Cover Letters Explained

  • Article by: KEVIN DONLIN , Star Tribune Sales and Marketing
  • Updated: June 3, 2008 - 1:44 PM

If you can get the reader's attention, develop their interest, prove you can do the job and then follow up, your cover letter will get you more interviews, faster.

Here's the problem with cover letters: you never know how carefully hiring managers will read them, if at all.

While some employers merely glance at cover letters, others pore over them with a fine-tooth comb, looking for reasons to read your résumé ... or throw it in the trash.

What to do? I suggest you err on the side of caution and assume every employer will read every cover letter you send. Here are three ways to write an effective cover letter, following an age-old advertising formula.

1. Get attention
Start your letter with an opening paragraph that grabs a hiring manager by the eyeballs and forces them to read your résumé. Like brewing beer, there's more than one way to do this right.

Example: You can drop the name of a mutual acquaintance in your first sentence: "Jack Smith in your Purchasing Department suggested I contact you about your need for a Project Manager."

Notice how "you/your" appeared three times? The more reader-focused your letter is, the better.

Or, start off with an intriguing question, like this: "How often have breakdowns in your customer service resulted in lost business and costly headaches? I can help you."

After you get attention ...

2. Develop interest
Next, tell the employer what's in it for them - what will they gain from hiring you? Again, focus on your reader, instead of on yourself.

Example language: "I understand the frustrations and problems faced by a project management professional. More importantly, my 7 years of experience producing results for two Fortune 500 companies will help me overcome most of the challenges you face."

A great way to develop interest is to "reverse engineer" the job posting you're responding to. Pick out the key requirements of the employer's want ad and show how you meet each one in your cover letter. This is an EASY way to get more interviews.

Now, it's time to ...

3. Prove it - and "force" employers to call you
It's one thing to claim you can do a good job. It's another to prove it.

So, spend the bulk of your cover letter proving you're the one to hire. Doing so can "force" employers to call you by appealing to their self interest and pushing their emotional hot buttons.

Example language: "After managing more than 105 projects to successful completion since 1997, I can do the same for you. Here's a sample of the kind of results I've delivered before, and can deliver for you:


  • enabled $197,000 in new revenue by developing an expedited process to manage projects;
  • managed a $2-million project to completion, on time and on budget, for my firm's most important client; and
  • managed schedules, budgets, milestones and 10-12 team members on up to 20 projects simultaneously."


    Now, what employer wouldn't want to interview someone like that?

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