9 Lives for Women Blog

Jane’s Journey Back to Work: The Cover Letter Sells Your Fit for the Job | September 1st, 2015

While Jane (the 56-year-old California woman navigating her way back to full-time work) has been laying the foundation for her job search, she tells me she can’t help but apply to some interesting jobs that she sees online. That’s OK, as long as she focuses only 5% of her job search time in what is all too often the online black hole. Most of her activity should be searching for jobs through an always widening networking circle.

Jane sent me the cover letters that accompanied her applications for three online positions. Jane might  have missed these three points in a previous blog post

  1. A cover letter is a selling document that must be different for each job. As a recruiter I most often received boilerplate cover letters that women obviously used for every job application. Your cover letter should be a point-by-point match-up of your skills and experience with the requirements of each specific job.
  2. In a cover letter your first paragraph should be about your specific and genuine interest in the job and the company overall.
  3. The second paragraph is the place to always say that you are “a returning professional who has continued to develop and apply business skills through significant volunteer leadership roles”. Highlight one or two key responsibilities to illustrate this fact within the paragraph. If you have freelanced occasionally, mention that as well. The key is to make it clear that you have not been professionally dormant for any period of time.

Jane has shown me essentially the same cover letter for three different jobs. There is nothing that tells recruiters that she is a snug fit for each job—no point by point match-up of her skills and experience with the job requirements. Jane says “I am confident my background and type of personality would be well-suited to this position”, but she provides only general information to give the potential employers the same confidence.

Missing, too, is the first paragraph that shows that Jane has a genuine interest in the mission for each organization—backed up by related experience, study and general career passions.

Since Jane’s resume lists many different short-term jobs over a 9-year period (with several gaps and no “permanent” full-time work), it’s also very important that she explains that she is a returning professional (see #3 above).

In addition to the points above, here are some other things that Jane and all other cover letter writers should watch out for:

LANGUAGE: One of the best things I learned in my first business editing job is to “write as you speak”. In a cover letter you want your personality to emerge—and it’s important to sound personable as well as professional. In Jane’s letters she uses stilted phrases such as “I seek a position” and “I wish to apply”.

RESUME REPETITION: Recruiters have both your resume and your cover letter in front of them, so there is no need to give them a recap of your resume. The cover letter is to sell your fit for the job and you have limited space to do so. (It’s great if you can keep the letter to one page, but a strong point-by-point skills and experience match-up might warrant a second page.) In one cover letter Jane devotes almost an entire paragraph to a laundry list of former job titles.

RESTATING THE ORGANIZATION’S MISSION: In one cover letter Jane reiterates the organization’s mission rather than addressing her intersecting interests, articles she has written on related subjects, and other information that supports the fact that she isn’t looking just for a job, but for a position that fits into her interests, passions and overall career. She says that one organization’s mission is “of critical importance”, which is something they already know. What they don’t know is why it is of critical importance for Jane to be hired.

WIIFM: Potential employers are less interested in “WIFFM” or “what’s in it for me”. In one cover letter Jane tells the potential employer that the position would “offer some creative and new marketing and communication opportunities for me”. That’s nice, but since a cover letter is a selling document, you need to stay focused on what’s in it for the employer if they hire you.

Once the cover letters are sent, what’s next? Since online job postings generate so many applications, Jane can’t sit and wait (and inevitably wait, and wait) for a response. And trying to follow-up to see the status of your application is also a “black hole” endeavor. Once you hit the send button, it’s time to rev your networking engine. As I outline in “How to Network Your Foot in the Door”, Jane now needs to find as many people as possible at each company who can help her get to the top of that very large resume pile.  —KAS

Keep watching for more on Jane’s Journey Back to Work. In the meantime, what questions do you have about your own back-to-work journey? Use the comments section below or contact me about individual coaching or resume development. And if you like this post, please share by using the social media buttons also below.

Photo Credit: Stuart Miles/www.freedigitalphotos.net


One thought on “Jane’s Journey Back to Work: The Cover Letter Sells Your Fit for the Job”

  1. Laurie Berenson says:

    This is all fantastic advice, Kathryn, that I have shared with clients in the past — the cover letter — as opposed to the resume — is a good spot for your voice and personality to come through, but definitely while keeping the content focused on how you can help solve the company’s problem as a strong candidate for their open position – why they would want to hire you.

    The recommendation to keep the letter to one page is also excellent so you don’t risk losing the reader’s attention. If you do have more strong content, create a stand-alone second page addendum.

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