A resume talks about your past, while a cover letter talks about your present and future. Effective cover letters won’t land you a job, but they will help you get the interview! How do you know if you need a cover letter? When you communicate directly with someone about a position: Responding to a posted job, contacting a recruiter, following up on a network introduction, contacting a targeted hiring influencer, or to offer a solution to a problem.
Respond to a posted job. When you respond to a post or an ad about a job, you are contacting HR, and their interest is in ensuring that a candidate is a good fit for the position and the organization. Your cover letter must include three points: The highlights of what makes you the perfect candidate, what makes you interested in this position with this company, and your readiness to be interviewed.
Contacting a recruiter. Recruiters are experts at matching resumes to positions. Your cover letter for them needs to include information that isn’t in your resume: Your limits and requirements. What is the goal of your job search, where are you searching, and are you willing to travel? A recruiter needs to know how to narrow down the matches to the ones you’ll want, so your limits, boundaries, and goals are a welcome addition to your resume. Your degree in engineering is relevant, but your desire for a C-suite positon in an aerospace manufacturing company tells a recruiter even more. Relocation and travel are frequent issues with matching jobs and candidates, so your recruiter needs to know if you’re willing to relocate and where, as well as if you’re willing to travel for work (and what percentage of travel is acceptable).
Following up a network introduction. When a network contact offers an introduction or a referral to a hiring influencer, a cover letter is both an acknowledgement of that connection you share and why you’re worth referring. Include three points: The acknowledgement of the mutual connection, the position you desire, and the value you bring to the table. Example: “Ms. Jean Miller of ABC company referred me to you. She believes I have the right communications and leadership skills to lead your business-to-business division. We both believe I can offer great value, based on [fill in details from your research about the company – matching your skills and experience to their specific needs.]”
Contacting a targeted hiring influencer. With fewer executive positions being openly advertised, emailing a hiring influencer directly is a way of putting yourself on a short list of possible candidates when a job opens up. Make note of the top 20-40 companies you want to work for, identify the person who would be your boss or your boss’s boss, and market yourself to that target. A few hours of research and another few hours of customizing your resume and cover letter for each company is a small investment to make yourself visible on the radar of hiring influencers. This is the same cover letter you want to keep updated and on file in case your network connections offer information that one of your dream employers is about to hire. Be prepared to jump to the front of the candidate line!
Offering a solution to a problem. Even in a great economic climate, there are always companies experiencing pain or a stumble. Is there an organization you’d love to work for that’s having an issue that your skills and experience can solve? Your cover letter should include the pain the organization is experiencing, the skills and experience you have to resolve it, and why you believe this is the right organization for you. Do be discreet if you have gotten a tip from a network connection instead of a public source. If asked for your source, explain that you offer your network contacts the same promise of discretion and loyalty you will offer your next employer.
Getting a job is about making connections, and cover letters are a perfect way to introduce yourself and tell hiring influencers about where you are in the present, and what you can do for their organization in the future!