Read an Excerpt
The Perfect Cover Letter
By Richard H. Beatty
John Wiley & Sons
Copyright © 2003
Richard H. Beatty
All right reserved.
TO COVER LETTERS
The cover letter that accompanies your employment resume is perhaps
one of the most important letters you will ever write. Other
than your resume, it is the single key document that will introduce
you to a prospective employer and, if well-written, pave the way to that
all important job interview. It is an integral part of your overall job-hunting
campaign, and it can make or break you, depending upon how
well it is written. Construction of this document should, therefore, be
given very careful attention. The care that you give to writing this letter
will certainly be a major factor in getting your job search off to an
excellent start. Conversely, a poorly written letter is sure to scuttle
your campaign before it even begins.
The Purpose of the Cover Letter
Before you can expect to write an effective cover letter, you must
understand its purpose. Without a clear understanding of what this letter
is intended to accomplish, chances are it will be poorly designed,
vague, and generally ineffective. On the other hand, understanding
the purpose of this letter is paramount tomaximizing its impact and
What is the purpose of the cover letter? What is it intended to do?
Well, first and foremost, it is a business letter used to transmit your
resume to a prospective employer. So, it is a business transmittal letter.
Second, it is a letter of introduction. It is used not only to transmit
your resume but also to introduce you and your background to the employer.
Third, and importantly, it is a sales letter, intended to convince
the prospective employer that you have something valuable to contribute
and that it will be worth the employer's time to grant you an
To summarize, then, the purpose of a cover letter is:
1. To serve as a business transmittal letter for your resume.
2. To introduce you and your employment credentials to the
3. To generate employer interest in interviewing you.
Certainly, knowing that these are the three main objectives of a well-written
cover letter will provide you with some basic starting points.
We will be further discussing these objectives and the related elements
of good design throughout this book. For now, it is important to simply
keep these objectives in mind as we further explore the topic of constructing
effective cover letters.
From the Employer's Perspective
When contemplating good cover letter design and construction, it is
important to keep one very important fact in mind: The cover letter
must be written from the employer's perspective.
Stated differently, good cover letter writing must take into consideration
the end result you seek in employer action. More specifically, you
want the employer to grant you an interview, so it is important to understand
those factors that will motivate an employer to do so. To understand
this important phenomenon, it is necessary to realistically
address the following questions:
1. How does the employer read the cover letter?
2. What are the key factors the employer is looking for (and expects
to find) in the cover letter?
3. What are the motivational factors that will pique the employer's
curiosity and create a desire to interview you?
I think you will agree that these are some important questions to
ask if you are to be successful in designing cover letters that will be
truly helpful to your job-hunting program. You must pay close attention
to the needs of the prospective employer, rather than just your
own, if you expect to write cover letters that will motivate him or her
to take action. Cover letters must, therefore, be "employer focused"
rather than "job-searcher focused" if you want to really maximize their
Top sales producers have always known that the most important
principle in sales success, whether selling goods or services, is selling
to the needs of the buyer. What is the customer really buying? Where
are the priorities? What specific needs does he or she need to satisfy?
Without knowing the answers to these questions, it is easy for the
salesperson to emphasize product characteristics and attributes that
have absolutely no relationship to the customer's real needs, and deemphasize
characteristics and attributes that are truly important. The
Ideally, therefore, it is important to research your target companies
very well to determine what it is that they are buying (i.e., looking for
in a successful employment candidate). If you are conducting a general
broadcast campaign covering several hundred companies, such individual
company research may simply not be feasible. If, on the other
hand, you are targeting a dozen or so employers for whom you would
really like to work, such research is not only feasible but should be
considered an "absolute must." Careful advance research, in this case,
will pay huge dividends, returning your initial investment of time and
Even in the case of the general broadcast campaign, where you have
targeted several hundred companies, there are some things that you
can do to focus your cover letters on the real needs of these employers.
Here are some guidelines for conducting meaningful employer needs
1. Divide your target list of employers into industry groupings.
2. Using industry trade publications and key newspapers (available
in most libraries), thoroughly research each industry grouping
for answers to the following questions:
a. What is the general state of this industry?
b. What are the major problems faced by companies in this industry?
c. What are the barriers or roadblocks that stand in the way of
solving these problems?
d. What knowledge, skills, and capabilities are needed to address
these problems and roadblocks?
e. What major trends and changes are being undertaken by
companies in this industry?
f. What new knowledge, skills, and capabilities are needed to
successfully orchestrate these changes and trends?
Having conducted this type of general research, you are now in a
position to better focus your cover letter on key needs and areas of
interest to the majority of companies in each of your targeted industry
groupings. This provides you with the opportunity to showcase
your overall knowledge, skills, and capabilities in relation to those
important needs areas. Such focusing substantially increases your
chances for hitting the employer's bull's-eye, which will result in job
Where you can narrow your list to a dozen or so key companies, individual
company research can have even greater payoff. Here, you
have the opportunity to really zero in on the specific needs of the employer,
and you can bring into play a number of research techniques
for doing so. The research you do here can, in fact, be tailored to each
individual firm; so you can substantially increase your probability of
success and up, by quite a bit, the number of potential interview opportunities.
In many ways, the methodology used in conducting single-firm research
is similar to that already described for industry-wide research.
You will note some of these similarities as you review the following
guidelines for researching the single firm.
