Using Cover Letters to Establish Relationships Years ago, I had the opportunity to read some love letters, which spanned the time from the moment my great-grandfather first met my great-grandmother to several years later when he wrote to check in on their children while he was traveling. Each letter was simply his side of the conversation, but I could easily imagine her comments and questions, based on how the letters progressed. Obviously, letter writing is a lost art, but I am hopeful that this guide will help you learn how to write a strong letter that effectively connects with your audience. Your cover letter will be your half of your first conversation with the intended reader. Cover letters are the perfect complement to your resume, which is written and targeted to each employer in a factual way. In contrast to the resume language, which omits first person language, cover letters exist to bring your resumes to life by establishing a relationship with the potential employer. The cover letter is relational, professional, and should exemplify your writing skills. The initial goal is to persuade the reader to consider your resume more thoroughly and connect the dots, answering initial questions in their mind. The ultimate goal of both the cover letter and the resume together is to land an interview. It is not uncommon to be completely overwhelmed when you start to write your first letter, so I recommend that you do a first draft as an exercise in stream of consciousness writing. You will then walk away from it for a brief time, return, reread, and begin making edits. I rarely delete anything in the beginning, but often use strike-through text or change the order of things. When you read it for the first time, imagine yourself as the reader. Ask yourself if each sentence makes sense and if it flows from the previous sentence. In contrast to a lengthy paper, where each paragraph builds on another, in a cover letter, each sentence builds on the previous and each paragraph typically stands alone. You see, unlike my great-grandmother, your intended reader will not read your letter from top to bottom. Instead, he or she will skim it first and if they like what they see, they will take more time and read it in depth. Your job is to anticipate both styles in the hope of motivating them to read it completely. I have found that people who see themselves as strong writers often struggle with the cover letter. It is too succinct and direct for them. When I meet with people who tell me they have no idea where to start, I often turn the computer screen away from them and ask what they would want me to know if I were the potential employer and we ran into each other in the grocery store check-out line. As they begin talking, I type what they say and then turn the screen back to them, as proof that they are simply hung up on the writing of the first draft, which they now have. We then begin the process of editing together. As you begin your first rough draft, I find it is best to imagine that you are striking up a conversation with someone you are interested in for the first time, whether that is a potential date or employer. Ask yourself, “What is our common ground?” and start by commenting on that. For instance, “So-and-So recently mentioned that you enjoy rock climbing.” Or, “Earlier this week I had the opportunity to review your website and noticed your need for a social media intern.” The door is now open for you to mention yourself: “I have been rock climbing for the last three years and climb the Tennessee Wall regularly.” Or in this case, “After reviewing the job description, it looks like my previous experience, educational training, and interests should be a strong complement to your needs.” It is critical to remember that from the employer’s viewpoint, your search is not about you, it is about them, their needs, and whether or not who you are and what you have to offer is in line with their needs. A common mistake is to talk about yourself without connecting with the reader. For example, if someone walks up and says, “I like action movies and pizza and since there is a screening of my favorite movie this weekend, I would like to take you with me. I will pick you up at seven.” Or, “I am a well-qualified radiologist, with notable accomplishments. I want to work for you so I can replay my loans.” You would likely respond that you are not interested, walking away with the thought that “That person is self-absorbed and a little creepy.” Employers think no differently than you. Instead, if the same person came up to you and said, “You recently mentioned that you are a fan of the Star Wars series; I am a huge fan, too. There is a showing this weekend I was wondered if you would be interested in joining me.” That person is working to build a relationship. Similarly, someone might say, “After learning about your need for a credentialed radiologist and reviewing your webpage, I am impressed and excited about the work you are doing. As I prepare to complete my fellowship, I would like to explore the possibility of joining your team.” Write your Cover Letter 1. Greet the reader (example “Dear Mr. Jones,”). Do your research and find out the name or title of the recipient. If you cannot find specific information, use a general title such as, “Director of…”, “Hiring Manager”, or “Internship Coordinator”. Do not address your cover letter to “To Whom It May Concern.” 2. If you are mailing or hand delivering, your address belongs at the top of the letter, using standard block or modified block letter format. 3. If you are sending your resume electronically, place your contact information below your signature. (Do not include it in both places.) Remember: Your job search is about what you can do for employers, not what they can do for you. FIRST PARAGRAPH: The first paragraph typically covers what position you are applying for and how you learned about it. If you have some common ground or relationships to mention, this is the place to do that. If a friend recommended you apply or if you are following up on a previous meeting, use this opportunity to refresh their memory. For example, “The information you shared during your recent visit to Covenant College broadened my understanding of actuarial science and practical application of my math and statistical training.” SECOND PARAGRAPH: The second paragraph is where you begin connecting dots for them and preemptively answering questions Communicate how your specific experience, interests, skills, and even personality will be an asset to them. Imagine the person responds to your first paragraph and asks: What qualifications do you have for this job? Please demonstrate how you have already been prepared for this position. From your research, networking, etc., what interests you in our organization? Could you mention your enthusiasm about our projects based on your research of our organization? How might your background and interests help us meet our needs? How do you hope to be an asset to us? What do you have to offer or give to this position? (For internships) Tell me what you have to offer and what you hope to gain through this experience. Close the second paragraph with a statement that shows intent and communicates excitement. THIRD PARAGRAPH: Customize as you are able: “You will find my resume attached for your consideration. Thank you for taking time to consider me for this position. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me. I look forward to learning more about your needs and how I might be able to help you address them.” Optional (only if needed): “I anticipate being in Your Town Name in Specific time frame, if you would be available to meet with me while I am in the area, please let me know, so I can plan accordingly.” Sincerely, *Joe Student *When sent as the body of an email, you will need to list your contact information below your name in the signature (close of the letter), but not at the top of the letter.
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