Crafting Convincing Cover Letters A Persuasive Sales Message that Gets You Hired Do you hate writing cover letters? If so, you’re not alone. Most people detest writing these job search letters and feel completely at a loss as to how to develop them. When a great job opening comes along, many people feel overwhelmed with the prospect of having to write the cover letter. They put it off, get stuck in procrastination mode and then miss the opportunity altogether. In this article, I walk you through the process of crafting a compelling cover letter that will make you stand out from the crowd and get you hired. I also show you how to create a template you can easily customize to specific jobs. Your cover letter template will help you immeasurably with the job search. Having a nearly-complete cover letter ready to go means all you have to do is make a few adjustments for each individual application. This simple and streamlined procedure for developing cover letters means you won’t miss application deadlines for the great career opportunities that come your way. The steps to developing a compelling cover letter include: • Feature an Eye-Catching Design • Highlight Specific Examples • Finesse the Salary Question • Check Your Work Carefully • Follow-Up Effectively Additionally, I provide a finalization checklist. Cover Letter Writing Step One: Feature an Eye-Catching Design The aesthetic appeal of the cover letter is just as important as the content. Your letters must look sharp and professional. Again, your application will be one of many. To increase the chances it actually gets read, make your cover letter “easy on the eyes” and ultra-readable. One of the best ways to enhance readability is to incorporate plenty of white space. If you have been in the position of hiring manager, you’ve probably seen cover letters that were overly crowded with too much text. As mentioned previously, job seekers often make the mistake of crowding their letters with long, dense paragraphs. Making matters worse, they use a small font size because they’re trying to fit too much on the page. A letter designed like this is difficult to read and forces the hiring manager to search for your core message and key qualifications. Give the reader’s eye “room to breathe” by making ample use of white space and utilizing short paragraphs. Also, be sure to use a large enough font size so as not to strain the reader’s eyes. And do keep your letter to one page. A two-page cover letter will most likely not be read in entirety. Furthermore, as mentioned in the resume article, each document in your job application package should have the same header. This includes your resume, cover letter, thank you letter, list of references, etc. See the resume guide for instructions on how to design your header. You’ll also find instructions for developing your post-interview thank you letter and list of references, etc. in the Selling Yourself in the Job Interview article. Now let’s review font type and size. As discussed in the resume article, I suggest a combination of Times New Roman and Arial fonts for the resume. For the cover letter, I recommend using Arial throughout. I also suggest you use Arial font on your other application materials as well. Arial is a bold, distinct and easily readable font. It gives your documents an eye-catching and professional appearance. In terms of font size, ten-point font is the perfect size for Arial. It’s large enough to be easily read without overpowering the page. See the cover letter template and the other templates provided in this program for a display of Arial font in action. In terms of which letter style to use for your cover letter, I recommend what is known as “modified block style.” This is where all the text, except for the date and signature line, is left justified without indenting the paragraphs. See the template for a depiction of how this letter style is configured. For the salutation, it is best to address the hiring manager by name. For example, you would open the letter with: “Dear Ms. Lewis.” If you don’t know the name and there is no way to obtain it through research, address the letter to: “Dear Hiring Manager.” Use a colon after the salutation. For the closing, I recommend using the word “Sincerely.” This is a formal and professional way to end the letter. Once the letter is complete, of course you need to edit it very carefully. A single typo can ruin your chances of getting called in for an interview. One thing that amuses me when I read cover letters is when people specifically highlight that they are detail oriented – and then spell it wrong! What a hoot. Please edit your letters thoroughly. Just as with your final resume, I recommend you meticulously read through your final cover letter from top to bottom at least three times. Then, let it sit for a day if you can. Come back and edit it in its entirety from bottom to top, reading right to left so you can be sure to catch any mistakes. Reading the letter aloud also helps ensure it effectively hits the mark on all your message points and flows smoothly. One additional note on cover letter design. Just as with the resume, the cover letter should match the employer’s organizational culture. Both the design and tone of the letter can be more or less formal, depending on what is appropriate for that particular organization and industry. See the resume module for more on this topic. Also, job seekers often wonder if they should submit their applications via email or regular postal mail. Always follow instructions in the job announcement. The employer will usually specify which delivery method they prefer. If they provide both the option of email and regular mail, I suggest you submit an electronic version via email and write in the body of the message that you’ll also be mailing a hard copy. Send the hard copy on quality paper with a matching envelope. When submitting your cover letter in electronic form, be sure to assign it a logical filename so the recipient can easily download it. See the resume module for instructions on how to name your electronic job search files. Cover Letter Writing Step Two: Highlight Specific Examples Throughout your cover letter, focus on your professional accomplishments as they specifically relate to the job. Rather than listing your duties and tasks, emphasize the results you’ve achieved. Just as in your resume, weave in outcomes and quantify these where possible with numbers, percentages and dollar figures. The message of the letter should be: “Here is what I can do for you and here is the proof.” Your goal is to make a claim and then back it up by highlighting the outcomes you’ve already achieved. For example, you could say: “I can bring your company to a higher level of revenue-generating success. In my current position, I’ve achieved that outcome in these three instances…” To amplify the “wow” factor of your cover letters, add direct quotes from managers and clients. Obtain these quotes from your performance evaluations, letters of recommendation and feedback you’ve received from clients and colleagues. You can also lift direct quotes from endorsements you’ve received on LinkedIn. If you don’t already