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Cover Letters Explained

Hereís the problem with cover letters: you never know how carefully hiring managers will read them, if at all.

While some employers merely glance at cover letters, others pore over them with a fine-tooth comb, looking for reasons to read your resume...or throw it in the trash.

What to do? I suggest you err on the side of caution and assume every employer will read every cover letter you send. Here are 3 ways to write an effective cover letter, following an age-old advertising formula.

1. Get attention

Start your letter with an opening paragraph that grabs a hiring manager by the eyeballs and forces them to read your resume. Like brewing beer, thereís more than one way to do this right.

Example: You can drop the name of a mutual acquaintance in your first sentence: "Jack Smith in your Purchasing Dept. suggested I contact you about your need for a Project Manager."

(Notice how "you/your" appeared 3 times? The more reader-focused your letter is, the better.)

Or, start off with an intriguing question, like this: "How often have breakdowns in your customer service resulted in lost business and costly headaches? I can help you."

After you get attention...

2. Develop interest

Next, tell the employer what's in it for them -- what will they gain from hiring you? Again, focus on your reader, instead of on yourself.

Example language: "I understand the frustrations and problems faced by a project management professional. More importantly, my 7 years of experience producing results for two Fortune 500 companies will help me overcome most of the challenges you face."

A great way to develop interest is to "reverse engineer" the job posting youíre responding to. Pick out the key requirements of the employerís want ad and show how you meet each one in your cover letter. This is an EASY way to get more interviews.

Now, itís time to...

3. Prove it -- and "force" employers to call you

Itís one thing to claim you can do a good job. Itís another to prove it.

So, spend the bulk of your cover letter proving youíre the one to hire. Doing so can "force" employers to call you by appealing to their self interest and pushing their emotional hot buttons.

Example language: "After managing more than 105 projects to successful completion since 1997, I can do the same for you. Hereís a sample of the kind of results I've delivered before, and can deliver for you:

Now, what employer wouldn't want to interview someone like that?

With a little digging, you should be able to come up with similar success stories to put in your cover letter. The more specific, the better.

4. Bonus tip Ė follow up!

What happens if you send out a top-notch cover letter and resume...and don't hear back?

Jimmy Sweeney, author of the "Amazing Cover Letter Creator" (, suggests you send a follow-up letter one or two weeks after your first resume and cover letter. "This gives you a second chance to get noticed and interviewed. A good follow-up letter gives you a true advantage over the competition," he says.

Bottom line: don't make the mistake of spending all your time writing and polishing your resume...and then skimping on the cover letter.

If you can get the readerís attention, develop their interest, prove you can do the job and then follow up, your cover letter will get you more interviews, faster.

Now, go out and make your own luck!

-Kevin Donlin
Kevin Donlin owns and operates Guaranteed Resumes. Since 1995, he has provided resumes, cover letters and online job-search assistance to clients on five continents.
Kevin has been interviewed by WCCO and WLTE radio, and KMSP TV, among others. His articles have appeared in the National Business Employment Weekly, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Twin Cities Employment Weekly and others.
As a reader of this publication, you're eligible for a special offer. Get your Free Job Search Kit ($25.00 value) at the Guaranteed Resumes Web site
copyright (c) 2004 by Kevin Donlin