Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Cover letters - how and why

Cover letter tips:

Include the contents of your cover letter in the body of your email, even if you want to go ahead and attach it as well.


1. Person receiving it might be reading your email on their smartphone, where opening attachments is sometimes a hassle. If you don't have the cover letter in the email itself, it might never get read at all.

2. Some positions get so many responses, that people don't even have time to open all the attachments, even if they ARE at their desktop or laptop.

3. Some people are wary of opening attachments, since they are concerned the attachment might have a virus. Prove you are a real person by writing a tailored cover letter in the email.

4. And include your contact info - all the relevant coordinates, in the body of the email. That means cellphone, email address as a minimum, and Skype, Twitter, instant messaging etc. if relevant.

Is writing a good cover letter a lot of work? Yes. And that is a good thing, because it is a filter that will separate you from the chaff - those people who email resumes out willy-nilly.

I used to wonder, "What is the point of a cover letter? They'll see my resume and see that I'm qualified." What changed my perspective has been posting several dozen job posting over the past several years, both to help clients fill full-time roles, as well as hiring subcontractors and to do various odd jobs. The employer isn't particularly interested in the leadership positions you held in college, or the responsibilities you successfully executed as the Assistant Associate District Area Manager. The employer wants to know:

A) Who are you, in just a few words?
B) Why are you a good fit for this particular role we are trying to fill at OUR company? How can you help us?
C) Do we know anyone in common who will vouch for you?
D) How did you hear about the job posting? [employer is curious which method of advertising the role is working]
E) Where do you live? Are you going to have to relocate?
F) When are you available? Can you start right away? [If you are available, that is good, because the employer needs you to start tomorrow, but it is also bad, because no one wants to hire the guy who just got fired for cheating on his expenses.]
G) Why are you available?

Answers these questions in as few words as possible.

Read your cover out loud - does it sound like a human wrote it? Or does it sound like a cut and paste job from a book of cover letter examples?

Check to make sure there are no grammatical mistakes or typos.

Didn't find any? Check again - odds are you missed one.

Now send the cover letter.

Attach your resume as a PDF, so what they see is what you see. Otherwise, they may have a different version of Word, and the formatting will be all cross-eyed. Also attach a PDF of your cover letter. If possible, combine them so the employer only has to open and print one file. (Remember, they just received 100 emails. Do you like to open 100 emails and print all the attachments?)

Oh, and finally: think about the naming convention you use for your cover letter and resume.

Good: Will_Bachman_Resume.pdf, Will_Bachman_CoverLetter.pdf

Not so good: WillBachman_Resume for high tech firms.pdf
[Oh, so this is your customized resume, and you are applying to a bunch of industries?]

Even worse: Resume-final-high tech firms- with edits from Mom.pdf
[Someone may be trying to detach these files and save them in a folder. Not including your name makes it hard to find your resume.]

Okay - last point:
Send from a respectable email address. Your own email address. Not your girlfriend's, or your son's. Yes, people do this. You'd be surprised.

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