Using Cover Letters to Establish Relationships - Portal

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.
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.”
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
 Close the second paragraph with a statement that shows intent and communicates
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
*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.