You are all ready to start your job search—or so you think. You have written a great resume, turned up some promising leads, and now need to send your resume with a cover letter to various people in advance of an interview.
But for too many job seekers, the job search comes to a screeching halt at this point. Questions like these come to mind:
• What should I say in my cover letter?
• Can I write one letter and use it for every situation?
• How much background information should I provide?
• What do they really want to know?
• Do I have to match up perfectly for every requirement in the job posting?
• Should I quickly summarize all of my positions?
• Do I have to share information about why I left my last job?
• How can I quickly get the attention of busy hiring managers?
• Should I mail or e-mail my cover letter and resume?
It's no wonder that the task of quickly sending out resumes can become a time-consuming, difficult challenge and a real roadblock to a swift, successful search.
With 15-Minute Cover Letter, we want to change all that. We give you strategies, ideas, and examples that will make the process of producing your cover letters quick, easy, and foolproof. Using these guidelines, you won't become bogged down in the task of writing and sending an effective cover letter, and you can keep your job search moving ahead.
Because our theme is "quick," we haven't loaded down the book with hundreds of examples. Instead, we have given you dozens of good examples that illustrate our key points. These include
• 50 complete cover letters and thank-you letters
• Additional samples of language for the opening, middle, and closing sections of your cover letters
• Worksheets to help you organize and keep track of material for your cover letters
• Examples of quick notes, JIST Cards (a mini-resume), and job proposals
• 12 professionally written sample resumes that illustrate our key points for improving your resume
If you are like most job seekers, you will go immediately to the section of the book that deals with your most pressing need—whether that is how to get a cover letter out the door in the next 15 minutes, how to quickly improve your resume, or how to manage your job search for the fastest, best results. But we hope you will take the time to skim through all the sections of the book. All components of your job search—your cover letters, resume, follow-up correspondence, search strategy, network contacts, interview responses, and more—are interrelated, so the more proficient and knowledgeable you become in the entire process, the more successful you'll be. You can't accomplish a job search in 15 minutes, but you can accomplish a lot in each 15-minute segment you allot to it—beginning with the 15-minute cover letter.
P.S.: Writing this book was a team effort. Mike Farr provided much of the job search and "how-to" text, and Louise Kursmark provided much additional text and created the sample letters and resumes throughout the book. Our editor, Lori Cates Hand, provided essential help with the concept, coordination, and development of the book; Aleata Howard did the interior design; and other JIST staff handled a variety of other tasks well. Thanks!
Cover letters are an essential component of your job search. During your search and transition, you will write many different letters or e-mails to "cover" your resume. In essence, cover letters tell your readers why you are contacting them. Often they are your very first opportunity to make an impression on a hiring decision-maker. They offer you the golden opportunity to link your unique set of skills, experiences, talents, and interests with a particular company or job opportunity. They are your formal introduction to people who can be extremely influential in your job search, and they prepare your reader for all of the details, experiences, and accomplishments you have highlighted in your resume.
In our experience working with all levels of job seekers in hundreds of professions, we have found that writing cover letters is perhaps the greatest stumbling block to an efficient job search. The resume has been written, polished, and is ready to go. Now faced with writing an individual cover letter each time they want to send out a resume, job seekers struggle to find the right words and tone. They worry about not including enough information or the right information. They debate whether they need to point out a match for every qualification listed in a job posting. And they tell us they spend far too much time in all of this struggle, worry, and debate— time that they could better spend expanding their network or following up on leads or preparing for interviews.
We understand the problem, and in this book we provide a solution— a simple, foolproof formula so that you can quickly write letters that convey the right message in the right tone to the many people you'll be contacting during your career transition.
Cover Letters: Why You Need Them and How to Use Them
It is not appropriate to send a resume to someone without explaining why. Whether you're mailing, faxing, or e-mailing your resume, it is important to provide a letter along with your resume—a cover letter (or cover message, in the case of e-mailing). Even when you post your resume in an online database (also known as a resume bank), the Web site where you're posting often has a place where you can upload or paste a cover letter. A cover letter highlights your key qualifications, explains your situation, and asks the recipient for some specific action, consideration, or response.
