Lindsay Olson

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Write an Attention-Grabbing Cover Letter

2879955156 221541a8ae Write an Attention Grabbing Cover Letter

I'm not a huge fan of cover letters. The "Is a Cover Letter Necessary?" topic is a highly debatable topic between recruiters. Most will tell you cover letters are absolutely necessary, but there are some of us out there who will openly admit that we always look at your resume first. It's true. A cover letter is secondary. If the resume fits the job specs and you didn't send me a cover letter, I could care less. I'll still interview you.

Before you get too excited, I'm not recommending a complete omission of the cover letter. Some companies put a lot weight on deciding who comes in for an interview on the letter itself, so it's better to have one ready. I'm just sayin'.

The type of cover letters I prefer are more like introductory letters embedded in the email. I'm not talking about that cover letter everyone learned about in college. You know the one: traditional, long, full-page 5 paragraph monster filled with boring adjectives that everyone uses to describe themselves. Blah! This introductory email is brief, direct, and cuts to the chase. It tells me everything I need to know to decide if I should open the attachment before moving on to my other emails.

A good introduction includes:

  1. A brief description about why you are contacting the person and how you found him or her.
  2. The position you are interested in exploring (a link is helpful if you found it online somewhere).
  3. Top three reasons you fit the position. Be specific. Add a previous accomplishment that addresses the possible challenges in the position.
  4. A bit of personality.
  5. A closing statement and contact information.

Four Christmases ipod

Scarface movie

Here is a basic introduction letter outline of someone I would be inclined to call.

Hi Lindsay,

I began following you on ____ and I recently came across your current search for a (position title) in (city). (Add link here if you have it).

If the position is still open, I'd like to put my hat in the ring. Even though (industry) is a new field for me, I'm a fit for the position's background criteria.

* 10+ years in corporate communications (in-house at (company) and two agencies: (company) and (company).
* Built out the PR function and brand from the ground up for a major (industry of company).
* Reported directly to the (title of person reported to)

I was the (insert your title here) at (company). But don't let the title fool you: I built the PR program from scratch starting in (year) as the company's first departmental hire. By the time I left in (year), (I accomplished this which meant $$, %, or something significant). I left (company) to (reason for leaving) and ....

I've attached my resume and would like to learn more about the position. Please let me know if you're interested in speaking further. I can be reached at _____.

Best regards,

The accomplishment and the three bullet points should be address some of the requirements or challenges you might face in the position.

Customization and personalization are the keys to writing effective cover letters. While your cover letter may include some of the same material, it needs to be changed for each individual position. If you are an accountant in New York and you're moving to Canada, you'd naturally want to highlight the fact that you're familiar with a Canadian professional tax software package since there are obviously going to be differences in systems from country to country. A job search is a job in itself and requires some extra effort for each position for which you apply. Blanket cover letters reek of laziness and do little to set you apart from your competition, so don't go there with your intro.

Do you think cover letters are always necessary?

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13 Comments - Add yours!

Journey to a New Job and Giving Thanks | City Sparkle DC (April 16th, 2009)

[...] Write an Attention-Grabbing Cover Letter Blogs: [...]

Bill Prickett (April 16th, 2009)

Thanks for the great insight.
Bill (@AslanWRP)

Libby Krah (April 16th, 2009)

For entry level applicants, I think a customized cover letter is still necessary. Especially in a field like public relations, in which communicating effectively and holding your readers’ attention is vital, cover letters can function as a writing sample, not just an introduction.

Lindsay Olson (April 16th, 2009)

Libby – I agree. An entry-level applicant should NEVER skip the cover letter. The cover letter serves as a writing sample and compensates up for the lack of experience. Entry-level candidates should still try to make it a bit more interesting than filler adjectives detailing their attention to detail and hard work ethic though.

Mark L. Olson (April 16th, 2009)

Lindsay, I wish it was that simple. In March I wrote about what I call a “Sales Cover Letter” — — in which I describe the extra miles many candidates need to go to in order to explain how they fit and why they are the best candidates.

This is expecially true if the candidate: 1) is at a VP or C-level; 2) is moving from one industry to another; and/or, 3) has an accomplished background in more than one industry i.e. s/he doesn’t have an unbroken string of 10-15 years in a single industry.

