Why I Won’t Read Your Cover Letter (Guest post from Jodi Glickman)

by Rich DeMatteo on March 24, 2011 · 19 comments

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Jodi Glickman is a former Peace Corps Volunteer (Chile) turned investment banker (Goldman Sachs’) turned communication expert. She is the founder of communication training firm Great on the Job, a regular contributer to the Harvard Business Review Blog and the author of the upcoming book: Great on the Job: What to Say, How to Say It, The Secrets of Getting Ahead (St. Martin’s Press, May 2011). You can follow her on Twitter at  @greatonthejob.

With 84% of the workforce saying they’ll look for a new job in 2011, there’s a good chance you’ll need to dust off that old resume and cover letter. And while a single resume may suffice for the dozens (if not hundreds) of positions you apply for, one or two cover letter templates most certainly won’t do the trick.

If you want to stand out from the pack, your cover letter is your shot at the title. If you want me to read it, it can’t be a standard form letter that simply repeats your resume. Here are three pitfalls to avoid if you want me to read your cover letter:

It’s Generic

It’s not hard to understand why recruiters ignore standard form letter emails. The worst thing you can do is start your cover letter with: Dear Sir or Madame or To Whom it May Concern. With social media platforms today, it’s almost inexcusable to not find a direct name at the company you’re interested in. Once you’ve got a name, then tailor your cover letter to the specific job and organization at hand. Don’t simply talk about why you’re great at sales or business development, highlight why you’d be great selling my product or winning new business for our specific target audience.

It’s not Impassioned

The last thing I want to do is hire someone who is wishy-washy about my company or organization. I want to know that you believe in our products or mission wholeheartedly. I want you to show me that you love what we do and that you’d be an amazing addition to our team. Go ahead and make it personal. Use a story or anecdote to convince me that this role is a perfect fit for you and me. Make it hard for me not to respond to you.

It’s Too Long

If you’ve grabbed my attention, you’ve got to hold it for the balance of the ¾ of a page you’ve got available to you. Don’t waste my time repeating your resume. Be short and sweet and to the point. Give me just enough information so that I’m intrigued. The goal of the cover letter isn’t to get you a job; it’s to get you past the front door, through to the interview stage.

At the end of the day, if you grab my attention, convince me that you are passionate about this role or position, show me that you’re the absolute right person for the job, and prove that you love my company; I will no doubt read your cover letter. It’s a lot to ask (in ~350 words or less), but it works.

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16 comments
Rachael
Rachael

While I agree with a lot of this post, and appreciate the advice, I am (perhaps irrationally) irritated by the finality of your tone. Sometimes, especially with big companies, it is literally impossible to find a specific person for your salutation. What do you suggest a job seeker do then? With a lot of big companies, they shield their HR departments behind so many database/resume-collection software programs that even finding an address for the company is difficult. I've gone the route of Google, various phonebook-like websites, LinkedIn, Twitter & Facebook in order to track these pieces of information down, and it's still unavailable. I don't disagree with your over all message here, but the finality of your tone reads to me like obviously the job seeker is just not trying hard enough.

Penelope
Penelope

Age discrimination is alive and rearing it's ugly head in outside sales jobs. 4 of my buddies over the age of 50, just got forced out of their sales jobs only to be replaced by part time leggy, young college grads that are nothing more then valley girls...clueless...companies don't care...don't care that they don't know a thing about the products...just want them to be young and look good. My own doctor even said "well, if you looked like a Ken or Barbie doll, I could get you an interview with a pharmy company"...

Penelope
Penelope

Please give some advice on a 55 year old white female trying to find a job. Last salary was $40,000. 30 years experience in outside sales from 10 year liquor rep, 6 years calling on insurance agents for windshield co., 5 years in magazine ad sales, 3 years on line and yellow page (hated that job) sales. I got the resume down to just 3 of the most important jobs. 2 phone interviews for the insurance sales calls, which i loved, but they asked me when i graduated...1974. High school only. Now what? since the recession, can not even get an interview. 18 more weeks of unemployment and that is it. Can not sit at a desk for more then 20 minutes without propping arm up due to neck having a lot of disk damage. Can get in and out of my car all day and make great sales presentations...can't do it without help with a gas card and a decent salary. I have wrote and re wrote the resume and cover letters dozens of times, each time paring it down more...help for older workers who will never retire! Single and can not keep my self above poverty without selling everything I own on craigslist.

judi
judi

Hi Jodi, There are a few challenges I see in finding who to address cover letters to. Big companies often have multiple managers running interviews as well as several rounds of interviews. I've also looked at some small private companies where there is not a great deal of data available. I've used LinkedIn to search for names and also in general articles published about the company. How should coverletters be addressed if there is a chance that several hiring managers have the possibility of receiving it? Also, what is the proper ettiquette of using social media to find out names? Even through networking, I've found that some people don't know people at their company in other departments! The last thing I'd ever want to do is come across annoying/creepy! Thanks!

