In a Harvard Business Review article, David Silverman says, in regards to cover letters, “Don’t bother.” He says that the cover letters he sees usually fall into three categories: a recap of the resume, the form letter and the “I’m crazy” [for which he uses these examples: “Examples range from the merely batty ('I find batik as an art form has taught me to become both a better person and project manager.') to the truly terrifying ('I cast a pentagram hex and the central line pointed towards your job listing. I know you will find this as comforting as I do.')."
Silverman says the best cover letter he ever received was short and direct. It summed up the resume as it related to the job and then asked to talk about the job. My own version of this cover letter example looks like:
Dear (First name of hiring manager):
I’m writing to you about the open position of (job title).
I have 20 years of leading progressively larger organizations and projects and managing the budgets of departments and projects. I pay attention to details but I am also adept at seeing the big picture and planning accordingly. These skills are what I believe makes me an ideal candidate for this position.
Attached is my resume for your review. I look forward to speaking to you in the near future.
Jill L. Ferguson
Cover letters should be like the shoes and apparel in your wardrobe. No single cover letter will fit every or even most occasions, and one size of cover letter (number of paragraphs or words) is not appropriate for every job for which you apply. The best cover letters are custom-fitted to the occasion and are tailored so that you are seen more than it. Cover letters are place for your personality to shine and you can do this while still being 100 percent professional. (Or maybe not 100 percent professional… the Squarespace COO Jesse Hertzberg called this full of personality and F-bombing using cover letter the best he’s ever seen. )
While plenty of places online provide very specific resume templates, this month at Fairygodboss we are providing examples of the best cover letters by type: those sent when unemployed, when you want to change careers, when you’re looking for part-time work, when you’re a new grad, when the resume goes to a recruiter, when the resume is an e-mail submission, and when the resume is being sent cold contact.
When You’re Unemployed
Trying to land a job while you’re unemployed can be a nerve-wracking experience, worse than wanting to do if you’re new in town and know no one. Monster.com recommends focusing on the positive in the cover letter, being honest but not oversharing, filling in the gap and focusing on your strengths.
I helped a friend who spent her career as a nurse and nurse supervisor write a cover letter after she stopped out of the workforce for six years to care for her very ill parents until they passed. And she decided to do something other than caretaking for a while.
Her cover letter looked like this:
Dear (First name of hiring manager):
I’m writing to you about the open position of (job title).
I have almost 20 years of customer service and management experience from working as a nurse and nursing supervisor of 30 nurses and aids. I am an only child and for the past six years I have been the full-time caretaker (nurse, financial manager, cook, and companion) of my terminally ill parents. These skills and my experience are what I believe makes me an ideal candidate for this position.
Attached is my resume for your review. I look forward to speaking to about this opportunity.
When You Want To Change Careers
While Michelle’s cover letter was for both unemployment and changing careers, she didn’t use the catchphrase “transferable skills”. But in your cover letter for career changes, this is one of the key things on which to focus. Almost all of life and work helps us master skills which are transferable from situation to situation. In a change of career cover letter, you should so highlight your superior performance and show that you know about the company to which you are applying.
And example of this type of cover letter follows:
Dear (Hiring Manager):
This letter is to express my interest in discussing the Senior Customer Service Manager position. Although I have been working primarily as an Operations Manager, in this capacity I have interfaced frequently with customers, in addition to vendors and staff. This has instilled an ability to recognize, act upon, and fulfill customer wishes and needs in order to ensure their continued, and positive, relationship with the business.
The key strengths that I possess for success in this position include, but are not limited to, the following:
Provide exceptional contributions to customer service for all customers.
Strive for continued excellence.
Strong communication skills.
Eager to learn new things.
Fluent in both English and Spanish.
In my most recent job, I received an ‘Excellence in Customer Service’ award due to my ability to coordinate complex logistics in order to keep customers happy even when issues arose that were beyond the control of the organization. I believe my combined ability to successfully manage operations while also effectively interfacing with customers makes me a prime candidate for Senior Customer Service Manager position, as I know your company prides itself on customer-centered service and attention to details.
Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to speaking with you about this employment opportunity.
Your First and Last Name
When You What Part-Time Work
Just as much care should be taken in writing a cover letter for a part-time job as for a full-time position, and many of the same concepts apply. State the position to which you are apply, a summary of your skills, a few words that show you have an understanding of the company and end with a proactive positive phrase about looking forward to talking to hiring manager. The difference in apply part-time is you may need to state your availability, if it is limited, upfront.
The University of Kent in the United Kingdom offers this example for a student’s part-time work cover letter:
3a Hales Court
1st September 2011
Canterbury CT1 2HX
Dear Ms. Rice:
I am starting my second year at the University of Kent and am seeking part-time work for the coming year. I am particularly interested in working for Fenmans as this is a busy, prestigious store where I could make use of my experience in working with the public and my Spanish and French language skills.
As you will see from my CV, I have considerable customer service experience through my Saturday position at Asco and my work as a waitress last summer. These posts gave me the experience of working quickly and efficiently in a busy environment and I enjoyed the face-to-face contact with customers.
I would be available for work at weekends and on Tuesday or Thursday afternoons during term-time. During vacations, I would be able to work full-time if required and would also be available to work in the evening when Fenmans opens late during the Christmas shopping period.
