What is the Purpose of a Cover Letter?
On the surface, cover letters seem simple. But once you actually get into writing one, you start to understand that it’s more complicated. Your cover letter does need to be simple and quick to read. This is probably your very first introduction to whoever it is that you are writing to. That person is who you need to give you a chance at a job, so it’s really important that you impress them—and that you make them want to read your resume, and then call you for an interview—that’s when it might start to stress you out.
And if it isn’t stressing you out at least a little bit, and then you maybe you don’t understand how important this little introduction is.
Sell, Sell, Sell Yourself to a Hiring Manager, Recruiter or Human Resources
Your job search is a sales process. You, the candidate, are the product you’re trying to sell to the hiring manager. You want him to buy your product, which means to hire you. In this analogy, the resume is your marketing brochure that tells the buyer about the product. So what’s the cover letter? It’s your “commercial” or your initial ad that’s going to get the attention of the buyer and make him want to read the marketing brochure.
Your cover letter is a “teaser” for your resume. It’s the sign that says “look here!” It’s supposed to be brief but also grab attention and puts your resume in context. It’s the first impression of you for this person, and first impressions last. It demonstrates your professionalism, your personality, and your communication skills, right off the bat.
Don’t Make Your Cover Letter Generic… Target the Position You Are Applying For
The most common mistakes job seekers make when they write cover letters is that they make them too generic, they either make them too long or too short, and they put no effort into making them easy to read. Maybe they even go find a basic cover letter template online and just change out the names of the job title and company. So, at a minimum, you want to make sure that each cover letter you write is targeted to that job, at that company, to that hiring manager; that it gets your point across quickly; and that it’s very easy to skim and still get the most important facts from it. Remember you want THIS job not A job. We, as recruiters and hiring managers can see the difference, can you?
You want to be direct and get to the point quickly while being polite, friendly, and professional.
Make the Letter Addressed to Someone not the Company
Always make sure your letter is addressed to an actual person. Never “to whom it may concern,” or to a title like “Marketing Manager at ABC Corporation.” Make the effort to find out the actual persons name, with the right spelling, of the person who’s going to be reading it.
Write the Cover Letter to the Job, NOT Your Resume
With your first sentence or two, put the whole thing in context. What job are you interested in? Make that very clear. Remember, each cover letter you write is going to be written for that particular job. You’re writing to an actual person. Talk to that person. You want to be direct and aggressive with your language, but also use your own voice. That’s what puts your personality into it and resonates with the person reading it.
And think about the person you’re sending this to. Is it a recruiter? Is it a hiring manager? Put yourself in their shoes. What pain are they experiencing right now? What problems are they having because that job is currently unfilled?
Address Their Problems and Your Solutions
Be the solution to their problems. Your cover letter should always be focused on how you can help the employer. What’s in it for them? What are you bringing to the table? That’s your attention-grabbing opening.
If someone they know has recommended that you contact this person, say that right up front.
Support Your Solutions
In the body of the letter, you can go into a few details that support what you just told the reader. But don’t just copy and paste items from your resume. Don’t tell them what they’re going to be able to read on the next page. There are several different options you can go with. See next point…
Steal Their Job Description and Requirements
If you have a job description you’re working from, use the requirements they’re asking for. List a few of them, and note how you fit. For instance, if they’re looking for someone who “will drive the growth of High Net Worth client assets,” you say, “At ABC Company, I led my team to a 25% increase in AUM.” You’re answering their need. And as much as humanly possible, do it with numbers.
If you don’t have a specific job description you’re applying for, feel free to just pull the stats that sell you. Put yourself in their shoes, figure out what they need, and show them why they should be interested in talking to you about meeting that need.
Why are you good at what you do? And where’s your proof?
Quantify, Qualify & Measure
Numbers are what really get the attention of most hiring managers, especially in Financial Services and especially for sales. For them, that proves that you’re not just all talk. You can back that up with measurable results. That’s either dollars, numbers, or percentages.
That should be the main focus of your resume. For your cover letter, you’re going to just sprinkle in a few of the more impressive figures to grab attention.
Don’t Copy and Paste from Your Resume into Your Cover Letter
Your cover letter should complement your resume. You can direct the hiring manager’s attention to the parts of your resume he would be most interested in, or you can add some details that don’t really “go” in your resume but that might be beneficial for the employer to know. Overall, you’re answering the question, “Why should I talk to you about this job?”
Use Bullet Points!
The easiest way for the reader to understand and focus on what you’re trying to say in the body of your letter is with bullet points. They are bite-sized nuggets of information that are very easy to skim, take in, and digest. Recruiters and Hiring Managers love them.
