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Cover Letter Intro: Please get to the point

In the many cover letter evaluations I provide for members of client organizations and associations, I continue to be bored to tears with the opening paragraphs of cover letters. I know of no hiring manager who starts his or her day thinking, “I can’t wait to get to the office to read more poorly written cover letters and résumés…” One factor that drives the hiring manager to the edge is that of cover letters with opening paragraphs which state the obvious. Here are a few examples along with my comments:

  1. “I have attached my résumé in response to…”

  2. “Recently, I learned about a possible position with your company.  I am very interested in applying for this position.  I believe that my background and experience in this industry makes me an excellent candidate for the open position.”

  3. “I am writing to express my interest in working as an <position A> or <position B> with your organization. I am highly talented and dedicated professional with over 25 years of progressive experience in <skill A>, <skill B>, and <skill C>. Now, I would like to bring my expertise and knowledge to work for your organization.”

  4. “I am excited to see the <position title> with <company name>.”

  5. “I am interested in the position of <position name> posted on your website.”

  6. “I am writing to share my interest in applying for the <position name> as posted on your website.  <Position name> has been a strong desire of mine, and my customer service experience at <current employer name> would make a great fit for your organization.”

OK, that’s enough. None of these opening salvos generate any interest in the hiring manager to read further. If you’ve been following this blog, you’ve seen me write time and again about having only  5 to 7 seconds to get a hiring manager’s attention with the cover letter. None of these examples do it. You may have stellar experience and accomplishments, but by the time you get to mentioning them, I’m already reading the next candidate cover letter. PLEASE, get to the point sooner than later!

These few examples reveal a common problem with cover letters (besides not getting to the point): stating the obvious. It’s a “cover letter”; the hiring manager knows why you are writing it. You don’t have to write a preface about the purpose of the cover letter or why you are writing in the first place.  So, before firing off that cover letter with your résumé for that next position, keep these simple guidelines in mind:

  1. You MUST grab the hiring manager’s attention in that 5 to 7 second window in your first sentence and opening paragraph.

  2. The hiring manager already knows why you are writing, and already assumes you are interested in the open position, so there’s no need to restate it.

  3. Use your accomplishments and achievements (can you quantify them? If so, even better) to demonstrate how you are a great fit for the organization. Just saying so in your cover letter–without any demonstrated accomplishments/achievements on your résumé that show a contribution to a higher strategic objective–ring hollow in the ears of the hiring manager. “Demonstrated expertise” means that your résumé contains evidence of how your skills, knowledge, and experience contributed to generating revenue, avoiding costs, recovering costs, or some measurable percentage of improvement.

  4. Don’t summarize your experience in the cover letter–the purpose of the cover letter is to convince the hiring manager to look at the details of your expertise that’s on your résumé; speak directly to the hiring manager’s needs in the position–use the same wording that’s in the job ad. You want to position yourself as the hiring manager’s problem solver, solutions expert, game changer and you do that with (1) understanding what the hiring manager needs; (2) demonstrated achievements (don’t confuse task completion with achievement–see previous posts that detail the difference between the two).

  5. Saying you are “highly talented and dedicated” is only affirmed by demonstrated accomplishment.

  6. Don’t even write, “As my résumé reveals…” That’s a given as well…if the hiring manager is reading your cover letter, chances are there is a résumé in the vicinity.

  7. Hiring managers really don’t care much about what you “believe” about your background or experience–how you have demonstrated it with past accomplishments is what interests them. Oh, and hiring managers really don’t care much about how much you “love” a certain profession, field, or expertise–or how strong your “desire” is…again, it’s the demonstrated accomplishments that will communicate that to the hiring manager. “Love” and “desire” have no place in business correspondence.

Put yourself in a mindset of being in business for yourself as a consultant. How would you write a letter of introduction to a potential client? You’d begin by getting to the point with past accomplishments (especially when framed with $$or % figures), and assuring the potential client your expertise can serve him well going forward. Your “letter of introduction” has a self-promotional tone to it that reinforces your self-assurance that you understand the client’s challenges and issues and you are the best available expert who can help him achieve the business objectives necessary for future success.

And don’t forget to close the business letter–I mean, cover letter–with YOU initiating the next contact with the follow-up phone call.

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