Those Darn Cover Letters

Ah, cover letters. I’m not sure who has the shorter end of the stick, candidates who have to write them or prospective employers who have to read them. They can be painful to both parties. I read too many cover letters that beat hiring managers over the head with personal circumstances, irrelevant qualifications and desperate pleas for opportunity. Writing and reading that stuff is toxic to the soul. Toxic, I tell you!

Cover letters don’t have to be excruciating. Staying true to their purpose helps a great deal. What is a cover letter though? Just like a cover to a book, your cover letter is the outer layer of your resume. Book covers don’t rehash everything in the book. They highlight key points and passages in an effort to make the reader want more. You’ll notice the author of a book never uses the cover to go into the difficulties he is having in his life or why he needs you to buy the book. It’s all about captivating the reader. Your cover letter needs to achieve the same result. Once a hiring manager reads it, he should want to dig deeper into your resume. After reading your resume, he should want to take the next step of an interview. Succinctly highlighting elements in your background that make you a candidate the hiring manager needs to interview and exuding confidence your abilities and experience are worthy of consideration are the way to go. Waffling language, such as “I hope to hear from you,” and “if it’s not too much trouble” is not a good idea. It plants the seed of desperation and suggests you are don’t expect to hear from them, may be used to not having any response and may not be in demand. Not to mention, it’s not the employer’s role to care about your hopes. Your hopes really don’t have anything to do with what they need in a business sense.

Incorporating stronger messages will demonstrate confidence. Consider the following suggestion. “You will learn from my resume and interviews I am a knowledgeable professional with much to offer your organization.” After a statement like this, follow with some bullet points of bottom line contributions you feel you would make for said company. Then close with confidence, “I look forward to meeting with you and discussing how my background compliments your current needs.” The suggestion you qualify for an interview is conveyed without coming of pushy or rude. It’s all about balance.

While we’re on the subject of rude, it’s a good time to point out if you are writing a letter to someone, it is best to do all you can to find out their true name. In my 37 years, I have yet to meet anyone named Recruiter, Sir, Madam or To Whom it May Concern. Although, at the rate celebrities are going, I suppose it’s an eventual possibility. In this cyber age, it is much easier to research the names of people in companies. Google, LinkedIn and the company’s actual website are easy sources. If you don’t find what you need there, the telephone is always an option. Simply call the receptionist, briefly state you are sending a letter to XYZ Manager and ask what name to address the letter to. Don’t go into a long story. People answering the phones usually don’t have a lot of time to chit-chat. There is no need to identify yourself as a job seeker. You are making a business call to get a name so you can direct business correspondence to the appropriate person in a polite way. If the person asks who you are, of course give your name. If the person asks what the nature of the correspondence is, be prepared with a brief response. Just as I said with cover letter content, when making these calls you must choose your language carefully. Waffling is problematic. When you start throwing in “if it would be okay,” “if you don’t mind,” “are you able to tell me” or anything that suggests what you are asking for is out of line or a bother, you are more likely to fail at your objective. Your concern you may be imposing creates the perception you are. Approach it as one business person would another, job seekers approaching companies is indeed business, and you’ll achieve better results. Are there times when no matter what you do you won’t be able to come up with a name to address your cover letter to, yes. Just don’t write a situation off as hopeless without really making an effort to get a name.

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