8 steps to a perfect cover letter

Most cover letters are addressed to people you don't know, so let's just stop referring to them as cover letters since what they really are is sales letters. You are trying to sell yourself to a stranger.

The best way to think about this letter is in terms of direct mail, so pay attention to the well-funded, unsolicited offers you find at your doorstep. Many of those envelopes have been created by the finest writers in the direct mail business.

Here are eight rules from the direct mail experts that should guide your cover letter writing:

1. Open with a bang.
This is the line I used to write: “I am writing to apply for the position you advertised blah blah blah.” But DUH, of course you are writing to get a job. Why else does anyone write a cover letter? So use your first line to sell yourself and make yourself stand out. For example, “I think your company can use my exceptional sales skills and ten years of experience in your industry.”

2. Be clear about your purpose.
Your cover letter is the introduction to your resume. If your cover letter is longer than a page then it is likely longer than your resume, and who ever heard of an introduction that is longer than the main event? Also, write a separate letter for each job, because each sentence of your cover letter should be specifically relevant to the job at hand.

3. Use your time wisely.
A hiring manager spends ten seconds on a resume to decide if she'll reject it or not. This ten seconds includes your cover letter. Don't let your cover letter waste your ten seconds. The rule of a resume is that every single line of the resume sells you. This is true of the cover letter, too. In fact, it's shorter, so it should sell with more punch. Every sentence of the cover letter should give a specific reason for hiring you because you never know which sentence will catch the reader's eye during your precious ten seconds.

4. Format strategically.
Bullets work well in a cover letter to highlight your relevant achievements immediately. Odd numbers of bullets are proven to be easier to read than even numbers, so use either three or five. Seven is too many — the list will look so long that people will skip it.

5. Tell the reader the next step.
A cover letter introduces a resume and the point of the resume is to get an interview. So in the cover letter say flat out that you want a phone call or an email, because that's how someone sets up an interview. This call to action makes a nice last paragraph.

6. Say it, and then say it again.
Put your email address and phone number at the top of the letter, and on the bottom, too. The hiring manager should not have to hunt for your contact info because each second of that hunt is a second the person could change her mind about calling.

7. Come back to it.
If you copy and pasted and have the wrong company name in your opening sentence Spellcheck won't catch it and probably neither will you because it's very hard to catch errors when you've been rewriting the same letter for an hour. So come back to the letter in two hours, proofread, and then send. You'll be amazed and grateful at the errors you catch.

8. Follow up
You have to. I know it is a discouraging call to make because the odds are that you won't get through to a real person. And if you do get through to a real person he will give you no information. But there is a very slim chance that you will get someone on the phone who will take a good look at your resume just because you called, and that will get you the interview. That's why you need to make the call — because it just might work. Besides, picking up the phone is a lot easier than finding another job opening and writing another cover letter.

Posted in Job hunt, No image
13 comments on “8 steps to a perfect cover letter
  1. Beth Gillett says:

    Hi P,
    Can you please suggest a couple of good books and/or websites about writing cover letters

  2. Don B. says:

    Item 7 about checking a letter several hours after the initial completion is a tack we use on drawings and it works. It is amazing what you catch. I will see things I did years ago and see errors immediately I never noticed before. You had good advice here. I hope others will find it long after it was written just as I did because the advice remains valid.

  3. ivaylo says:

    Excellent post!I found here interesting advices!Keep writing!

  4. Shanali says:

    I’ve read several articles about coverletter writing in the past. This is the first one that has helped me write a cover letter I was excited about. Thank you so much Penelope.

    (P.S. Sometimes it just takes a woman’s touch)

  5. Laura Paris says:

    The article is amazing, The way you presented the article is very interesting. The site is excellent and very helpful thanks again…. :)

  6. matchmaker says:

    I'm so with you regarding apple pie being good anytime of year! Warmed up – vanilla ice cream on the side – .a bit of heaven! I can't wait to try this "healthier" version.

  7. Harika says:

    I took all the advice in this post…you’re like my online mentor now. :) If there is anything specific I have to ask myself, I go “What would Penelope TRUNK do?” Thanks a bunch!

  8. tecnicas para conquistar a una mujer says:

    Excellent post i found here interesting advices!!

  9. Kristen Kopriva says:

    As the YouTube videos are posted here same like I also embed YouTube video code at my own web site, as it is trouble-free to take embedded code.

  10. Sally says:

    Searching online for different sites to get tis on creating the perfect resume was very time consuming for me.My friend recommended this site and I was pleasantly surprised. The instructor knew what they were talking about. They suggested simple adjustments that really made it sound more professional. I highly recommend this site! https://student.gototraining.com/66n51/catalog/4324182763623444480

  11. Nichole Stewart says:

    These tips sound spot on! I found them very helpful and simple. This makes the writing a cover letter process more smooth for someone who is looking to quickly apply for a much needed job. I just completed a blog of my own that contains tips on how to compose an effective cover letter also. Here’s the link if you’d like to check it out. http://pwsatusf.wordpress.com/2012/12/06/3-tips-to-ace-your-cover-letter-in-no-time/ .

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