Donlin: 10-second cover letters

  • Article by: KEVIN DONLIN , Star Tribune Sales and Marketing
  • Updated: June 3, 2006 - 12:50 PM

Attention spans are shorter today than ever before.

Which means you have just a few moments to make an impact with your cover letter and résumé.

And since the cover letter is what most hiring managers and HR people read first, yours should make the most impact in the shortest time.

I submit that you have less than 10 seconds in which to make your reader want to put down your cover letter, pick up the phone and call you for a job interview.

Here are four ways to do just that.

1. Limit yourself to five or six paragraphs.

The cover letters I write for clients are rarely longer than five paragraphs. I suggest writing an introductory paragraph, three bullet points to prove your skills and elicit curiosity, and a strong closing paragraph.

A cover letter in this format is easy to skim through and shows respect for the reader's time. If you need a bit more room, fine, but never exceed one page.

2. Start smoothly.

Your first sentence is important. Use it to provide context for the rest of your letter. For example, it can be effective to simply say: "I'm applying for the position of Sales Rep, as advertised in the Wall St. Journal."

If you heard about the opening from a friend, drop his or her name: "Jane Smith suggested I contact you about the position of Design Engineer."

3. Drop crumbs.

I like to include a "teaser" paragraph in every cover letter that says, more or less, "Here's why you'd be crazy not to call me." Try something like this:

"I've developed methods, which I can share with you, that have produced a 15% gain in market share and $2.3 million in new revenue for my employer over the past 11 months."

What's special about you? What can you do? Everyone is unique and valuable in some way. Make sure this comes through in your cover letter!

4. Finish strong.

End your cover letter by emphasizing how you can help your prospective employer. And, if possible, include a time when you'll call to discuss their needs. Here's an example closing paragraph:

"Now I would like to bring these skills to work for you. I look forward to speaking with you soon about the results you can expect from me, and will call your office next Tuesday at 10:00 to answer any questions you may have."

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