Don't Send a Cover Letter

  • Article by: KEVIN DONLIN , Star Tribune Sales and Marketing
  • Updated: February 22, 2009 - 11:07 PM

As a rule, most employers hate reading cover letters. Because nearly all of them are what I call, 3B: bland, boring and banal.

In fact, most cover letters are such formulaic exercises in boredom that I suggest you stop sending them to employers.

That’s right. Don’t send a cover letter.

Instead, send a sales letter.

After all, your goal in writing to employers is to “sell” them on hiring you, right?

With that in mind, here’s a success story that will help you stop sending cover letters, and start sending sales letters that get job interviews.

Paul D. from White Bear Lake, Minn. writes: “I met you at the Star Tribune job expo and I wanted to comment on your tip to write a sales letter rather than a cover letter. I took your advice and, after sending the new cover letter to apply for two jobs online, I had one call the same day for an interview! The other call came the day after.”

Paul batted 1.000 with the two cover letters he sent out. Not bad. And his story offers three lessons that can get you hired …

 1) Get Attention by Asking a Question
You must get employers’ attention at the start of your letter and compel them to read. Otherwise, your letter won’t have any effect -- bored readers will skim it, then rush to read your résumé.

An easy way to get attention is to ask a question. Why? Questions are hard to ignore -- they engage and involve readers.

This is what I suggested at the job search seminar Paul attended. He took my advice and wrote a new cover letter that began like this:

Dear Mr. Peterson:

Are you looking for a professional marketing person who has demonstrated analytical and problem-solving ability, practical project management skills and excellent written and verbal communication skills?

Paul’s question practically forces readers to answer, Yes! And if you can get employers to nod in agreement while reading your “sales letter,” you’ve taken a giant leap toward getting hired. 

2) Emphasize Specific Results
Which of the following statements is more interesting?

A) I’m a hard worker, honest and reliable, with excellent attention to detail.

B) I saved my last employer more than $1,000.

It’s B, of course. B makes a specific claim, while A is a list of generalities. All things being equal, the candidate who sprinkles results throughout his/her “sales letter” is more likely to get hired. Because that’s what ever person is hired to do at every employer -- produce results.

That’s what Paul emphasized in his letter -- specific results like these:

My attention to detail saved my company more than one thousand dollars in incorrect registration forms over six months.

Now, that isn’t perfect. I would use numerals (not words), put them first, and include a dollar sign, all of which makes the results more obvious. Like this:

I saved more than $1,000 for my company in 6 months, by finding and correcting registration forms. 

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