statement that litters the majority of lame resumes.

7. She sent a paper version. Normally, I'd punish or tease people who use paper, but in this case, Mary carefully targeted her potential employer and, because we're not actively hiring, understood that a strong paper presentation might stand out from a cluttered inbox. This time, she was right.

Why it's not 100% perfect:

1. Mary should send an e-mail version to accompany this. Receiving an unexpected (and well-presented) paper presentation is nice, but it could have easily missed its way to an employer's desk. A follow-up e-mail would have been a good insurance policy.

Mary will be getting an interview at our firm. That's a pretty impressive feat, as we're not currently hiring. Waste of time? I doubt it. 2010 will bring loads of surprises and possibilities, and now Mary's got a foot in the door for when we're ready and need someone just right for the job.

How awesome is your cover letter?


Darryl Ohrt is a former punk rocker, the founder of creative agency Plaid and chief contributor to the greatest blog in all of the land, BrandFlakesForBreakfast. While his business card says he's "band manager" for the agency, Darryl prefers to call himself an internetologist. Darryl knows just enough to be dangerous. He's on the internet right now, playing, investigating and exploring. Watch out.

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