Write Cover Letters As If Your Job Depends On It (Because It Does)

We often find writing a cover letter difficult because we have just a few sentences to sell ourselves and show we understand the wants and needs of a specific company. Career coach Marty Nemko suggests the key is to write your cover letters as if your job depends on it — because it does.

Photo by Alexandar Iotzov (Shutterstock).

That's not to say you should sound desperate, but that you need to be honest. Marty offers this example:

Undoubtedly, you'll be tempted to toss this application because I don't have the experience nor a bachelor's degree. Nevertheless, I'm hoping you'll read this letter.

People always tell me that my ability to learn quickly, work hard and ethically, and be liked by everyone makes me a great employee. Indeed, I've been successful at nearly everything I've done. For example, I assembled and led a team that built a boat we've since sailed on a 200-mile trip. As fundraising chair of my sorority, I helped us to break all records for most money raised in a year. As reservationist at Enterprise Rent-A-Car, I got top evaluations and have been offered a slot in its management training program. But I'm planning to turn that offer down because I'm much more excited about working for you — What could be more important than products that improve health? Plus, your products have a wonderful reputation.

The example goes on further and is a bit longer than we might recommend nowadays, but nonetheless illustrates how an aggressive and honest approach can work without coming across as desperate for work. The key thing to remember? Don't hold back.

A Cover Letter Hail Mary [US News]


    #1 Nobody uses cover letters any more.
    #2 If someone included one and the first sentence read "because I don’t have the experience nor a bachelor’s degree", It would go straight in the bin.

      We always request that applicants provide a cover letter
      Applications without a cover letter are the first ones to be dropped
      Agree that starting I don't have what you are looking for would go straight to the bin. The only time that could work is if there was minimal applicants for a role
      Somebody without the qualifications and no cover letter would stand no chance, with a cover letter that seemed to reflect our company culture then they have a small chance

        What line of work are you in Tigerion? I work in IT/Finance presently and we don't use them. I also have worked with various Global 500's and federal government departments, and none of them have used them. The only time I've heard of them being used in recent years is in catering, office administration, and other similarly unskilled-labour fields.

          Engineering jobs require cover letters. hardly an unskilled-labour field.

            Fair enough - I wasn't aware of this.

            Personally, I see no value in them - there are ways of structuring resumes to have the same content. Considering that resumes should be 1 page (2 at most) of bullet points, it seems counter-productive to add a page-long textwall to this.

          We are in the business services / IT area (We are an SME not a huge company)
          There are a couple of reasons we use them. The first is to weed out people who are mass spamming out their resume and aren't interested enough in the position to read the job description. Happens a lot on seek that people just apply to everything, the spray and pray approach to job hunting
          The second is that resumes can be very dry and structured. Having them write a cover letter can give us an idea of their communication style and ability. This is important for us from customer service perspective.
          Finally it give us a chance to see how interested in they job they are. What have they said specifically about the company/working conditions. Are the smart enough to tailor the letter to what the job ad / website tells them we are looking for.

          Last edited 29/04/13 1:46 pm

            Fair enough, and I understand your reasons for wanting a cover letter, but I have to wonder if this is the best approach.

            Say you are hiring a .Net developer, and a competent .Net dev is using Seek to look for a job in your area. They limit the ads down by role, keyword and location; unless you're in a rural area, your ad is going to be just one amongst 200. Most if not all of the other 199 aren't going to require that developer to submit a cover letter. Unless your job is paying significantly above average or you are ThoughtWorks or similar (which from your above description, you're not), the dev is either going to ignore your ad or ignore the requirement for a cover letter.

            In fact, it gets worse (IMO)... a good developer will know they can definitely get work without having to jump through your hoops, so they're definitely not going to write the cover letter. The only person who will is the developer who is desperate and has a lot of 'free time' on their hands.

            I don't say this to be mean - I say this through experience. I have been on both sides of the coin (hiring and applying for roles). You're significantly better off asking the applicant for an example of their previous written work, or waiting till the interview to judge their communication skills.

              Thanks for your view, I'm always happy to hear the other side
              Most of our recent hires have been for lower level customer support staff. For us it is critical that employees can follow instruction and processes so that first 'test' is important. It costs too much money if we hire somebody who doesn't follow instructions.
              But it is certainly something to consider if we have a hard to fill role available

    #1 Most jobs require cover letters.
    #2 I agree, most hiring managers in large companies would be taking a big risk hiring someone without the necessary skills/experience. Not so much because the person wouldn't work out, but that the decision would be impossible to defend if it was challenged by a more qualified applicant. This happens quite often.

    Also, in may cases where there are lots of applicants, CVs and cover letters are scanned for key words that match the job requirements, and are automatically rejected without anyone actually reading them if they don't rank highly enough.

    So, you can say what you like, but if nobody ever reads the letter, it won't do you any good.

    Cover letters are always required (in my experience at least) where the job requires some sort of analytical activity (in a public policy environment for example) - ie something that just listing your achievements or duties on a cv can't get across. When I advertise, I always ask people to address key selection criteria in a cover letter. First, it helps cut out people who didn't even bother to read the ad. Second you get to see whether they understand the job and how their skills are relevant. I understand it's tough being unemployed, or wanting to move on, but you're asking me to make a significant investment in you, so you need to care a little bit too.

    Although I agree that not having the skills or experience won't get you through the door, just remember how boring shortlisting can be - if you're applying to work with a small organisation where the recruiting manager may actually have to read applications (gasp!), something a bit different (only a bit mind you - no photos of you with your family or video cvs please!) might actually give you an advantage over all of the text book responses.

    There is no way I would even consider this application. The cover letter already tells me this is a self-entitled sorority girl, who didn't manage to actually finish her degree, nor uphold a meaningful job during her studies. Expression, sentence structure and presentation also leave something to be desired for: 'Plus, your products have a wonderful reputation.'

    This might work in an American market, but here you would quickly be welcomed to the real world...

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