Education Career Services

August 20, 2009

Cover Letter help and “MUST Do’s”

As Danny pointed out in a previous blog post, personalization is key in the world of cover letters.  While it requires a bit more effort, the results more than make up for it.  But even for those who are sold on tailoring each letter to its audience, there are still sticky questions regarding how to achieve your communications goals.

First, a few “musts” about cover letters:

•  You MUST present a compelling reason to review your resume.  If your first four sentences don’t make me long to see your resume, you’re already out of contention.

•  You MUST be short and to the point.  If blocks of text make your letter look like a chore rather than a light introduction, my attention has already turned to other candidates.

•  You MUST address my needs.  If I read your letter and don’t immediately know where you fit in my organization and what value you can deliver in such a role, you won’t hear from me.

Auguest 22 AmyYes, it’s a tough hurdle to jump in writing a convincing cover letter that—dare I say it?—still shows a bit of your personality.  Following are the answers to some frequently asked questions I receive from clients:

•  How do I address my cover letter?  Please, at all costs, avoid “Dear Sir or Madam.”  Find a name, a title…do anything but resort to this lavender-scented archaism!

•  How do I reflect information from a job posting?  With anything but a parrot’s sensibilities!  If I write that I am looking for a proactive, go-getter with great client service skills, NEVER write in your cover letter that you’re a proactive, go-getter with great client service skills.  I’m going to receive 100 letters that use precisely that formulation.  Get the message across, but do it in your own way…and back the statement up with your own achievements.

•  How do I write a letter to existing network contacts?  Once you have a great cover letter for “cold call” situations, reworking it for contacts you know shouldn’t be too tough.  Keep in mind, your friend or acquaintance will likely forward your letter and resume to the folks doing the hiring, so the achievement-focused language should stay the same.  Rather than soften it up, consider your opening and closing.  Where can you insert references to your relationship, a recent conversation, or other mutual interest?  How can you make your call to action specific to what this individual has to offer?  Consider asking contacts for a meeting to discuss opportunities they might be aware of or for the favor of forwarding your resume along to their networks.

I have more than one cover letter.  Do I need more than one resume?  In my experience, multiple versions of a resume rarely serve a candidate well.  One document reflects the core of what you offer, while the others are generally offshoots, less well defended and less effective overall.  If you are one-part creative director, one-part marketing director (as I once was), it’s better to reflect this in your resume than to create two separate documents.  By shorting one side, you’ll find you present yourself as only half a creative director rather than creative director with value-add marketing skill.

A well-written cover letter serves a myriad of purposes.  At the most basic level of customization, it can highlight the posting to which you’re responding or the particular position you are applying for within an organization.  The best-of-breed letters, however, provide the lens through which to view the resume, underscoring the most relevant details and tying them together in a narrative package that says something no one else can. 

Amy Lorenzo, CPRW
Career Services International
Education Career Services

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