There is a myth I keep hearing regarding the relevancy and need of a cover letter. A lot of people that I converse with believe that cover letters are rarely viewed and have a minimal stake in the outcome of hiring decisions.
Cover letters still hold value, are often required to submit in job postings and are frequently read by hiring managers to determine who is the best fit for the vacant role among the shortlist of final candidates.
The general purpose of a cover letter is to showcase how your knowledge, skills, abilities (KSAs) and experience make you the best qualified candidate for the position. Recruiters and hiring managers want to predict how successful you will be in the new position as well as evaluate your fit within the organization.
So, what are the elements of a winning cover letter?
The first section to address is the Contact Information and Letter Opening sections. The following things will be found in these sections:
· First and Last Name
· Résumé Tagline
· Telephone Number
· Email Address
· LinkedIn URL/Relevant Social Media Handles
· City, State and Zip Code
· Hiring Manager First and Last Name
· His/Her Professional Title
· Organization Name
· City, State and Zip Code
Here are some key tips to remember:
· Use a professional email address only that uses your first name, last name and/or middle initial, if applicable
· Never use your work email address! That’s just common sense!
· Use only “modern” email providers like Gmail or you can opt to use your personal domain email.
· Ensure that your contact information (first and last names, résumé tagline, telephone number, email address, LinkedIn URL, social media handles and address) are consistent across your résumé, cover letter and social media profiles.
· Write “Dear Hiring Manager” if you cannot find the name of the hiring manager. You also have the option of writing “Dear Hiring Team,” as well.
::: KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE :::
Depending on the organizational culture and norms of the company, I would opt to personalize the cover letter by addressing the hiring manager by first name using “Dear John” IF the culture and company are more casual. For a suit-and-tie corporate setting, it would be in your best interest to address your cover letter in the following manner:
· Dear Miss Davis
· Dear Ms. Davis
· Dear Mrs. Davis
· Dear Mr. Davis
It is always the best approach to personalize the cover letter when applicable because there is a human connection when a person addresses a letter directly to our attention. If the cover letter is also masterfully written and appeals to how you will further the organization’s success, there is a very strong chance that you will be remembered and potentially called for an interview.
::: THE MEAT OF THE COVER LETTER :::
Now, it’s time to define what will make-up the general content of a winning cover letter.
Opening Paragraph: Grab the attention of the hiring manager
Body Paragraph: Display your qualifications, top achievements and why you can be successful at their organization
Closing Paragraph: Demonstrate why you are a great culture and performance fit for the organization
The first few sentences of the opening paragraph will make-or-break your chances with hiring managers as they will decide if your cover letter is worth reading more.
If you do not want to entice hiring managers to read more, then write this run-of-the-mill statement:
“I would like to express my interest in the Sales Manager role advertised on the Indeed job board. As a regional sales manager with 9 years of experience, I am positive that I can excel in this role.
Blah. Boring. Mundane!
These opening statements are inadequate because they do not convey value and offer minimal details that suggest success. Essentially, you are communicating with the hiring manager that you will be successful in this role because you have the prerequisite experience for the position.
Let’s take another stab at the opening paragraph by providing value statements and details that indicate future success in the role that you are applying to.
“As an ardent follower of ABC’s sales strategies, I was ecstatic to identify your position for the Regional Sales Manager position. I am positive that I can contribute to overcoming ABC’s upcoming challenges. I have extensive experience leading transformative change in sales at several Fortune 1000 companies with budgets over $10 million annually. Moreover, I have consistently exceeded sales targets by 75% and have expanded business in 4 new states in the past year.”
If you were the hiring manager, which opening paragraph will have you scrambling for the candidate’s phone number to give him/her a call? Your cover letter’s opening statement should entice hiring managers to read on…, and on…, and on (to the second and third paragraphs).
The second paragraph will help you define how you will specifically help the organization succeed (based off their job description). Based on the organization’s needs, let’s say that ABC is looking for (1) team-oriented sales manager that has the (2) ability to attain talent and develop teams into top performers, then an effective body paragraph will directly address these exact needs.
“In my current role at DEF, I have supervised all phases of our regional sales team contingents, including the recruitment, selection, orientation, training, scheduling, coaching, mentoring and discipline of employees, using a team-building and professional development approach (1). Last year, I was principally tasked with leading transformational culture change within our regional teams to improve individual team member professional development and performance (2). Fast forward a year later and 4 out of 12 team members were promoted to roles of higher responsibility and our regional team set a regional sales milestone by exceeding sales quota 100% for the year (2).
It is an integral practice to first understand an employer’s definitive needs in a candidate in order to expertly identify and support your qualification around these needs. There should be a clear relationship between what the employer needs and how you have fulfilled those needs through past and current achievements. Therefore, it will be much easier for hiring managers to anticipate your success level in their organization.
The third paragraph needs to state your desire for this particular role and company. As much as hiring managers hire talent because candidates have the right skill set and experience, it is equally important to hire a candidate that will both enjoy working for the company as well as enjoy working with colleagues in the new work environment.
Thus, your third paragraph should identify what the company is focusing on (requires research) (1), state your interest in this initiative (2) and repeat that your KSAs match with the company’s direction (3).
Here’s how it’s done:
“I am aware that ABC’s current initiatives involve the expansion of our consumer base by redefining how the organization does business with consumers (1). This strategy is a complimentary match for my personal and professional interests and an intriguing opportunity to increase social media branding and engagement as well as instituting a solid customer referral incentive (2). I would be honored to leverage my knowledge of social media brand positioning, proven customer referral process and a strong incentive program to achieve avant-garde results with this initiative (3).
::: HOW TO END THE COVER LETTER :::
The proper ending to cover letter is just as important as the beginning because you do not want to waste the momentum and interest of the hiring manager.
Continue to show your value by reiterating how you can fit as their next hire.
“I would welcome the opportunity to discuss your sales, objectives and show you how my success at DEF can translate into individual and team sales growth at ABC.”
There is no need to repeat the repeated by saying tired statements such as “Thank you for your time and consideration” and “I hope to hear from you soon.”
Don’t become needy because you are not coming off in a position of strength. Maintain confidence that your value and company fit throughout the cover letter.
At last, you can end your cover letter with the following formal closings such as:
· Thank You,
· Sincerely Yours,
· Respectfully Yours,
To add a personalized touch, you can add your digital signature after the formal closing to further cement the personalization of your cover letter.