The Employment Clinic
By Lawrence Alter
How important is the cover letter and when is it a useful tool?
In reality, the cover letter is a specific type of motivational letter that should generate interest in reading an enclosed resume to result in a job interview or networking meeting. It is a sales tool designed to motivate the reader to action in your favor. The cover letter is an extremely versatile tool that can negate the necessity of having multiple versions of your resume. It can highlight the strength of your educational and professional background, specifically address the criteria outlined in a help wanted advertisement, or focus on the needs and issues discussed in a telephone conversation. You can also use it to address required skills or experiences that you possess but have not been included in the resume, or communicate working talents and know-how you have acquired that can take the place of a particular requirement.
Generally speaking a cover letter should be kept to one page, should not make claims that are not verifiable, should focus on the specific benefits an employer would derive from hiring you, and should never stray from your intended purpose. The tone ought to be businesslike, convey sound written communication skills, and offer an image of competency and self-confidence. As with the resume, your cover letter should never deal with expected compensation. The lengthier the letter, the less likely it is to be read. Remember to have someone proofread your letters to ensure there are no spelling, diction, or grammatical errors. A letter or resume that has errors or is poorly written, can cost you an interview. Your cover letter and resume should both be on quality, matching stationery but not stapled together. Although there are numerous formats you might use, if you are responding to an advertised opportunity we suggest the requirements vs. experience layout. After one or two short introductory and summary paragraphs, put down a listing of the company requirements in one column followed by a corresponding list of how your experience qualifies you. If you are qualified but do not meet all of the criteria listed, then use the paragraph format to focus your letter on the specific background and acquired skills that would qualify you for the position.
There are five specific areas in which we recommend using the motivational cover letter:
- Use the cover letter as a general overview to highlight your background, strongest professional capabilities, and important personal attributes when you respond to an advertisement. Your letter should focus on the criteria set forth in the advertisement but should not apologize for areas in which you lack experience or do not possess all the requirements. It is unlikely you will have all the necessary qualifications listed in the advertisement (most applicants never meet all of the requirements), but if you meet most of the criteria, your strengths could easily overshadow any insufficiencies.
- When you have had a telephone conversation with someone who expects to receive your resume, the cover letter will be a short review and reinforcement of that discussion. You should briefly highlight your talent and then highlight those areas that the employer emphasized as being of primary importance.
- When an unsolicited resume is being mailed, for example, to a company that you might desire to work for but did not run an advertisement. A cover letter should explain the purpose of your resume and give at least one or two compelling reasons for a hiring authority to meet with you. Your letter should be followed by a phone call within two to three days.
- If you have been given a personal referral to someone who you cannot reach by telephone. The letter should name the person who referred you, along with an explanation of why you were given their name as a contact. If the purpose of the referral was a networking meeting, your letter will be different then if you were referred to a hiring authority for a specific position or existing opening. Your follow up phone call should be made within three days.
- Occasionally you may wish to approach someone by sending a letter but not enclosing a resume. It may be, for example, a letter requesting a networking meeting but not asking for an interview. This type of motivational letter is not a cover letter, but gives the receiver at least one or two cogent reasons to want to meet with you. You may also wish to send your motivational letter as a “Telegram.” A telegram will almost always peak interest and have a much greater chance of being read as it conveys a certain sense of urgency and importance. It is essential that, wherever possible, your letter be followed by a phone call.
Author Lawrence Alter is president of L.D.A. Enterprises, Ltd.; a Minneapolis based outplacement and career management firm. He is a recognized expert in career growth techniques. Send ideas or questions via email to: LDA@EmploymentClinic.com. Website address: www.EmploymentClinic.com”