Do you enjoy writing cover letters? If you do, chances are good that you may be an oddball--like me. Overthe past ten years, I've helped over 2,000 job seekers write cover letters. I've met less than two dozen who enjoy writing them. As a career counselor, I sometimes feel like the job search equivalent of a dentist: people know they need to see you, even if they dread the visit sometimes.
Frequently, job seekers will ask me to write cover letters for them. As you may imagine, this is a potentially lucrative area of business--especially since no one likes to write them. I do work side-by-side with job seekers to draft cover letters, but I don't write individual letters for people by the bushel.
If I did, it would be like the job search equivalent of only cleaning
your teeth at the dentist--if you don't know how to do it, you'll soon
find yourself in real trouble even if someone does it for you every now
Like brushing your teeth, writing cover letters is easier and more efficient if you have a routine and a systematic approach. Here's my recommended strategy:
Write the cover letter with the employer in mind, focus on their needs--not yours. In general, most employers seek the answers to four common questions:
- Where did you find my listing? Do you know anyone here?
Recruiters care about hiring and marketing. Let them know how you found them.
- What position are you applying for? How do your skills and experience align with the position?
- Why this opportunity? Why do you want to work here--and in this job?
- How can I follow-up with you?
These are the essentials. Your information should be clear, concise and to the point--and cover each of these topics. One suggested format is to write a short paragraph addressing each point. Some job seekers and employers advocate creating a two column table or a bulleted list in order to demonstrate alignment between a position and relevant skills/experience. I've seen this approach work well.
Many job seekers hate to cover the "why I want to work here" part of the cover letter--especially since it generally involves extra work to research information about the company and recent events. Consider this from the perspective of the employer: all they have to go on is a resume and a cover letter. They don't know how interested you are until you tell them. Demonstrating your level of enthusiasm and showing that you understand the job--and have taken the time to familiarize yourself with the organization--can go a long way. My recommended shortcuts: do a search for the organization in Google News. Or spend half an hour with a reference librarian and learn how to research key information about a company. Say something meaningful. It conveys interest and engagement.
Practice writing a letter in this format a few times, and you'll find that you have a cover letter that almost writes itself. Have
a hard time with addressing the line up between skills and a job? Get
help from someone else--a career counselor, a hiring manager, or
someone who enjoys the process...
After you've done this a few times, you should have the format down. You may not enjoy it, but it will go faster and easier. Keep it simple. Take a look at my list of four points: Each of them is written in less than 140 characters--as brief as a status update on Twitter. There's no need to write a novel--or even a full page. As late writer Isaac Babel once wrote, "Your language becomes clear and strong not when you can longer add but when you can no longer take away."
To Your Success,