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Whether you’re a new graduate responding to that first job application or a laid-off professional living in a cardboard box under a railroad trestle, writing a proper cover letter could be your gateway to a rewarding career or at least a sturdier packing crate.

However, even the most seasoned job hunters find themselves intimidated at the prospect of creating a cover letter. “Am I boasting too much?” they worry. “Should I mention my references?” “How do you spell ‘embezzlement’?”

Such concerns are minor, except for the felony. Writing a compelling and powerful cover letter is a relatively simple task, especially if it’s about someone other than you. However, you’re all we have to work with, so let’s take a look. Stand up straighter! Don’t slouch!

Hmmmm…just how good are your references?

A well-written cover letter can mean the difference between placement in a job that fits your skills or one that surrounds you with choking fumes, hazardous molten steel and muscular, hate-filled men who bitterly resent you.

A well-written cover letter can mean the difference between placement in a job that fits your skills or one that surrounds you with choking fumes, hazardous molten steel and muscular, hate-filled men who bitterly resent you.

Too often cover letters tend to be formulaic, which is fine if you’re applying for a job writing formulae – a skill so specialized that you probably already have a job. But for those following a more traditional career track, using a standard, “one-size-fits-all” letter can produce such uninspired results as this:

TO: General Manager, One-Size-Fits-All Apparel Company

As a (go-getter; name-taker; butt-kicker: Select one) I believe I would be a (benefit; asset; formulae: Select one) to the One-Size-Fits-All Apparel Company. I offer a wide range of skills and an ability to (think outside the box; color inside the lines; fit into one size: Select one) that would help make your successful company even more (good; nice; real nice: Select one). I hope that you will consider my enclosed (résumé; bribe; blackmail photos: Select one) as you look over job candidates.

I look forward to hearing from you.
Respectfully,
(Your name; someone else’s name; more blackmail photos: Select one)

Technically speaking, there’s nothing really wrong with this letter, unless your intention is to be hired. If so, consider ways to create a letter that go beyond the mundane, past the merely interesting, into the realm of the creative, through the portal to the Dark World, out along the rim of the Oblivion Void….

Okay, that’s too far. Back this way, a little. A little more. Aaaaand…THERE! Put it in park, hand over the keys, and follow these rules:

  • A successful cover letter weaves an intriguing story about you, reflects an insightful grasp of the prospective employer, delineates your skill set, portrays your individuality, and expresses your business commitment, all in less than a half dozen words or, better yet, just a feral grunt.
  • Take the time to research a perspective company before you set pen to paper. Knowing how they operate will help guide the tone of your letter. Also don’t write with pen and paper. What are you, Charles Dickens?
  • If possible, target your letter to a person rather than an anonymous “Dear Sir/Madame”. This can prove a challenge as many companies, particularly large firms, rarely include the names of hiring managers unless they’re combat trained.
  • Mention mutual contacts. Do you and a company executive share a common acquaintance? Probably not, since they rarely associate with your kind. Still, it’s worth a little exploration through a practice the business community calls “networking” and the criminal courts call “stalking.”
  • Turn a personal trait or quirk into a unique benefit to a company. For example, which of these phrases stands you out from the crowd?

“I’m an enthusiastic team player!”

or

“I’m an enthusiastic team player who’s also highly radioactive. Consequently, I respect peoples’ boundaries.”

Finally, carefully manage your expectations of what a cover letter can accomplish. It is, after all, but the “appetizer” to your résumé, which is the “salad course” introducing the “entrée” that is your job interview. Hopefully, that won’t cause you a panic attack, or “spilled soup”, that requires a visit to the rest room, or “rest room”, to “rinse a stain” – puke – “use hand sanitizer” – pop a Xanax – then “return to the table” – call your therapist.

Bon Appetit!

Permission to re-use this material for non-commercial purposes is granted provided that Dave Jaffe, www.davejaffecomm.com is appropriately credited as the author and source. Please feel free to link to this page.

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