WRITING THE PERFECT COVER LETTER
by Kotow Shergar
I) A potential employer is considering several candidates with powerful resumes. Let’s say that you have a 3.82 GPA from Harvard, but the other has a 3.86 from Princeton. You have worked for the #11 and #17 ranked companies in Fortune, but the other has worked for #8 and #20. How does an employer decide?
II) A writing sample is required for the job, but you don’t have one and do not wish to create one. What can you give them to demonstrate your writing ability that does not require you to know anything about the job?
III) You try to pass your resume to a manager, but the manager will not read it without an introductory letter. How do you overcome the requirement?
A cover letter is the solution to all these scenarios. There are two ingredients to a great cover letter: a great master cover letter that says everything an employer needs to hear, and a specific job posting giving the particular info that you need. Let’s start with what your master cover letter should look like:
Every cover letter starts the same way: “I would like to be considered for…” The tricky part is what comes next, which depends on what job you’re applying for, because it’s one of those exceptions to the rule of sending the same cover letter to every employer. As a placeholder, write “I would like to be considered for the $$ position at !!!”
Next, explain how you learned about the job. The mistake some people make is giving an unimpressive explanation. You should always say: “I learned about the job at an alumni function for [insert high-USNWR-ranking-school here] at which I was an invited guest.” This lets them know that you are invited to important alumni functions, and are thus worthy of being invited into their corporate family.
After this opening, most people explain why they are a good candidate for the job. “Good candidate” is good, but it is best to say you are the “best candidate” for the job, which will inform the hiring manager that he or she should disregard all competing cover letters. Explain that you are uniquely qualified because of your combination of education, talents, and experiences, i.e. “I am the best candidate for this position because I am uniquely qualified by my education, talents, and experiences.”
The body of your cover letter should echo your resume: combine a high-powered school with high-powered internship experience and a healthy dose of the most current business buzzwords. You should recap your resume line for line, but this time add in the fact that you succeeded, excelled, or conquered, and that you developed excellent skills and talents.
For example: “Harvard University B.A., Business Administration and Macroeconomics (double major)” becomes, “At Harvard, I conquered a rigorous course load to excel in the successful completion of a double major in business administration and macroeconomics, and developed excellent writing, analytical, and financial skills along with a sharp mind that can solve any problem.”
Applying this wording to each item on your resume will also serve to lengthen your cover letter, demonstrating you are capable of writing large quantities of text and thus handling a large workload.
Next, you have to connect the body of your cover letter back to the current job. Keep it simple with something like, “due to these myriad skills and experiences, I would be an ideal $$ at !!!”
Finally, thank the hiring manager for his/her time, say that you are excited about the position and await an interview, write “sincerely,” and be on your way.
Now you have a great master cover letter from which you can generate any number of other cover letters. Here’s how to do it:
First, find a desirable position. Craigslist.org and Monster.com are great, but a premium job site like TheLadders.com is even better because the jobs on The Ladders pay more money.
Here is one I pulled off Monster: “Sterling National Bank, with offices in Midtown New York City, Queens, Nassau, and Westchester, was founded in 1929. Sterling serves the needs of businesses, professionals and individuals by offering a broad array of financial products and services combined with a unique high-touch approach to customer service. Sterling National Bank is…
The Operations Manager will manage the daily functions which facilitate loan activity within the warehouse lending portfolio. This includes the processing of daily funding, shipment and repayment of loan advances through highly automated systems and addressing and resolving any loan exceptions.
From this description, you can pull the two key phrases: “Sterling National Bank” and “operations manager.” Find your master cover letter on Microsoft Word, and use the “find and replace” function. Replace “$$” with “operations manager” and “!!!” with “Sterling National Bank.” Save your cover letter.
Next you want to personalize your cover letter with the name of the head of HR at Sterling National Bank. This quadruples your chances of being hired. Imagine you are the secretary to Sterling National Bank HR Director Stacy Miller (I won’t tell you the real name of the HR head because it took me six hours to acquire that information), then contemplate the two scenari here:
A) You receive a cover letter through Monster.com from somebody that you do not know, and it begins “Dear Sir or Madam” or “To whom it may concern.”
B) You receive a cover letter through Monster.com from somebody that you do not know, and it begins, “Dear Stacy Miller.”
In scenario A, you will read this letter and discard the application, because you do not know to whom it is intended. In scenario B, you will be about to discard this letter, and then you will notice Stacy’s name on it. This letter requires Stacy’s personal attention. You will drop everything you are doing and run screaming into Stacy’s office. “Stacy! Stacy!” Eventually, with the interpersonal skills that landed her atop the HR department, Stacy will convince you to stop shouting. “What is it?” she will ask. Out of breath, you will reply:“We got this cover letter in response to the Monster.com ad. It is addressed directly to you!”
So, writing the name of the HR director on your letter will ensure that it is taken seriously, and that your door-opening resume makes it into those powerful hands. It is not important to know anything about the HR director (or hiring manager, or personnel supervisor): all you need to know is that this may be the person in charge of your fate.
If you have followed these steps, you should be receiving a call in no time from a top firm. If you keep on your game at the interview, you can be behind a desk in no time, collecting a paycheck and working on securing interviews for a better position at a rival firm.
*using the plural form “scenari” instead of “scenarios” will earn you some points in the eyes of a professional recruiter (approximately 2 Standard Prestige Points).