When clients ask me the difference between a resume and a cover letter, I explain that a cover letter takes you from today forwards, while a resume takes you from today backwards. Neither get you the job; they get you the interview.
There are five types of cover letters you must learn how to write effectively:
- Reply to an advert or job posting. If you’re replying to an advert, you should be pretty close to having all the specified credentials and skills. In the first few lines, tell the reader three essential things: why you are the perfect candidate, why you are intrigued by this job, and that you are ready to be interviewed.
- Introduction to a recruiter. The two most important details to a recruiter are whether you’re willing to relocate and the specific function or role you are seeking. Their world is flat. A recruiter in Toronto could be recruiting in Vancouver, and vice versa. If you’re not willing to relocate, are you willing to travel? And if you are, what percentage of the time? For example, “Currently I’m unable to relocate, however I’m willing to travel up to 50% of work time.” A recruiter has specific contract terms stemming from their clients and all criteria must be met; they slot their talent pool into functional areas of expertise.
- Networking connection. Someone in your network has displayed confidence in you by introducing you to one of their contacts, and you’re following up with a message. So you have to be very eloquent, tactful and diplomatic. You may write something like, “Mr. Stewart Brown of XYZ company referred me to you. He believes I will make the perfect sales leader at your company. We both believe I can bring value, based on [fill in details from your research about the company – match your skills and experience to their specific needs.]
- Direct mail. With only 9% of jobs advertised here in Canada, direct mail is a crucial way of getting in front of the influencers who make hiring decisions. Using LinkedIn, highlight the top 30, 40 or 50 companies you want to work for, identify the person who would be your boss or your boss’s boss, and market yourself to him or her. It can cost thousands of dollars to place an ad in the paper or hire a recruiter. If you show up on someone’s radar and make a good impression the day they dismiss their national sales manager, you could win an interview long before HR ever even gets wind of the position. Do your research in order to make a powerful, striking and relevant pitch.
- Solving their pain. Even in good economic times, there are always companies that are hurting. You need to be a detective (my old trade) and uncover that pain. If you’re in sales, maybe you discover underperforming revenue. If you’re a sales leader, maybe it’s a disenfranchised, underperforming, unmotivated team that you believe you can reinvigorate. If you’re a finance executive, they may not be meeting statutory compliance and you can help them fulfill their obligation to their regulatory authorities. In supply chain, they may be using the wrong vendors and paying through the nose, but your negotiation skills and network of vendors could save costs.
To find this pain, research all publicly-available information, but don’t stop there.Keep your ears open when networking with key decision makers currently in the company, and especially those who have recently left. They are the ones who will have all the dirt – and no allegiance – about what’s not going well in the company.
Out of respect and professional courtesy to those who’ve talked to you, never share their names. If pressed, explain that you did this due diligence in the strictest of confidence.
All but the first of these cover letters circumvent a company’s HR department completely. While it may seem counterintuitive, HR can actually be a stumbling block in your recruitment, because they may not have the most up-to-date information about what a particular department or team needs. Use these cover letter formats to reach hiring decision makers more directly, exactly when they need you.
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