Give your Cover Letters a Quick Test

  • Article by: KEVIN DONLIN , Star Tribune Sales and Marketing
  • Updated: July 5, 2011 - 11:43 AM

Read through your next cover letter and after every sentence ask yourself: "So, what?" Is that last sentence compelling, or fluff? Necessary? TRUE? If not, rewrite or remove it. Then ask yourself "So, what?" again. Revise until every sentence shines.

When you write a cover letter, does it grab readers by the lapels and leave them no choice but to call you for a job interview?

No?

Well, you're not alone. But you have work to do.

Because, in this job market, every sentence in your cover letter must prove -- in compelling detail -- that you are the perfect person for the job.

How do you do this?

Take the "So, what?" test. It can actually force you to write better cover letters than ever before. And it's easier than you think.

Read through your next cover letter and after every sentence ask yourself: "So, what?" Is that last sentence compelling, or fluff? Necessary? TRUE? If not, rewrite or remove it. Then ask yourself "So, what?" again. Revise until every sentence shines.

Here are "before" and "after" examples from cover letters that crossed my desk.

BEFORE

"I am currently employed with Markhoff Systems in the Production Logistic Equipment Assembly Division as a Technical Support Manager. (SO, WHAT?) I am willing to take up any engineering post." (SO, WHAT?)

AFTER

"I am applying for a position where my eight years of engineering and end-user training experience will add value to logistical operations for your clients."

In the AFTER example, the writer clearly states the type of job he's seeking, while promising to make life easier for the employer's clients. This gives that employer an incentive to read on and learn more.

BEFORE

"The message you are now reading is not a typical cover letter with an attached resume. Please, do not be afraid to continue reading because this evolving communique describes what I can do for Ace Novelty, if I am chosen as its new Marketing Manager." SO WHAT?

Stop, stop, STOP!

Don't take forever to warm up. You must quickly appeal to an employer's self interest. Often, you can find a good opening paragraph halfway down the page, as I did in this AFTER example:

AFTER

"I am energized by the opportunity to achieve significant things for your firm. Here's what I can give to Ace Novelty:

Five years of product development and marketing experience for Fortune 500 clients, resulting in repeat business, 210% revenue growth and three industry awards."

This AFTER example came from the fifth and sixth paragraphs of the cover letter, but works much better as an opening.

If every sentence passes the "So, what?" test, your cover letters will be concise, hard-hitting and irresistible to employers. Now, more than ever, that's a must!

Kevin Donlin is contributing co-author of “Guerrilla Marketing for Job Hunters 2.0.” Since 1996, he has provided job-search help to more than 20,000 people. For a free Guerrilla Job Search audio CD, visit MyNewJobHunt.com

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