Demystifying the Cover Letter

stressguy1People get so stressed about the cover letter.

  • Do I send?
  • How long should it be?
  • What should I put in it?
  • Do I put salary requirements in it?

Let’s start with the first question. Carol from North Carolina said to me: “When sending in my resume for a job, I don’t send a cover letter. It doesn’t give me any advantage in getting the interview.”

With all due respect Carol, I couldn’t disagree more. A cover letter is your first chance to make an impression on the employer – good or bad, so there is an inherent risk there. I think with a little work, it is a risk well worth taking.  In the Internet age, where applying for a job is almost too simple, the well written cover letter is your way of telling the prospective employer that you carefully read the job posting, understand the duties and requisite skills and can quickly make a pitch to them on why you are a good fit. What it also tells them is that you are not shooting resumes out a firehose at every posting you see and you are serious about their opportunity. So, without hesitation, send a cover letter.

Length and content of the letter is another thing that stresses people out and sometimes will cause them to just forgo one. What if it is too brief or too rambling? I have a very, very simple 3 part cover letter structure to follow:

Dear Human Resources Manager:

<Intro>

I would like to present my resume for consideration of the Lion Tamer position posted on circusjobs.com. (How many people are trying to go to this site now??)

<Sell>

I was quite excited when I read the job description. I feel I would be an excellent candidate for this position for these (3 or 4) reasons:

  • 12+ years of Lion Taming and no major “incidents”
  • Degree in Animal Behavior
  • Interned with Siegfried & Roy in college

<Close>

I would welcome the chance to further discuss my candidacy for this position in the form of a phone or in-person interview as your process dictates. Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

Me

Pretty easy and concise huh? The parts I highlighted in red should always be put in. It makes it quickly clear to the employer what job you want and where you found it. This is important data for employers to see where their postings are getting activity from, they will appreciate it. The “sell” is clear and to the point and won’t make their eyes glaze over. There is no need to regurgitate your resume in the cover, just the points that connect the dots to this job.

And always close it with a mention of the next steps. It shows interest and a call to action.

As far as talking money goes,  I can’t stress enough that you read the job description thoroughly to ascertain what they want to know from you when you apply. If it asks, you can be vague but at least give a salary range so it shows you can follow directions. A lot of times it is more than just sending your resume and cover. You have to go through their applicant tracking system rigmarole basically cutting and pasting your resume in stupid text field boxes because they didn’t buy an ATS that could do the parsing (don’t get me started!), maybe answering some gating questions, and there they may ask about salary requirements, so the point may be moot. So if they ask- tell, If they don’t – don’t.

Finally, if you are in serious job search mode (and who isn’t these days?) I would suggest a short investment of time – probably less than an hour, to write 3 or 4 cover letter templates based on the types of jobs you are looking for. For example, one for inside sales, one for outside sales/new business development, one for pre-sales, one for account management, etc. This way when you see a job you like, it is just a matter of a couple of small tweaks to personalize it and you are on your way.

Not too painful? Hopefully this took out some of the mystery and turmoil over the whole cover letter thing. Now, when you apply, you will be covered. (Awful!)

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3 responses to “Demystifying the Cover Letter

  1. Great cover letter example. My students were asking if you should mention contacting the employer in the future. Your explanation is perfect.

    A cover letter feels so personal that students often freeze trying to write it and some feel they are imposing on the employer.

    I’m going to share this with the class…you never know, there might be a lion tamer in their midst!

  2. Thanks for your comment, I appreciate it. I know how difficult cover letters are. Please let your class know they are welcome to send any questions they have. Unfortunately I don’t have much more advice for Lion Taming careers :-).

  3. Great post, I particularly like the part about NOT having an ATS…they certainly do make it easy.

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