Cover letters are essential to both successful job hunts and business proposals. A poorly written or missing cover letter can cost you a step in your career or a lost contract that directly affects your income.
While a resume or a proposal can detail the what, when, and where, a cover letter supplies the why. It’s an instrument of persuasion that tips momentum in your favor. That’s why it is vital to think through your cover letter and make sure it hits the mark.
Cover Letters for Job Seekers
When it’s time to advance your career, your resume will outline the history of your work experience, but it can’t capture the “real you.” Despite all of the qualities companies list in job postings, they are usually looking for something more. What is that elusive trait? Well, “It can’t be defined,” many hiring managers will say, “but we’ll know it when we see it.”
That’s why a strong cover letter is crucial. Contrary to popular view, it’s not the role of your cover letter to get you a job. Its sole purpose is to get you an interview. So, rather than a becoming a dry recap of what’s already in your resume, your cover letter gives you a chance to do at least one of these three very important things:
- Point to two or three specific, outstanding factors of your history or talent that make you ideally suited to the specific company and the role they’re looking to fill.
- Make your cover letter warm, witty, or authoritative. Show a side of your personality that’s appealing and leaves people wanting to know more about you.
- Demonstrate insight into the company, so they can see you’ve considered their situation carefully before approaching them.
If you can do one or all of these things in your cover letter, you can leverage your way onto the short list of finalists even if your background isn’t quite as strong as others who don’t get an interview.
That’s because hiring managers are humans, and they want to know that your humanity, creativity, insight, social skills, and personality are that positive combination of attributes they want to bring into their company and add to the community there.
Humans Read Cover Letters, Bots Read Resumes
Remember, your resume will probably be evaluated by a bot, but the hiring manager will read your cover letter — often moments before they speak to you for the first time. For this reason, it is the foundation of how you present yourself as a person. If you’ve set up your strongest arguments for the job in your cover letter, you can use those same points in your discussion with the interviewer, confirming the positive impression you made in print. These same points are likely to form the basis of some of the hiring manager’s questions. The cover letter not only helps to get you an interview, but it also aids you in turning the conversation to your advantage in a way that your resume cannot.
(That said, give your resume the best chance of clearing bot hurdles by using tactics that satisfy the Applicant Tracking Systems, i.e., bots, used by many employers. Read more about this at The Muse.)
Cover Letters for Business Proposals
A similar situation exists when you submit a proposal to a prospective client or strategic partner. You’re competing for room in their mindset in addition to a portion of their business activity. Chances are your proposal will be passed to people you don’t even know, so your cover letter is the only opportunity you have to address them. It needs to accomplish at least one (but preferably all) of these things:
- Define the context in which you make the offer. Why are you approaching them?
- List the two or three most important benefits they will receive if they accept the proposal.
- Show a bit of the brand character you bring to the offer, such as your company’s experience, reliability, reputation, flexibility, or some aspect for which your firm is well regarded. Avoid copying and pasting a boilerplate statement; instead, relate your strengths to the challenges faced by the prospect’s company.
- Leave a lot of white space. Allow bullet points to do most of the work for you, and keep your cover letter brief. To make a point stand out, clear the forest of words around it. Don’t bury it in a paragraph. Make it as easy as possible for the eye to catch your most powerful phrases.
Whenever a proposal cover letter engages the interest or curiosity of a prospective client, it dramatically increases the odds that the client will carefully read the proposal that follows.
In the best situations, your cover letter has the power to persuade your audience to want to make a deal with you, so they’ll examine your proposal with an eye toward finding reasons to accept it. In others, it can address important questions up-front to eliminate them as obstacles, or it can introduce benefits that the client previously did not understand or have the focus to absorb.
Finally, it can represent your professionalism in a way that makes your proposal attractive to your contact’s superiors. All of these are crucial considerations in a cover letter.
No proposal in the world will make your concept come to life like the cover letter that sits on top of it. Show your prospects how their pain will end. Help them picture a future of enormous income. And do it in half a page if you can.
Summary: Cover Letters Matter — A Lot!
When seeking a new position or proposing a deal to a new client, your cover letter is essentially your sales representative. It needs to be attractive, well-spoken, and focused on the goals of the recipient. Take the time to write it well or, if you’re too busy to do so, let the editors at Wordzen help.