Because each circumstance is different, you can't write just one cover letter and expect that it will be appropriate in every situation. But remember, our focus in this book is helping you to move quickly through the process of creating your cover letters. By breaking these letters down to their essentials, we give you a framework and a process that will work for most situations, along with dozens of examples that will give you ideas and inspiration for both common situations and unusual circumstances.
Only Two Groups of People Will Receive Your Cover Letters
If you think about it, you will send a resume and cover letter to only two groups of people:
We realize this sounds overly simple, but it's true. And this observation makes it easier to understand how you might structure your letters to each group. Before we explain our "formula" and show you some useful and effective cover letter samples for both groups, let's first review some basics regarding writing cover letters in general.
Note: While many situations require writing a formal letter, a simple note will do in many instances. Additional information on informal notes is in chapter 4.
Seven Quick Tips for Writing a Superior Cover Letter
No matter who you are writing to, virtually every good cover letter should follow these guidelines.
Avoid sending a cover letter "To whom it may concern" or using some other impersonal opening. We all get enough junk mail, and if you don't send your letter to someone by name, it will be treated like junk mail.
One way to offend people right away is to misspell their names or use incorrect titles. If you are not 100 percent certain, call and verify the correct spelling of the name and other details before you send the letter. Also, review your letters carefully to be sure that they contain no typographical, grammatical, or other errors.
We've never been impressed by form letters, and you should not use them. Those computer-generated letters that automatically insert a name (known as merge mailings) never fool anyone, and we find cover letters done in this way offensive. It's likely your recipients will think so, too. While some resume and cover letter books recommend that you send out lots of these "broadcast letters" to people you don't know, you will most likely find that doing so wastes time and money. Small, targeted mailings to a carefully selected group of prospective employers can be effective if you tailor your cover letter to each recipient, but large mass mailings are a waste of time. If you can't customize your letter in some way, don't send it.
But that doesn't mean you can't use some of the material in one cover letter for other letters as well. In fact, this is one of our top tips to make writing your letters easier and more efficient. In chapter 2 we show you how to do this and how to incorporate some repeatable material into your customized letters.
Your contacts with prospective employers should always be professional, so buy good-quality stationery and matching envelopes for times when you'll be mailing or hand-delivering a letter and resume. For your cover letters, use papers and envelopes that match or complement your resume paper. The standard 8 1/2 x 11 paper size is typically used, but you can also use the smaller Monarch-size paper with matching envelopes. For colors, we recommend white, ivory, or light beige—whatever matches your resume paper. Cover letters are almost never handwritten anymore; employers expect them to be word processed and produced with excellent print quality.
Use a standard letter format that complements your resume type and format. You might find it easier to use your word-processing software's template or "wizard" functions than to create a format from scratch. Your letters don't have to be fancy; they do have to look professional. And don't forget the envelope! It should be typed and printed carefully, without errors.
Start your letter with a reminder of any prior contacts and the reason for your correspondence now. The examples throughout this book will give you some ideas on how to handle this.
Tip: Undoubtedly, you will send many of your cover letters as e-mail messages. All of the rules we discuss for traditional cover letters apply equally to e-mail cover letters. Just because e-mail is a less formal means of communicating, don't be careless with writing, spelling, grammar, punctuation, or presentation. We do recommend that your e-mail cover letters be a bit shorter and crisper than your traditional paper letters. You need to capture attention before the reader hits "delete"! Several of the sample cover letters in chapter 3 are presented in e-mail format, without headings or stationery, to give you some examples of how to present these letters for best results.
To do this well, you must know something about the organization, the job opportunity, or the person with whom you are dealing. Present any relevant background that may be of particular interest to the person to whom you are writing.
Don't close your letter without clearly identifying what you will do next. We do not recommend that you leave it up to the employer to contact you because that doesn't guarantee a response. Close on a positive note and let the employer know how and when you will be following up.
It is always best if you know the person to whom you are writing. Any written correspondence—no matter how powerful!— is less effective than personal contact, so the ideal circumstance is to send a resume and cover letter after having spoken with the person directly.