have a LinkedIn profile, get one immediately. See module eight of this program, “Strategic Power Networking” for more on how to create an effective LinkedIn profile page. Also, feel free to send me a request to be added to your network. I’d love to be connected with you and have you in my online network. Also, as discussed in module five of this program “Creating an Extraordinary Resume”, the use of keywords is essential. Make strategic use of keywords in your cover letters. See module five for specific instructions on how to devise your keywords and incorporate them into your materials. Finally, including a postscript on your cover letters is an effective attention-grabbing tool. Research shows that the post scrip almost always gets read. This can be an excellent tactic for distinguishing yourself from the crowd. Focus the P.S. on one of your leading qualifications for the position, an accomplishment you achieved or a complementary quote someone said about you. For example: “P.S. For three years in a row, I was the top-producing sales executive at ABC, Inc. I look forward to bringing that same level of profit-generating success to your company.” Cover Letter Writing Step Three: Finesse the Salary Question One of the most dreaded topics in the cover letter is salary. Clients ask me all the time to help them develop their response to the “salary question.” They often feel at a loss as to how to address this challenging and potentially contentious issue. Many job seekers are concerned about possibly saying the wrong thing and inadvertently closing a door before the conversation even begins. To be sure, when salary information is required in the cover letter, it puts the job seeker in a very sticky situation. With limited information about the job and salary range, it can be difficult to craft an appropriate response. The trick is to not price yourself out of the opportunity while at the same time not selling yourself short. This situation is also difficult to maneuver because salary is but one piece of the full compensation package. As discussed in module 14 of this Land Your Ultimate Job Program, “Successful Salary Negotiation”, many other elements should be taken into account when considering a job offer. These include health care coverage, retirement benefits, bonuses and tuition reimbursement, among many others. See module 14 for a full list. Often times, job announcements specifically instruct you to include your salary requirements and/or salary history in the cover letter. If this is the case, you need to address the issue directly. Some people are inclined to ignore this directive because they’re not sure how to respond. Sidestepping the topic altogether is not a good idea. If you leave this information out you may be disqualified for failing to follow instructions and submitting an incomplete application. I will review some specific techniques you can use to respond appropriately. The strategy you choose depends on how much you know about the job and your current level of interest. Sometimes you may know very little and other times you may have an inside connection providing you background information. The common scenarios I see are: • The applicant is highly interested in the job and would most likely take it regardless of salary. That is, assuming it meets their minimum compensation requirements • The job seeker is interested in the position but only if it pays well and would offer an increase over and above their current salary and benefits package • The candidate is in exploratory mode and needs to know more about the position and compensation to know whether or not they would be truly interested in making a move Of course, the more information you have about the salary range, the more effectively you can craft your response to the salary question. One place to start is to review salary surveys available on the internet. These surveys can give you a general idea of the pay range for that particular type of position. In addition to conducting online research, the best way to obtain salary information is to talk with people who work at the organization. For more on conducting salary research see module 14. The following are a few different suggested language options for addressing salary requirements in the cover letter. Again, the phrasing you select depends on your current level of interest in the position. You may choose to give a general, non-committal response. Or given the circumstances, you may think it best to provide specific salary figures. The following are three types of responses for your consideration. Each can be customized based on the scenario at hand. These tactics can also be used in the job interview or when negotiating salary; modified for the specifics of the situation of course. Response Option 1: Offer a general response without providing a lot of detail: “Based on my credit risk management expertise in the energy industry I am open to a good and fair offer.” “I would need at least the mid-point of the given salary range to relocate and come on board.” Response Option 2: Offer a salary range but don’t lock yourself into a specific figure: “My current salary is in the $XXk’s. My goal is to be in the $XXk’s in my next position.” “Regarding salary, my earnings as a Program Officer have been in the mid-$XXk’s range. My current salary requirement would be in line with the level of responsibility of the position and is negotiable.” Response Option 3: Mention specific numbers, but offer a range so as to not undercut yourself: “My desired salary range is $XXk to $XXk.” Again, depending on how interested you are in the position, you can choose one of these three strategies. To craft you individualized response, begin with these suggested phrases and customize them to each unique situation. For more specific language ideas, see module 14. I also want to mention the topic of salary history because sometimes you may be requested to provide this information in your cover letter. In response to this request, provide a picture of your total compensation which includes both salary and bonuses. You could say something like: “In my current position, my salary and bonuses total $XXk.” Addressing salary in a cover letter can be a dicey topic to maneuver. That being said, if salary requirements or salary history are requested in the job announcement, you need to address it in some fashion or risk your application being rejected because it’s incomplete. Doing so requires a careful strategy because you don’t want to box yourself in to a salary lower than what you can command for that particular job. You also don’t want to start too high and price yourself out of the opportunity. Use the three steps I’ve outlined in this module to create your cover letter master template. Having your template ready to go will make it much easier to respond to job announcements and submit application packages in a timely manner.
If you feel you’d like assistance with crafting your convincing cover letter, I invite you to schedule a one-on-one coaching session with me.
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Now, let’s move on to your Career Success Guide to Creating an Extraordinary Resume.