1. Write the letter to a specific person—the person you think is the one who would hire you.
Lets face it: Your cover letter to “To Whom It May Concern” or the “Vice-President of Sales and Marketing” is rather ho-hum to the reader. Instead, take the trouble to find out the name of the person who is in the likeliest position to hire you.
This means that unless you are applying for a job in Human Resources, don’t write the Human Resource Manager (even if you know his/her name)! Your public library can help you with directories that list executives in various industries if you can’t find out the information from someone inside the company or from the company website. And you can always call the receptionist and ask for the company’s mailing address--and then ask the name of the specific person you’re looking for (Director of Marketing, etc.). Asking for an address makes it more likely that you’ll get the information you want rather than asking only for the name of a person with a specific title.
2. Do your research.
The more “generic” your cover letter, the less successful it is likely to be. You want to demonstrate that you know something about the reader’s company, something that you had to do some research to find out. Such information can be found on web sites, in annual reports, in your local newspaper and/or business journal, in trade magazines, etc. Customizing your letter to a particular company is impressive and makes you stand out from the pack of job-seekers.
3. Tell the reader what you can do for the company, not what you want the company to do for you.
Hirers are not impressed with cover letters that begin by explaining what you want a company to do for you. (“I am an experienced accountant looking for a mid-sized, dynamic accounting firm with opportunities for development”; “I am a corporate trainer who is interested in opportunities to develop creative curriculum in leadership development”). Instead, begin by stating some specific way in which you can help the company or department accomplish a particular goal, preferably giving an outstanding example of a related accomplishment (“Having had direct responsibility for three successful mergers in the energy industry, I am an ideal candidate to assist you with making a smooth transition in your recent merger with Company X”).
4. Be specific about the job you are seeking.
Hirers do not want to serve as your employment counselor; they want you to have already done your homework and figured out exactly what job you want. The “I can fulfill so many roles, just put me where I’m needed most approach” will get your letter filed in the wastebasket. The time to explore other opportunities within the company will come, if at all, during the interview if/when the interviewer takes the initiative to ask you about your other options.
5. Quantify your accomplishments.
After your initial attention-grabbing statement of how you can help the company and stating your greatest related accomplishment, list four or five additional accomplishments—bulleted and quantified. Quantified is the key word.
Rather than bulleting “Computer-skills trainer for six years” you would say “Trained 8500 students to achieve Microsoft certifications in past six years.” Rather than “Worked with sales team to increase sales effectiveness”, say “Responsible for increasing team sales by 37% in two years.” Your numbers can be approximations, so long as you can explain their rationale if requested. Think of quantifications involving estimated cost savings, contribution to a company’s bottom line, employee retention, specific initiatives, etc.
6. Mention only accomplishments that directly relate to the job you’re wanting to get.
You probably have achieved many things that don’t relate directly to the job you’re trying to land. Organizing an outstanding global conference of 3000 attendees is a terrific accomplishment to mention if you’re applying for an event-planning job, but not if you are trying to get hired as a newspaper editor. Similarly, winning a Pulitzer prize would not be an accomplishment to mention in your cover letter if you are applying to be a project manager in a construction company (you can mention it later in a resume`).
7. Keep it brief, succinct and simple.
Your cover letter should be short and to the point. Rarely should it be longer than one page. Remember, you are trying to capture the reader’s interest in knowing more about you. Telling your life story is boring.
8. Make it easy on the eyes.
When you’ve finished writing your letter, print it up and take a “big picture” look at it. Is it visually appealing? Is there plenty of white space (using bullets increases the white space)? Does it look un-crowded? Or is it filled with complicated sentences and jammed to the margins? Does it look like a letter you would want to read?
9. Close with an invitation for the reader to act.
Why are you writing this cover letter? Answer: To get an interview. So tell the reader you would like to talk or meet and include these words: “Please give me a call at such-and-such a phone number.” Don’t say “I’ll give you a call in a few days to follow up and see if you’re interested in meeting”. That statement encourages the reader who might be ready to pick up the phone to put the letter aside and wait for your call. You’ve lost the interest and momentum you worked so hard to achieve.
10. Follow up with a phone call—or a second letter—within a week.
People get busy. They intend to call but get sidetracked by other priorities. Don’t assume that someone isn’t interested just because s/he doesn’t call you after your first letter. So give the person a call if possible; if you can’t reach him or her, write a second cover letter reminding the reader of your first letter but adding some new quantified accomplishments. Again, ask the person to call you and give your phone number.