For example, it is far more effective to first call someone who has advertised in the paper than to simply send a letter and resume. You can come to know people through the Yellow Pages, personal referrals, and other ways. You might not have known them yesterday, but you can get to know them today.
So, for the purposes of teaching you good job search principles, we'll assume you have made some sort of personal contact before sending your resume. Within this assumption are hundreds of variations, but we will review the most common situations and let you adapt them to your own circumstances.
You will have one of four basic situations when sending cover letters to people you know. Each situation requires a different approach. The situations are presented below, along with an explanation. We'll provide sample cover letters for each situation later.
Tip: Using a few simple techniques, it is possible to make the acquaintance of all sorts of people. That's why we say that it wastes time and money to send your resume or cover letter to strangers—it is relatively easy to make direct contact. Chapter 6 provides details on how to make contact with people you don't know, and we recommend that you learn more about this.
The four types of cover letters illustrate an approach that can be used in getting interviews, which is the real task in the job search. Look at the samples for each type of cover letter and see how, in most cases, it assumes that personal contact has been made before the resume was sent.
1. An interview is scheduled, and a specific job opening may interest you. In this case, you have already arranged an interview for a job opening that interests you, and the cover letter should provide details of your experience that relate to the specific job.
2. An interview is scheduled, but no specific job is available. In chapter 6, we explain in more detail why this situation is such a good one for you to set up. In essence, this is a letter you will send for an exploratory interview with an employer who does not have a specific opening for you now but who might in the future. This is fertile ground for finding job leads where no one else may be looking.
3. An interview has already taken place. Many people overlook the importance of sending a letter after an interview. This is a time to say that you want the job (if that is the case, your letter should say so) and to add any details on why you think you can do the job well.
4. No interview is scheduled—yet. There are situations where you just can't arrange an interview before you send a resume and cover letter. For example, you may be trying to see a person, but that person is on vacation. In these cases, sending a good cover letter and resume will make any later contacts more effective.
The following are sample cover letters for the four preceding situations. Note that they use different formats and styles to show you the range of styles that are appropriate. Each addresses a different situation, and each incorporates all of the cover letter—writing guidelines presented earlier in this chapter.
Keep in mind that the best cover letter is one that follows your having set up an interview. Anything else is just second best, at best.
Sample Cover Letter 1: Pre-Interview, for a Specific Job Opening (Sarah Rubin)
Comments: This writer called first and arranged an interview, the best possible approach. Note how she briefly summarizes her strongest qualifications for this specific job opening. To convey some of the intangibles that can make a real difference when choosing among several comparable candidates, she includes a brief recommendation from an executive at her current company, praising her for her persistence and professionalism.
April 30, 2005
Mr. Mark Anders Northwest Financial Advisors 2150 Commercial Parkway, Suite 4-B Seattle, WA 98249
Dear Mr. Anders:
Thank you for speaking with me this morning about your current opening for a Compliance Specialist. As you suggested, I am sending along my resume to give you additional information prior to our meeting next week. It expands on these qualifications that are essential for success as a Compliance Specialist:
• Nine years of experience in banking and financial services, including participation in audit procedures and in-depth involvement with the full range of compliance issues.
• History of initiative and leadership in identifying and reducing compliance risks.
• Strong skills in tracking, monitoring, documenting, and reporting.
• Ability to manage multiple detailed projects simultaneously.
My position at Standard Financial has been eliminated due to a downsizing. As evidence of the value of my work there, the compliance role will be assumed by the company's chief operating officer, who has commended me for my professionalism and "get the job done" attitude.
I look forward to our meeting at 10:30 on Wednesday and learning more about this exciting opportunity with your company.
Sarah T. Rubin enclosure: resume
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100 Cover Letter Tips EVERY Single Person Should Know. In applying for a job, you need to know what a cover letter is so that you would be able to recognize its importance. The cover letter is actually the same as the letter of application, letter of intro duction, as well as a transmittal letter. It is a letter that should always accompany the applicant’s resume, since not too many employers would consider an application without it.