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Do you REALLY need a cover letter? And what should it say?

A friend asked me the other day about cover letters.

My response: “As a recruiter, I rarely read them. They aren’t required for any of our positions, and most people don’t tell me anything in the cover letter that I can’t get from their resume.”

Does that mean that the cover letter can never be useful? Of course not. But be aware most recruiters I know don’t find them useful–because candidates rarely make them so. Exhibit A:

the_right_candidate_bad_cover_letter

What constitutes a useful cover letter? One that is clearly tailored to the job for which you are applying. It demonstrates how you have the most relevant skills/experience the hiring manager seeks. It must provide useful additional information (that’s not on your resume) and some color about why you are an exceptional candidate for this position for it to be worth investing the attention units to read.

Here is an example of how I would write a cover letter if I were to be applying for a sales leadership position with a global software company:

Hiring Manager Name
Title
Company

June 13, 2013

Ms. Hiring manager:

I would like to bring my demonstrated sales leadership experience<#1 skill needed in position>,  deep knowledge of the enterprise software market<#2 skill needed in position>, and strong global experience<#3 skill needed for position> to the Vice President, Business Development<job title> position with Globodyne International<Company Name>.

  •  Demonstrate relevant achievements to what they are seeking to the position:

At <Current Company>, I have increased year over year sales by $2.8 Million in the Northeast region through a combination of training/mentoring current staff and hiring new high potential sales associates. I led our implementation of Salesforce, resulting in a 28% improvement in customer retention. I also took the lead nationally on building a go-to-market sales strategy on our new SaaS-based product, resulting in a successful launch at over 140 clients that exceeded year one sales goals by 21%.

In past roles, I have opened new markets globally for enterprise software companies, including China and India; today those markets represent 22% and 18% of <prior company name’s> global sales. I have also built and developed sales teams in 4 different global markets for <prior company name>, all of which have won sales performance awards.

  • This paragraph is all about why you want the job–why the company/position/culture/mission really resonates with you:

A consistent thread throughout my career has been looking for opportunities where I can use my skills/experience to make a fundamental difference in the lives of others—both in a professional and volunteer capacity. <Company Name’s> commitment to enhancing the lives of people in developing nations through providing NGO’s and other humanitarian aid organizations with software that helps them fulfill their missions resonates with me strongly. I have been involved in an international aid organization as a volunteer for 15 years, traveling with them to developing countries to provide critical aid.

  • Closing pitch and follow up commitment:

The <job title> position with <Company Name> is a phenomenal opportunity to play a significant strategic role with an organization that is both an innovator in the enterprise software space as well as

I welcome the opportunity to talk with you about this role in more detail, and have reached out via LinkedIn to connect. Thank you for your consideration, and I will follow up by phone shortly.

Best,

Susan Sales Exec

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Discussion

4 thoughts on “Do you REALLY need a cover letter? And what should it say?

  1. Jon this is an EXCELLENT diagram of a cover letter! Many recruiters still ask for these illusive beasts and you’ve just made it that much easier to oblige. I’ll definitely be sharing this! 🙂

    Posted by Nancy Kick | October 9, 2013, 10:03 am
    • Thanks Nancy! Much credit for this is due to Alice Hanson, one of my longtime friends, former colleagues, and mentors. This is a slightly modified version of a cover letter she developed years ago and I have used ever since. Thanks to you, Alice–and enjoy Crete!

      Posted by Jon J-B | October 9, 2013, 1:39 pm
  2. Do keep in mind that if you are applying for a job that requires good writing skills, a cover letter is a great way to shine by showing that you have done your research and can write a thoughtful, well-crafted piece that is specific to the potential position. Even if I have asked for writing samples, the cover letter always tells me a lot about the person writing it – whether they intended it to or not!

    Posted by Amy Miner | October 9, 2013, 11:10 am
    • That’s very true, Amy–much as with the resume, the cover letter is in effect the first example of work you provide a prospective employer. And people view that very critically. Point well made.

      Posted by Jon J-B | October 9, 2013, 1:37 pm

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