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Tips On How To Write An Effective, Creative Cover Letter
A FIRST DRAFT...
WHAT A COVER LETTER IS...
In today's ultra-competitive job market, job candidates must learn to write effective cover letters. First impressions are key. Make yours stick.
Creative cover letters that instantly grab a hiring manager's attention will force him to read your resume... which should always be a primary goal for every cover letter you write.
Having written dozens of these letters for a variety of situations, I've learned a few tricks on how to help yours rise to the top of the pile.
Cover letter tip number one:
TREAT YOUR COVER LETTER FOR WHAT IT IS: A SALES LETTER.
Every great sales letter opens with an arresting sentence or headline. Cover letters are no different. In fact, I like to treat the entire letter as an expanded resume headline. Just be sure not to sneak in every qualification. That's what your resume is for.
Be yourself. Be creative. But don't lie.
Here's an example. You're applying for an entry-level sales position listing the top requirements as: A college degree, a strong desire to succeed, excellent communication skills, and the willingness to learn new skills.
Wow. You hit the jackpot. Such an open-ended posting begs for a creative opening headline. I'd probably write something like this:
Four years, plate after plate of lousy food, a carousel of noisy roommates and all I get is this silly cap and gown? Your company and I can do better than that. Right?
An opening salvo like that gets my attention. It demonstrates a young mind in search of fertile ground. Such headlines have gusto... Unlike this mess:
Are you still looking for a young, ambitious, people person who's great in class?
Actually, I'm not...pass.
So please, do yourself a favor and treat your cover letters for what they are: Sales letters. When you do, chances are your resume gets a going over.
A COVER LETTER'S PURPOSE...
Once you've decided to treat your cover letters as sales letters, it's time to explain their purpose.
Cover letter tip number two:
THE PURPOSE OF EVERY COVER LETTER IS TO INVITE ATTENTION TO YOUR RESUME, AND TO GET IT READ... IN FULL.
So how do you do this? Quite simply, you respond to the employer's requests and qualifications specifically detailed for the job. Doing this is relatively simple once you get the knack. -- These requests are usually listed near the top of the job description, or listed in bullet form somewhere in the posting.
I like to take the top two or three qualifications and address them with one or two short, sentence paragraphs.
Using a personal (and TRUE) story is a great way to capture your reader's attention.
Here's another job posting example:
Our company specializes in fulfilling dreams through personal growth and individualized, lifestyle-enhancing products and programs.
We focus primarily on direct marketing so a background in that field is highly recommended. We will also be launching into online marketing soon, so a desire to learn will be a plus.
Our products and programs are specifically designed to help people realize their fullest potential, enhance their lifestyle and achieve personal fulfillment. We're looking for the right person dedicated to helping our customers achieve their goals.
We have an immediate opening for an entry-level management trainee reporting to the director of marketing.
We stress a system of self-management within a team structure; so your success depends highly upon your ability to work individually and part of a team. All of our team members work toward the common goal and share in the larger reward.
We seek candidates with basic business fundamentals, strong interpersonal & team building skills, professional drive, and a strong desire to succeed.
Please respond with a cover letter of intention along with a current resume of qualifications. Please mention this ad in your cover letter.
No, the job posting is not real, but you get the idea. Now where do we start? First, we write a headline. Make it a grabber. Something like this...
Tears welled up in my eyes as I watched Tommy receive his diploma.
That would get me... or at least fuel the curiosity to know where the candidate is going...
Tommy's a great kid. Struggling early in life, he came back strong. He's my 'little brother' and I'm his mentor. I'm his 'big brother.'
Some would call this off-topic. I feel it draws the hiring manager into a story. People love stories. Stories invite people to read on. And once your reader is captivated, you can begin answering their questions.
Still keep in mind though this is a sales letter. You're selling your ability to do the job. Keep selling, but be creative. Be soft.
Your next few sentences should focus on the employer's biggest needs. In this case, a desire to help people reach their potential (which you already covered in your headline), a background in direct marketing, the team philosophy, and personal discipline.
Both of these requests can be answered in a couple of short lines:
As a senior 'big brother,' my role as a community-involvement director guided me into many lives. With other 'big brothers' I walked the neighborhoods where most of the boys lived listening to people and their stories. Knowing where someone comes from helps you to help them.
It wasn't always easy doing this work. But now that I've done it, I understand why I needed to. I was given a responsibility and allowed the freedom to get it done, on a team and on my own.
Seeing Tommy proudly receive his diploma was all the affirmation I needed.
For this example, that's a good ending point. You've drawn the reader in and covered the primary job qualifications: Enjoying people succeed, direct marketing, being a team player, and personal discipline.
From here you can elaborate on the smaller specifics such as: Mentioning your college degree (make sure it's relevant), acknowledging where you saw the job posting, and inviting them to review your resume.
Now you're ready for your closing.
BRINGING IT ALL HOME...
After you've successfully addressed each point in the employer's job posting, you'll need to summarize your letter and send out an invitation.
Cover letter tip number three:
SUMMARIZE YOUR PRIMARY SELLING POINT AND REQUEST AN INTERVIEW.
This is your opportunity. Even though you've engaged your reader with a unique story centered around your qualifications, your cover letter should never end without a request for an interview.
In keeping with our sample job posting, an appropriate closing might read like this:
Thank you for taking time to read my story. I'm confident your position for an entry-level management trainee strongly melds with my strengths and my desire to help others achieve success.
I would honor the opportunity to meet with you during a personal interview to share more about my background and let you know how Tommy is doing. I'm ready to excel in your organization.
Thank you for your time. Thank you for reviewing my candidacy.
You can finish by writing a brief sentence referring to your current resume being attached as well as letting them know you'll be following up.
As you can see, writing a creative, yet effective cover letter is not that difficult. Once you establish your writing confidence and begin using your uniqueness to your advantage, the interviews and offers are sure to follow.