Close with a Call To Action
Sum up why they should see you, and let them know when you intend to follow up with a phone call. You want to set up the next step in your closing statement. Is it a phone call, is it a meeting?
Make sure there is a next step or call to action.
Be Yourself, Let Your Personality Shine
Whatever you say throughout your cover letter should be in your own words. You want it to be direct and aggressive and to the point, but you also want your own personality to shine through. You want your cover letter to stand out, and be unique. It’s going to stand out by acting as a selling document that grabs attention, and it’s going to be unique because you’ve written it yourself, using the words you would use if you were actually talking to the reader.
Spell-Check then Proofread Again and Again
Use an easy-to-read font, like Times New Roman, Ariel, or Helvetica. Make sure there are no errors in it. Proofread it, proofread it again, and then get someone else to proofread it. Spell-check doesn’t catch everything, especially grammar so you need an actual person to go over it.
Never Attach Your Cover Letter in an Email
If you’re emailing your resume to a recruiter, Human Resources department, or hiring manager—never, never, never send your cover letter as an attachment. All of the work you just did creating your cover letter will be for nothing because they’ll almost certainly never open it. Trust me on this. I just don’t even open it.
The work around is to just write your cover letter in the body of your email. Your email is your cover letter. I always read an email. Or at least skim it before I open the resume that’s attached.
Overcoming Follow-Up Issues
What do you do if you’ve sent your resume and cover letter and you don’t get a response? You’ve called like you said you would, and couldn’t get through, or had to leave a message and they didn’t call you back. Wait a few weeks, write a new one, and send it again. If you can include some new piece of information you’ve learned about the company or the larger industry, or some new accomplishment of yours, or some conference you’ve attended that pertains to that position, all the better.
Don’t be afraid to follow up again. Maybe they just weren’t interested at that time. What if when right after they delete your resume, their best employee comes in and gives their notice? Now they need someone. You’ve got to know, that recruiter or that hiring manager is a busy person, with a lot going on. You don’t know what’s going on with them at any given moment, and life happens and things change.
Remember: a job search is a sales process. Advertisements don’t just run once. They show up over and over again. That doesn’t mean you should email them every day. But periodic contacts that include something new and fresh for a job you really want, it can’t hurt to let them know you are still interested in that job.
Below are 3 Sample Cover Letter Templates to use as a guide when creating your own personal cover letter.
Pay special attention that they avoid long paragraphs, highlight qualified skills with numbers, dollars and percentages, and list only skills and qualifications for the specific job.
Good Luck in Your Job Search!
Cover Letter Template #1
Dear Ms. Smith,
I am a successful sales professional seeking an opportunity to apply my business administration background, and experience for the Sales Specialist position in Toronto, Ontario for XYZ company. My job experience and sales match what you are looking for in this position.
A few highlights are:
- Successful selling experience B2B and B2C
- Exceeded Sales Goals by 25% in 2015 ($125,000 above the target)
- Increased market share by 64%
- Improved territory revenue and ranking (from #16 of to #4) in less than 12 months
- Territory ranked top 10% in the nation within 8 months
- Recognized and rewarded for top performance in 2 of the last 3 Sales Contests including “All for One”
In addition to success, I bring knowledge and expertise to analyze market data.
Can we meet to discuss in detail how my qualifications and direct experience will benefit your team? My résumé is attached for your review.
I will call you on Friday to discuss your availability to meet.
Thanks for your time and consideration.
Cover Letter Template #2
Dear Mr. Jones,
My name is Rick Smith and I am responding to a job posting for National Account Manager. Based on your job description, my experience uniquely qualifies me for this role.
A few highlights:
- Exceeded sales goals in a variety of roles including Business Development Manager, Global Account Manager, Regional Sales Manager and Applications Engineer.
- Managed national sales responsibilities for several Asset Managers across the country.
- I have substantial experience in multilevel and team sales and am comfortable at all levels at a customer organization, including C-level executives.
- Located in Calgary and can travel extensively.
Can we discuss all of my qualifications for this position and how my qualifications match the requirements?
I will follow up with a phone call next week.
I look forward to speaking with you about how together we can exceed your company’s goals for this position.
Cover Letter Template #3
Dear Ms. Jones:
I want to talk to you about your administrative assistant role that you posted on your site.
In your description, you state that your major challenge is with managing all of the different communications for the office.
Here are some examples of how I have succeeded in that area:
- Managed 15 line phone system for 13 different managers (average over 100 incoming calls per day)
- Skilled in Social Media (Facebook, LinkedIn, and Pinterest) and have managed many accounts for my management team.
- Planned and executed office events (formal and informal) with up to 200 guests (hotel, transportation, meal and meeting scheduling)
When can we get together to talk about this in person?
I’ll follow up with you next week to schedule a time.