One of the most common requests to come my way is “can you help me draft a cover letter?” Or, more often, “OMG I NEED A JOB PLEASE HELP ME” which then rapidly evolves the aforementioned request (that, and CVs – but we’ll talk about those another day). Cover letters – which can accompany not only CVs but reports, business pitches, and submissions to media outlets – are the frontispiece of your written communication. They’re the vanguard to the army which is your CV, striking hard and softening the target (potential hirer) before the cavalry of your professional experience rolls in and tramples any resistance into the linoleum. If your cover letter’s strong enough, it can even do the trampling for you and single-handedly win you the job/deal/line of credit which you so desperately need.
A good cover letter has impact. It is succinct and convincing. But most of all, it is sexy. And this is how you write a cover letter which will make prospective employers roll over and beg for more:
1. Be succinct.
What do you feel when you see huge reams of text and multiple pages? Me, I feel my gag reflex. Cover letters – no more than 300 words. Just like a striptease, less is more.
2. Know what they want.
You remember how in school your English teacher would tell you to “answer the question”? Same deal. Figure out what the target is asking, then decide how you intend to go about answering that. For example, take this job ad I saw recently:
We are looking for highly motivated individuals to join a team of the universe’s most talented strategic specialists. Suitable candidates will have a stellar track-record in their field of specialisation and a high proficiency in at least one of the following: hand-to-hand combat, small arms, or artillery. Candidates must be have at least 500HP and Level 10 in their specialised class. Previous planet-saving experience preferred.
“Highly motivated” and “talented strategic specialists” are basically fluff. “Stellar track-record” is my burden of proof – I need to prove I’m one of these to have a chance at joining the team. Everything in my cover letter should contribute to proving this in some way. Then there are the necessities: weapons proficiency, health, and XP level. If I don’t meet all the necessities, I’m in trouble. In short, know what you have to prove with your cover letter before you start writing.
3. “It’s not me, it’s you”
When writing cover letters, most people seem to inevitably end up talking about themselves. They talk about how this opportunity will “enrich my skill set and professional experience” or that they’re applying because they “have a strong interest in the field” or a whole number of other things about how the opportunity will help them.
If I’m a hirer or venture capitalist or Commander-in-Chief, I don’t give a flying rocketship how you wish to extend your core competencies or gain invaluable industrial experience. I want to know you can do the job and do it better than any of the other mugs also flinging their CVs in my face. So fulfil your burden of proof. Show me how you can help me. Not the other way round.
I believe this opportunity to join the N7 team will help me better appreciate interplanetary relations, in which I have had an interest since Mum ran off with a giant squid thing from Saturn. I am also hopeful that I can develop a more extensive network of connections amongst fellow skilled individuals for future synergistic co-operation.
I have a decorated military record, the fastest ship in the galaxy, and a private army. Also, my guns are big. Both metaphorically and literally. When do I begin?
4. Write conversationally.
Your cover letter is usually the first communication you’ve had with the target. That means you need to demonstrate what a suave, capable and all-round-awesome individual you are within the first few moments. Imagine you’re on a first date. You don’t start off conversation by saying
Dear Sir/Madam, this conversation is to inform you that I believe myself to be a suitable candidate for the position of Life Partner commencing immediately
You say something like
Hey girl/guy. My name’s ______ and I’m a Senior Partner at <impressive-sounding company>. I like walks on the beach at sunset and have a PhD in Quantum Computing from MIT. You do too? Let’s talk about phase states while I get you a drink.
Similarly for a cover letter, try to adopt a reasonably conversational tone. Contractions like “I’d” instead of “I would” can help, as can a more direct form of addressing the “question”:
In your posting on galaxy-jobs.com, you mentioned candidates needed certain weapons proficiencies. I’m a career sniper who’s also trained in ju-jitsu and asskicking, and (etc etc)
This also demonstrates to your target that you know what they want, which is akin to showing your date you’re interested in their love of tea cosies and cats. It makes them feel special. The trick here is to be conversational while retaining a cool, professional tone. Think elegant with a touch of ice. People with money love that.
5. Make sure you have immaculate punctuation, grammar and syntax, along with clear formatting and the correct details (name spelling, address, company name) of your target.
See the “first date” analogy. Don’t rock up in shorts and thongs – unless your target is a surfing company.
To summarise: the more you work out, the sexier you get. Keep read/writing,