If you do not have any current openings, I hope that you will be able to keep my application on file for future reference.
Thank you for taking the time to read this application and I look forward to hearing from you.
If you’re an older adult, you may or may not want to specify why you are seeking part-time employment (as opposed to full-time). I once applied for a part-time job to supplement my freelance writing income, and after the interview I was offered a full-time job instead. Sometimes it’s easier to get what you want when you make what that is clear from the beginning.
When You’re a New Grad
Collegegrad.com provides this important advice: “a successful cover letter is a marketing tool used to move your customer one step closer to buying your product. Customers do not buy features, they buy benefits.” To show how to do this, they offer this sample cover letter:
456 College Hall
Normal, IL 67890
February 16, 20XX
Ms. Jane Doe
Big Public Accounting, Inc.
123 N. Michigan Ave.
Chicago, IL 12345
I was referred to you by Mr. Dave Zbecki, a Partner with your New York office, who informed me that the Chicago office of Big Public Accounting is actively seeking to hire quality individuals for your Auditor Development Program.
I have more than two years of accounting experience, including interning as an Auditor last year with the New York City office of Ernst & Young. I will be receiving my BBA this May from Illinois State University, graduating Magna Cum Laude. I am confident that my combination of practical work experience and solid educational experience has prepared me for making an immediate contribution to Big Public Accounting. Having interned with a leading firm in the public accounting field, I understand the level of professionalism and communication required for long-term success in the field. My background and professional approach to business will provide your office with a highly productive Auditor upon completion of your Development Program.
I will be in the Chicago area the week of March 16. Please call me at 217-222-3456 to arrange a convenient time when we may meet to further discuss my background in relation to your needs. If I have not heard from you by March 9, I will contact your office to inquire as to a potential meeting date and time. I look forward to meeting you then.
Tracy Q. Graduate
This letter focuses on what the student has done (not her lack of experience or the jobs she has had that may not be relevant) and it makes clear the applicant’s qualifications, their familiarity with the company and how they can contribute. Those things are what hiring managers look for from not only recent grads but from every applicant.
When Your Resume Goes to a Recruiter
Cover letters and resumes to recruiters required special handling, according to LiveCareer.com In Headhunters Revealed, author Darrell W. Gurney admits that most recruiters don’t read cover letters. They look for skills and experience on the resume, and then if it seems to be a match for a job, only then might they glance at the cover letter. And if they do glance at your cover letter, this is the information they hope to see in less than a page in length:
- Contact info
- Why you’re on the market (and what your timeline is)
- What companies you’d like to work for
- A summary of your background
- If you’re willing to relocate
- Possible salary requirements
Dear Ms. Jones:
With the current slowdown in hiring within the tech industry, you must be flooded with resumes from outplaced software engineers such as myself. Please take a moment to consider my qualifications. I believe one, in particular, is highly marketable in this tight market:
I worked on the team that pioneered current cloud storage technology.
In today's increasingly mobile society, this technology is imperative for our lives and I envision the ways it can help us in the future,
Please call me with prospective job opportunities. I am interested in a project management position in the $150-200K range. I am willing to leave the Silicon Valley for the right opportunity.
Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to your reply.
When Your Resume is an E-mail Submission
If you’re applying to a job using old-school snail mail, write your cover letter like a formal letter, with your name and address either centered at the top or right justified, the date left justified, a space skipped, and then the name and address of the recipient left justified with a space skipped before the Dear Whomever.
If you are sending a cover letter in the body of your e-mail, pay attention to the subject box on the e-mail and use your words wisely. The subject line should be very specific and say exactly who you are and to what you are applying. This example was given on Monster.com: "Bilingual CPA seeks account manager position."
Then the rest of your letter should be like the examples in this article: Dear so and so:, a few short paragraphs, followed by Sincerely, (or some kind of appropriate remark) followed by a space, and then your typed name, with your address, phone number, e-mail address stacked underneath. Like this example cover letter closing:
123 Any Street
Anytown, CT 11112
Email: [email protected]
When Your Resume is Being Sent Cold-Contact
A resume and cover letter that is sent when no positions have been advertised is called a “cold-contact”. Because its purpose is to introduce yourself and generate interest that results in an interview, its content is critical.
First, avoid formal language (such as the old standard “Please find attached my resume for your review…”. Start with something warmer like “At the American Dental Hygienists Association’s conference last week, I met Shannon Henry and she talked about how much she loved working in your office and how you provide first-rate dental care to children. I, too, love children and find working on their teeth the most fulfilling part of my practice. This is why I think I would be a good addition to your staff.”
For cold-contacts, always be sure you send the cover letter to a specific person; phone the place if you need someone’s name and correct spelling. Summarize your history or highlight your qualifications in one paragraph. Keep the cover letter short and your ask very specific, such as “May we schedule a phone call or a meeting to talk about any possible opportunities in your department (company, or on your team, etc.)?”
And don’t be afraid to send a follow-up e-mail or to make a phone call a few weeks later if a job what that particular person or company is what you really want.
Basically, your cover letter may be your first contact with someone so it is important that it makes a great first impression on your behalf.
Former professor Jill L. Ferguson is an award-winning author of seven books, including co-author of Raise Rules for Women: How to Make More Money at Work, and thousands of published articles. She is also an artist, business and higher education consultant, entrepreneur and founder of Women's Wellness Weekends.