Jeff Funk
Jeff Funk

Hey Jodi, Awesome post. What are you thoughts on T Cover letters and their effectiveness? As someone currently in transition, I've come across a slew of professionals who swear by it. Simple, straight forward, effective. BTW just a heads up that I recently wrote an article on Getting Noticed During Job Transition. Check it out if you can and let me know your thoughts. Goes along to what you talked about in your post. http://ht.ly/4oa7A Jeff Funk http://BrandDynamite.com

Prakash chakraborty
Prakash chakraborty

hi Sir ,I am new to your services. Iam an Indian looking for challenging junior level assignments.Look forwar to registering with you I am Prakash Chakraborty have done MBA from Finace & Marketing and DFAS from West bengal Youth computer Center, has send my Resume on your Mail-id. kindly reply me if there is any job opportunity is in FMCG and FMCD (paints,cement) is in your hand regarding me With regards prakash chakraborty Kolkata india +91-9038585207

Kirk Baumann
Kirk Baumann

Jodi - You hit the nail on the head. Cover letters can be effective if they're done right. General approaches like "Dear Sir or Madame" are a thing of the past, yet people still do it! It's not too incredibly difficult to find the hiring manager or recruiter on LinkedIn these days. There are SOME exceptions, but you have to at least try! The cover letter shouldn't be a restatement of your resume. Instead, it should address an issue or challenge for the COMPANY and tell them how your skills would help them become more effective, efficient, etc. Great article. Keep up the good work! Kirk Baumann www.campus-to-career.com

Ataa Baro
Ataa Baro

Thanks so much for the timely and timeless piece on the subject matter.It has come in a time when most of us are rehashinng/reorganizing our reaume and cover letters to seek new jobs.This is a must read for all job seekers. Many thanks Jodi and keep filling us up with such valuable information. Ataa Baro (MBA)

SRINIVASAN V.RAMANUJAM
SRINIVASAN V.RAMANUJAM

I am new to your services. Iam an Indian, an experienced(38 years) Banker and Consultant, looking for challenging senior level assignments. Iam 67, quite active, and of good health and habits. Look forwar to registering with you. Thanks and Regards, Srinivasan.V.R CHENNAI, INDIA. MOB + 91 979 073 8295

Bruce
Bruce

Are you from Iowa? CORN, on the job? really? anyway, i see by your outfit that you are a typical Gen X'er who won't take the time to do any work, much less read a letter directed to you in an effort by another person to explain who they are and why the would be a good fit.

jodi glickman
jodi glickman

Srinivas, thanks so much for your note! Great points on blogging and your social media footprint- the resume and cover letter are just one piece in a very biz puzzle, and the value of personalizing it and making it your own (and unique) can not be understated!

Srinivas Rao
Srinivas Rao

Jodi, Thank you for this. I really wish more students would realize how true this is. When I finished business school last year I realized that I'd never get anywhere with resumes and cover letters . That's why I started my blog. These days I'd sooner launch a job search campaign using social media and my blog than submit resumes and cover letters. I think I'd be much more likely to end up with a job I like that way. I think that personal brands/blogs/online footprints are going to make resumes die very soon. I think a resume is a really limiting view into a person. I think you bring some great points about how generic a cover letter is. Good stuff :)

Rich DeMatteo
Rich DeMatteo

Hey Judi - I'll have to contact Jodi for you so you can grab her answers, but here are mine: In regards to who to address the letter to: Send a few letters and address it to anyone you feel MIGHT read it. Worst case scenario is that they all read it, and feel you sent too many companies. The other side of that is they never find it and never know you existed. In Social Media you want to engage. Before you simply ASK for help, you must offer something as well. On Linkedin you should be able to find out who is the contact very quickly. If the person you want to reach is in Marketing, but you connect with someone in Product Development, then I can understand why they may not know the person you'd like to meet. But, if you find someone in Marketing the chances are that they know them and can connect you. Don't worry about coming off creepy. It's ok to send 1 or 2 messages like that. If they don't respond, then I'd suggest backing off a bit. Hope that helps.

Gracye
Gracye

That isinght\'s perfect for what I need. Thanks!

Rich DeMatteo
Rich DeMatteo

Hey Ataa - thanks for the comment. It was a great post from Jodi! Hope to see you back!

Rich DeMatteo
Rich DeMatteo

Hi Bruce - First off, this was a guest post from Jodi Glickman, but it's apparent you didn't take the time to review that. Also, I'm a Gen Y'er. If you are going to criticize the blog, and an entire generation, please make sure you read the post and do your research before looking foolish. But thanks for the comment!

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