In these situations, the candidate’s resume almost works against him/her. Recently, I have used sales cover letters of 4-5 pages (2000-2500 words) as described in my blog post to make it to the finals for VP level positions in an industry where I have not a single day of work experience, but where I have a passion to make a new career. The search committees have told me it was the letter that earned me the spot in the finals because it explained in detail what I had to offer against their specific criteria.

One point on which we are in violent agreement is the generic cover letter. Seriously, if you can’t put a couple hours into writing something original and specific, don’t bother.

Lindsay (April 16th, 2009)

Mark, thanks for your comments. I agree that there are certain situations that require the extra miles that you describe, especially for an industry change. You have to spell it out for the hiring manager.

I should make it clearer in my post that I’m talking about candidates who have the industry/discipline experience. Since I specialize in a PR and communications, I’m assuming the person sending me their cover letter for a specific position has the qualifications and experience in the industry, so in that case, the introductory letter is totally fine.

I’d have to argue though – a 4-5 page cover letter, for any situation, in my opinion is overkill. It sounds like in your situation it worked, but it’s not something I would think most would need to consider.

brooke sf (April 16th, 2009)

I think cover letters are a bit of a misnomer in today’s world of email communication. Can we change the name to intro email or cover blurb, because it’s really no longer a letter, it’s a basic introduction to who you are, to entice the person to read further/open your resume.
I agree with Lindsay that you should write it with the single goal of getting someone’s attention. To all the PR people out there reading this, it’s a basic pitch to entice further followup action — this is what you do everyday for clients, the only difference here is the client/product is *you*

Stephanie Lloyd (April 16th, 2009)


GREAT post. Thanks so much for sharing.

Re: “there are some of us out there who will openly admit that we always look at your resume first. It’s true. A cover letter is secondary. If the resume fits the job specs and you didn’t send me a cover letter, I could care less. I’ll still interview you.”

Yes, and I am one of them. With that said, I work primarily in finance and accounting and am typically looking for very specific knowledge and experience. I feel that many cover letters I’ve received in my recruiting career boil down to, “I don’t meet the minimum qualifications for this position BUT I COULD DO THE JOB and here’s why.” Won’t cut it – not going to work – therefore, a waste of everyone’s time.

Like you, cover letter or not, I go to the resume first. If I see that minimum qualifications are met I will (most of the time) at least skim the cover letter.

With all of that said, there are industries and situations that do require well thought out, professionally written cover letters. Mark gave a great example, as did Libby. Therefore I think that the points you made and the example you provided are extremely helpful for job seekers.

Thank you again for sharing!


Barbara (April 27th, 2009)

I greatly enjoyed your blog regarding the cover letter and fully support the use of cover letters (attached or in email) for many jobs. 1. It is easy to have someone help write a resume and a generic cover for you. It is less simple to find someone who will write every original cover letter. Therefore, I tend to assume that the candidate wrote the cover. It is a good indication of their writing skills. 2. I have posted jobs, such as Executive Assistant or marketing coordinator, for which writing will be an important part of the job description. The cover is the first test. 3. I want to hire someone who has read the job ad (I write very detailed ads) and if a cover letter is required, it is mentioned at least twice in the ad. If someone does not send a cover, they are not considered – ever. If you can’t follow the first direction given, why would we want to hire you?

Jasmin (April 30th, 2009)

This was incredibly useful. Thank you for this!

My Online Job Search | Daily Biz Solutions (July 27th, 2010)

[...] then I’ll decide which jobs I’ll apply to first and pull open industry- or position-appropriate cover letter that I’ve already used to apply to at least 10 other jobs. I’ll change up the opening anecdote [...]

perezme (May 16th, 2011)

I think we were connected on FB because of our fields, which is one of the better FB suggestions I’ve had from the programmers at FB over the years! I continue to be impressed by your enthusiasm and insight into job searching in the PR/Communications field. Now that I am in the job search, you were the first blog I googled for cover letter advice. This is a perfect viewpoint for me, and one I plan to implement in my upcoming job submissions. Thank you!

allison (February 22nd, 2012)

I have read many sites trying to help with apps and this is seriously the first not by the book. boring, I learned this in college advice. Your template cover letter is short, sweet, sassy, and what businesses are really looking for today. Thanks!!

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