Reconsidering the Cover Letter

Cover letters used to be uber-business-like, and this influence lingers on. "Please accept my application for the position of writer that was advertised in the Toronto Star on Thursday, March 16, 2012." Does that inspire you to read on?

It inspires me to yawn, quite frankly, and I wouldn't willingly read on. (Poor recruiters!)

The cover letter is actually a piece of marketing. It markets you, the "product," to the employer, the "buyer." If you doubt that replacing the business mindset with a self-marketing spin is more effective, you might be looking for a job much longer than necessary.

For those who are resisting (I feel that stubborn energy coming through!), self-marketing is not about "Wow! Zowie! you'll be amazed with our product!"; it's about "you won't regret hiring someone with my abilities, skills and knowledge as I will save you money / bring in sales / safeguard your reputation (fill in your job's goals here)."

So how do you recreate your cover from a boring bit of business correspondence, dry as a piece of unbuttered toast, into a compelling compilation of incredible information? Let me give you some ideas:

Who cares where you saw the ad - it matters not. Skip that boring irrelevant nonsense and capture your reader immediately with a story or a question.  For example:

  • "I recently graduated with a 3.85 GPA from University of Smartfolk where I was a research assistant to the amazing Dr. Paula Cleever, who is also the psychology department chair."
  • "Last year I saved my company over $2Million - and it's not the first time I've done so. I am looking for my next opportunity, and your company's ad caught my attention."
  • "Could you use a sales pro who exceeded sales goals in each of the last nine quarters?"

Those openings immediately draw the reader in with info that speaks to the writer's value to their company - great marks, a great mentor, amazing results.

Most cover letters that I review (I offer free resume and cover letter assessments) are uninspired and uninspiring. They simply restate the resume's content in some fashion. What a missed opportunity to build on that content with more insight into how they work, and what they've accomplished.

Here's an idea for the body of the cover letter:

  • If you structured your resume in a reverse chronological order, use a skills-based approach in your cover letter. Pull together how your Service Orientation, Administrative Skills, and Supreme Organization made your former boss's life much easier, smoother, reliably predicatable.
  • You might highlight a few talents, such as Ideation, Strategy, Adaptability, and demonstrate how these traits made you far more effective at your role - likely a creative, future-focused, business-building role with these traits.
  • Or focus in on one relevant project and paint a picture of an ideal candidate by pulling in all the skills needed in that role. A National Coordinator might define a project that required gathering business intelligence, planning focus group research, conducting industry media analysis and so on.

There are countless ways to write an engaging cover letter. If you need help, New Leaf offers an e-book "20 Best Cover Letters (Plus One)" that features samples to get your creativity flowing. Of course, New Leaf loves writing cover letters as well. In fact, several of my letters, interview leave-behinds and other self-marketing one-pagers will be featured in Joyce Lain Kennedy's "Job Search Letters for Dummies" 2013.

I'm on a mission to save the world from mediocre cover letters! - Stephanie