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Featured Excerpt

Yes, Your Cover Letter Matters (and Four Things You NEED to Include)

Rarely have I received an e-mail cover note that says something enticing.

The following is an excerpt from “The Dirty Little Secrets of Getting Your Dream Job” by Don Raskin.

When you are contacting a prospective employer, you need to convey everything of interest very quickly in an e-mail cover note, cover letter, and résumé. I never spend more than ten seconds looking over paperwork from any individual prospect, just because I have hundreds of résumés to go through. So how do you get someone to notice you in the sea of qualified candidates? Let’s take a look at some do’s and don’ts.

E-mail cover note

Don’t waste the e-mail cover note opportunity. E-mail isn’t just a delivery system for your cover letter and résumé. Each touch point along the way to getting called in for an interview with a company is critical, and the e-mail cover note is the first touch point, the first opportunity to make an impression. It needs to be a great one.

I can’t tell you how many times I receive a carefully worded résumé and cover letter from a job prospect, and the e-mail cover note says nothing but “résumé and cover letter attached” or “see attached” or “applicant credentials attached.” Yes, I can see there are two attachments to the e-mail, and one is clearly labeled “cover letter” and the other “résumé.” You need to provide information in your e-mail cover note to start the process of having a conversation, get me interested in you, and, most importantly, get me to take action and spend time with your material. No value is added by telling me that a cover letter and résumé are attached and, if that’s all you do, it is very possible that I will not bother to open the attachments.

Sometimes I have received e-mail cover notes that say the same thing that the cover letter says. I have even received e-mail cover notes that say absolutely nothing. (Really? A candidate wants a job and has nothing to say in the first piece of communication I get from him or her?) Rarely have I received an e-mail cover note that says something enticing. So let’s lay out some ground rules for e-mail cover notes, because they are not just a throwaway, as many job prospects tend to think.

First, you need to say something short, enticing, and worthwhile in order for the person reviewing the paperwork to open the attachments. So, for example, you might write something like this:

I have read with great interest about the position at your firm and feel that my previous internship with XYZ Company would be a tremendous asset for the position. I have outlined in greater detail in my attached cover letter why my internship was the perfect experience for the job you are trying to fill, and my résumé will give you a broad perspective of my background and qualifications.

This is an e-mail cover note I will read right away, and then I will look forward to opening the attached cover letter and résumé because it has piqued my interest by starting to tell the candidate’s story. If you give away your whole story up front, the person reviewing your material may not open your attachments, but a note like this gives me information in a way that makes me want to learn more. I am also likely to spend more time reading this candidate’s submitted materials when I do open them, therefore giving that person a better chance of being called in for an interview. With each additional piece of correspondence, I will hopefully become more and more interested in the candidate. That’s a great way to lead someone down a path and accelerate interest.

Cover letter

I have spoken with many executives responsible for interviewing and hiring candidates who tell me they don’t bother reading cover letters and skip right to the résumé because everything they need to know is contained therein. I may be in the minority on this, but I disagree. Your cover letter gives you a chance to speak to me in a way that your résumé cannot. It allows more of your personality to come through. If you are clever, there is no harm in being clever in your cover letter.

When I first started working as a product manager for Unilever, a colleague and I were sifting through cover letters and résumés. One letter jumped out from the bunch because the writer took a very humorous approach—professional yet incredibly clever. We both looked at each other and said, in effect, “If this guy has the guts to write this cover letter, then we have to bring him in here for an interview.” So we did, and we ended up liking him and hiring him. He began his career in marketing with that clever cover letter.

Now that your e-mail cover note has gotten me to open and read your cover letter, you want to continue to pique my interest in your candidacy by expanding upon your background and credentials.

BE SURE TO INCLUDE THIS IN YOUR COVER LETTER

  • An opening paragraph about why you would be a great hire and what separates you from the rest of the entry-level job applicants.
  • Why you are interested in the company.
  • What skills you possess that make you a perfect candidate for the job you are applying for.
  • What your next action step will be. The company will likely not act upon your cover letter, so you want to be proactive by saying you will be calling, e-mailing, or willing to come to its offices for an interview.

Jackie was applying for an entry-level account job and sent in her cover letter and résumé. Since it is important that our entry-level candidates have qualifications in the advertising and marketing industry, I was intrigued when she wrote that she had interned full-time at an advertising agency and was able to work on campaigns for a national insurance company and a national paint company. Jackie had agency experience in big industries, and that experience prompted me to reach out and contact her.

Then I have received cover letters that do not work very well.

Alice saw an ad we had placed for a traffic manager position and sent in her cover letter and résumé via e-mail. “I would be very interested in the position you advertised (even at this ridiculously low salary),” she wrote, “and can meet with you at any time.” Imagine complaining in a cover letter about your salary even before the interview?

Stuart was a student at a high-quality university in upstate New York, who was graduating in May, and reached out to me with his cover letter and résumé to apply for an entry-level account job. I clicked on his cover letter first so I could learn more about him in his own voice. This was the first paragraph:

To the hiring committee. I am highly interested in applying for the position: this opportunity would benefit me and your company. Marketing, Advertising, and Business Strategy are the areas that fit my strength. With the newly acquired skills and knowledge that I have gained from my four year institution, now provides me to pursue a new career path to make my mark on the business world. Marketing is the core strength of my abilities and just the overview of how companies brand themselves and the use of business-marketing tactics to the public.

If you don’t have any idea what Stuart was talking about, well, I didn’t either when I read his e-mail. He may have been guilty of something many entry-level job seekers do, trying to sound smart when they would be better off writing something more straightforward and genuine to get their point across. I don’t know how this cover letter could possibly be sent to any company. I felt bad for Stuart because it seemed like the kind of cover letter he might have sent out with all of his job applications, which is another common mistake. You want every cover letter you send out to highlight specific points that are relevant to the company and job you are applying for.

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