How do you write a perfect cover letter?
The best one is short and has a hook in it that will make the employer’s eyes pop out.
What will make someone’s eyes pop out?
That depends on whose eyes are reading it, what that person’s business problems are, and what you can do to help solve those problems:
- The company is located in Ohio and in the biotech business. Biotech companies tend to be clustered in a handful of areas – Philadelphia/New Jersey, Boston, North Carolina and California. If your cover letter mentions that you have a biotech background and that you would like to move back to the Midwest because you grew up in rural Indiana and still have family there, you could solve two of your reader’s problems: she’s had trouble getting biotech people to move to her small-town Ohio location, and when she has, most have moved back to Philadelphia or Chapel Hill, whenst they came, within a year or two. You know her industry and want to be there. She’s interested.
- The company has been trying to break into Wal-Mart for ten years. You opened up Wal-Mart, Target and Home Depot for your company, have been selling to all three of those retailers for 10 years, and told them that in the first line of your cover letter. The VP/Human Resources is on the phone to you within minutes.
Rules of Direct Mail Copy Writing
Research on direct mail indicates the following:
- The parts of a letter that are read first are the first sentence and the P.S.
- Bullets in a letter naturally draw the eye to those sections, and if you put bullets in a letter, the bulleted sections will be read first, even before the first sentence and the P.S.
Whether it’s being delivered by email or snail mail, and whether you’re sending one or a thousand, your cover letter is a piece of direct mail. Bearing this in mind, your letter should have a strong opening sentence and an engaging P.S.
I’ll leave it up to you as to whether you want to use bullets or not. Bullets will attract the reader’s attention, but they will also make your resume look more like advertising (and as we all know, advertising is less believable). I think you can go either way regarding bullets and have an effective cover letter.
The Hook: Your cover letter needs to have a hook in it that grabs the reader’s attention within five to ten seconds. That’s all the time you have to get the employer to read further, which means you have at best a couple of sentences to accomplish this. If you’re not using bullets, then your hook needs to be in the first sentence. If you use bulleted sections, your hook should follow your first bullet.
Here is where you need to immediately, instantaneously open their eyes, grab their attention and get them thinking about how you can solve their problems. In the cover letter sample below, you’ll see how Harcourt Potter came up with a hook that was irresistible to his reader. For more on how to develop the hook, get a copy of How to Get Your Point Across in 30 Seconds or Less, by Milo Frank.
Cover letters need to be customized. Forget the general, one-size-fits-all, cover letter. The cover letter needs to be targeted towards the employer’s industry and sub-industry, geography and numerous other differentials that are specific to the company. That doesn’t mean that if you send out a thousand letters that each letter must be unique. However, by using the miracle of word processing, you can easily develop a dozen or two dozen form letters, each a little different from the other, producing each time a letter that makes it look like you targeted it just for the company that will be on the receiving end.
Now let’s take a look at Harcourt Potter’s cover letter (you may want to take a look at his resume here to put this in context).
283 Swami Road
North Treestump, Vermont 05789
April 16, 2008
Hortense H. Granger, President
Fantasy Home Goods
426 Princeton Pike
Lambertville, New Jersey 08111
Dear Ms. Granger:
As a VP/Sales & Marketing, I recruited and led a sales force that opened up Wal-Mart, Macy’s, L L Bean and Bloomingdale’s, as our sales increased from $23-million- to $77-million in nine years.
During that time, the Marketing Director I recruited conceived and developed our award-winning Twinkle Barrels line that now represents 44% of company sales that you have probably seen on our monthly programs on QVC (and if you saw these, you’ve probably seen me, as I regularly appear on our QVC programs).
Now that we have completed our IPO and it appears that our marketing and sales directors are both seasoned enough to move into my position, I’d like to move to a larger company. I’d prefer a location that is less remote and offers better educational and cultural opportunities for my children as they move into junior high school.
Financially, I’m earning a base salary of $215,000, plus variable compensation in the range of 35% to 65%, including options.
I’ll be in New York City and New Jersey several times during the next four weeks, and would like to stop by to meet you then.
Can we meet?
P.S. I went to college at Princeton, and would love to return to the Princeton area.
This letter was aimed at a major housewares manufacturer located 20 miles from Princeton, New Jersey. Harcourt has caught Ms. Granger’s attention in several key areas. He knows her customers and the industry well. It also appears that he knows how to recruit and develop a team, rather than do everything himself. She hasn’t seen him on QVC, but is aware of the Twinkle Barrels line, and feels that her company could be doing big dollars on the home shopping networks. In addition, this just might be the right person to start up the infomercial program that marketing consultants have told her could easily increase their sales by $200-million when you include the boost their sales in the major chains would get from the increased publicity. Harcourt also has ties to and a reason for moving to her company’s area.
If Harcourt was also interested in moving back to Upstate New York where he grew up, he could mention where he grew up in letters to companies in Upstate New York. In letters to Ohio companies, he could mention how much he enjoyed Ohio during the four years he worked in that state, and how he still spends two weeks every summer there, visiting friends.
In letters sent to food manufacturers, he can open someone’s eyes by mentioning the Kroger promotion that was featured in Supermarket News, and his experience selling to Albertsons, Wegmans and Ralph’s. In letters to clothing importers, he can lead by mentioning Dillard’s, Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s.
Think customization and hook, hook and hook again when creating cover letters.
Copyright 2008 by Job Magician
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