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Cover Letters – Purpose and Structure

By Ford R. Myers
President, Career Potential, LLC

Cover letters are not so much a part of your “Job Seeker’s Tool Kit” as they are part of the implementation of your overall “self marketing” strategy. That’s right – a cover letter is a sales presentation in disguise!

With cover letters, you’re reaching out for a very tangible goal – a job interview. Cover letters are the most commonly used method to introduce your credentials to an employer. And they can serve as one of your strongest selling tools!

Avoid the “standard, boring” types of cover letters that employers receive every day. “I’m very interested in a position with Motley Corporation as a programming analyst. Enclosed please find my resume…” A letter like this basically says, “Hey, I need a job and here’s my resume!” Not a very impressive sales presentation, is it? More importantly, it does nothing to distinguish you from the crowd of other applicants sending the very same kind of drab, standard letters with their drab, standard resumes.

In a professional-level search, there are different letters for different purposes!

There are many times during the implementation of your full search campaign when you will rely on a written letter to speak for you. The way you present yourself on paper can make or break your success during any phase of the process.

Just think about all the different situations in which letters might be useful in opening doors, making a strong first impression, and in keeping your candidacy on the “front burner” in the eyes of key decision-makers. These include:

  • Letter responding to an advertised opening
  • Letter following-up on a personal or professional referral (this one is my favorite)
  • Letter introducing yourself to a decision-maker (called the “cold approach letter” – my least favorite type of cover letter)
  • Thank you letter (after first meeting) bullet Follow-up letter (after multiple meetings/interviews)
  • Response to a job offer letter bullet And others …

In general, there are three parts of a cover letter – and the middle part is a kind of sales presentation. Here is the outline:

Part 1: Introduction – Explain why you’re writing to the employer. Did you see a job posting; were you referred by a friend or colleague; did you see one of their executives present at a conference or meeting; did you read something in the business press about the company? Be specific and use your research. Give the recipient of your correspondence a sense of your knowledge by referring to industry trends, specific events, or media coverage. This is the best way to demonstrate your interest in the organization.

Part 2: The Sales Presentation – To sell yourself effectively, tell the employer your qualifications and give examples of your relevant experience. The same elements that make your resume effective work in your cover letter: use action words; be brief; be specific. Write about particular accomplishments and use facts and numbers to back them up.

Part 3: Wrap-up and Close – Be sure to restate in one sentence what you can do for the organization. Wrap-up your cover letter as strongly as you opened it. Restate your interest in working with the company, and why. It’s difficult for an employer to resist genuine interest and enthusiasm, combined with your knowledge of the company! Close the letter by directly requesting an interview. Take charge of the process by stating a timeframe in which you will call. Then follow-up precisely as promised, to demonstrate how responsible and professional you are!

As you can now see, cover letters can serve many purposes – the most important of which is to “sell you” when you aren’t personally in front of the hiring manager. When your cover letters are written correctly, they should create a great deal of leverage in your job search. This, in turn, will lead to more interviews and ultimately more job offers!

About the Author:
Ford R. Myers is an award-winning career coach and President of Career Potential, LLC. He is author of the best-seller, Get The Job You Want, Even When No One’s Hiring. Ford’s firm helps clients take charge of their careers, create the work they love, and earn what they deserve! He has held senior consulting positions at three of the nation’s largest career service firms. Ford’s articles have appeared in thousands of publications and web sites, and he has been interviewed on every major television and radio network. Ford has also conducted presentations at hundreds of companies, associations and universities. Learn more at

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