The Power of a Great Cover Letter!

posted by Dilip on May 1, 2018

I’ve always maintained that a cover letter provides you an additional avenue to make your case beyond what a strong résumé alone can provide when applying for a job. The undeniable power of a great cover letter comes from its ability to persuade its reader to see things beyond what is otherwise possible through a résumé—even a great résumé!

Why do I say this?

Last week two examples jumped out that further reinforced my conviction that a strong cover letter—much like a persuasive closing argument in a court case—can make the difference between getting the reader’s attention and their trashing your response, along with many other such responses, with or without a cover letter.

One example is of a client applying for a product manager role at an e-commerce company at the top of its game. So, as we applied for that role my client had done some research on their market position and what some of its competitors were doing. We translated that into a compelling cover letter with some ideas that could be adopted by product managers to further up their game at this company. There were also other ideas that could be implemented to keep its competitive edge, of which some were proven, others were intriguing teasers.

This client got through the rigorous rounds of interviews and when the skip-level boss—a VP of Product Management—had a final round with my client he told my client that one of the reasons he stood out from many other applicants was his well-researched and cogently articulated cover letter. He said that this was a major differentiator that stood out for him to be a star candidate.

In yet another case there was a C-level opening at a Fintech company reporting to the President for a new job opening. When responding to that job we had done some research on the company’s position in the global marketplace and had presented some new ideas on how the company could further distance itself from its competitors in this fast-growing space. Not only did that cover letter make a difference in how it positioned my client in their eyes, they re-scoped that job with some of the ideas suggested in that letter to further ratchet-up that job description. Even with the revised submittals to the original position my client’s response stood out and he was selected.

So, what are some of the tricks behind writing a great cover letter that differentiates you from others and how to make that closing argument so cogent and so compelling that they must act on your message? Here are some tips I ask my clients to follow:

  1. Writing a compelling cover letter is serious business. So, unless you are prepared to do deep research, put in some effort, and work on making that message compelling do not bother with the cover letter. Most people cut-and-paste the items from the job description at the top and then do the same from parts of their résumé to call it a cover letter. Do not bother—it is insulting. It also shows that you are too lazy to bother.
  2. Decide who should read that letter and how it should be addressed. This is part of the research you must do.
  3. Craft a compelling Subject Line that grabs them by their lapels and shakes them to read what you have in that letter. This is not an easy task to craft such a subject line.
  4. Create a few compelling bullets at the top as a part of the letter’s body to keep their attention and to intrigue them to read the text below this set of bullets and to keep them reading the letter.
  5. Make two or three points with data and conclusions to show that you understand their business and what they are after in filling this position. Show them how you’ll carry out this new idea, delivering them what they are looking for—sometimes reminding them what they should be looking for, challenging their status-quo!
  6. Show that you have done this before beyond what is already in the résumé. Don’t just tell them SHOW them!
  7. Keep the letter to less than one page.
  8. Use positive language and tightly edit the letter (editing should take about 2-3X the drafting time or even more).
  9. Let someone else also read the letter and critique it.
  10. Send it in a differentiated way: through a contact, Overnight package, or some other memorable way. Do not just submit it on line if you can avoid it (sometimes you cannot!).

A well-crafted cover letter takes time and effort, but based on my own experience (the two I cited from last week alone), you’d be doing yourself a great service by taking this approach to job search than merely shot gunning with a résumé that often lands in a black hole.

Good luck!