1. Determine the firms you would like to target for individual research
(firms for which you would really like to work).
2. Using industry trade publications and key newspapers (available
at your local library) as well as annual reports, 10K forms, and
product literature (available from the target firm's public affairs
and marketing departments), thoroughly research for answers
to the following questions:
a. What is the general state of the company?
b. How does it stack up against competition?
c. What are the key problems and issues with which it is currently
d. What are the key barriers that must be removed in order to
resolve these problems/issues?
e. What knowledge, skills, and capabilities are needed to remove
these key barriers?
f. What are the company's strategic goals?
g. What are the key changes that will need to come about for
realization of these goals?
h. What new knowledge, skills, and capabilities will be needed
to bring about these critical changes?
Here, as with research of industry groupings, individual company research
enables you to use the cover letter to highlight your knowledge,
skills, and capabilities in areas that are of importance to the firm. In
the case of individual firm research, however, there is the added advantage
of being able to tailor the cover letter to target your qualifications
to very specific, known needs of the employer. This can provide you
with a substantial competitive advantage!
Another technique that you should employ when doing individual
firm research is networking. If you don't already belong, you might
consider joining specific industry or professional associations to which
employees of your individual target firms belong. Using your common
membership in these organizations as the basis, you can call these employees
for certain inside information. Here are some questions you
might consider asking:
1. Is the firm hiring people in your functional specialty?
2. Are there openings in this group now?
3. Who within the company is the key line manager (i.e., outside
human resources) responsible for hiring for this group?
4. What are the key things this manager tends to look for in a successful
candidate (e.g., technical knowledge, skills, style)?
5. What key problems/issues is the group currently wrestling with?
6. What kinds of skills and capabilities are they looking for to address
7. What are the major strategic changes this group is attempting
to bring about?
8. What qualifications and attributes is the group seeking to help
them orchestrate these strategic changes?
Answers to these questions can give you a tremendous competitive
advantage when designing an effective cover letter and employment resume.
You will have substantial ammunition for targeting and highlighting
those qualifications of greatest interest to the employer. Here,
you can make the most of your opportunity for successful selfmarketing
by focusing on the critical needs not only of the organization
but of the functional hiring group as well. Clearly, this is a
technique you should employ if you want to maximize your chances of
The underlying principle behind this needs research methodology,
whether industry grouping or individual company research, is that
organizations are always looking for individuals who will be "value
adding"-that is, individuals who can help them solve key problems
and realize their strategic goals. These are the candidates who are
seen as the value-adding change agents-the leaders who will help
move the company ahead and enhance its competitive position rather
than allow it to stagnate. Employer needs research will allow you to
design effective cover letters that can truly set you apart from the
competition and substantially improve your chances for landing interviews.
How Cover Letters Are Read
Although, in many cases, such practice can be self-defeating, the great
majority of resumes and accompanying cover letters are often sent to the
attention of the employment or human resources department. It is here
that the cover letter probably least serves the interests of the job seeker.
The truth of the matter is that most human resources and employment
professionals are unlikely to pay much real attention to the cover
letter. In the course of a year, it is estimated that the employment manager
of a medium- to large-size company may read over 20,000 resumes
along with accompanying cover letters. This considerable experience
has led most professionals to conclude that cover letters seldom add little
meaningful information to that already provided in the resume
itself. Such letters are usually of the "broadcast" variety and are frequently
redundant to the resume.
Having learned this, the employment or human resources manager
will normally give the cover letter only a cursory glance and first concentrate
on reading the resume. This is because the resume details the
specifics of the candidate's background and qualifications and is used
for comparing these qualifications with the hiring manager's specific
When reading the cover letter, the employment manager will usually
look to see if it is the mass-mailed "broadcast" kind, or if it is more
personal or specific to the company. Managers usually try to ferret out
letters that indicate any kind of firsthand association with the company-for
example, friends of employees and executives, shareholders,
and local community leaders. These letters normally require a more
personal response, and care is taken so that an inappropriate form response
is not accidentally sent. Unfortunately, however, cover letters of
a less personal nature normally receive very little initial attention from
If this is the case, then why write a book on cover letters? Why take
time to provide advice to people on how to best design and construct
such letters if they are barely read? The answer to this is fairly simple.
I am recommending that, in most cases, you not send your cover letter
and resume to the human resources or employment departments of
the firms that you have targeted for your mailing. Instead, I am
strongly recommending, where at all possible, that you address your
correspondence to a specific individual within the corporation. This
person should be at a fairly high level and should be within the particular
business function or discipline most closely related to the position
for which you are applying. Thus, if you are a tax accountant, you will
want to direct your letter to the director of taxes. Similarly, if you are
an engineering manager, you will want to write to either the director
or vice president of engineering. If you are already at the director or
vice president level, however, you should correspond with the firm's
president or chief executive officer.
What is the logic behind my recommendation to send your cover
letter and resume directly to the line function rather than the personnel
department? Again, the answer is fairly simple. The reason is that
the employment manager, in many cases, has knowledge only of those
positions that are currently open. He or she may be totally unaware of
the future hiring needs of line managers-needs that they are thinking
about filling at some future point.
Excerpted from The Perfect Cover Letter
by Richard H. Beatty
Copyright © 2003 by Richard H. Beatty.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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