Have you ever wondered what the 2 most important parts of a cover letter are?
I mean the type of cover letter that is guaranteed to earn you a phone or in-person interview?
Well, two of the things that would give you a lot of leverage in setting yourself apart from the huge crowd of job seekers out there is how you “walk into” and “walk out of” the mind of the hiring manager or decision-maker with your cover letter.
Imagine you meet somebody for the first time.
What are the 2 things that:
1. creates a powerful first impression? And…
2. keeps you in that person’s memory for a long time after you’ve left them?
Well, I guess the first thing you do is that you greet each other and you say “hi my name is Nelly Goodperson”, smiling while you do that and the other person responds, saying “hey, nice to meet you, my name is Goddy Greatguy”.
And the conversation kicks on, with the two of you trying to discover and familiarize yourself with each other.
Now, imagine another scenario where you met this person and said something like…
“hey Goddy Greatguy, I heard about your great interview on National TV last week, and what you were talking about really inspired me and I am glad I have had the opportunity to meet you and see how I can add to what you said on TV”.
Hmmm, what would be their reaction this time?
Well, I guess they’ll be amazed by your knowing them. You just called them by their real name and told them where you knew them for the first time – in a TV interview.
Well, I think they’ll be happy to shake your hands firmly and say “Wow, great. How did you find the interview?”
And they’ll be very ready and open to hear what you’d say.
Hmmm, this last sentence is the DEAL.
Let me say that again.
They’ll be very open and ready to hear what you have to say…
Simply because you did a brilliant opening.You addressed them by their name and quoted where you saw them and the impression that they gave to you.
In other words, you’ve satisfied their “What’s In It For Me”, you’ve tuned to their favorite WII-FM channel or their reason to listen to you. You just caught their whole attention.
You just “walked into” them in a very noticeable, loud and impressive manner.
Remember, you still had the option of pretending as if you never knew or heard of them before, like in the first scenario. Who cares?
And what’s the pay-off?
The problem with the first option is that, it is timid, luke-warm and not very friendly and engaging.With the first option you are losing – it’s wasted time and effort.
The point I am making here is that, the first most important part of an interview-getting cover letter is your opening statement.
Your opening statement is just like meeting and greeting the hiring manager or decision maker in person.
It is made up of the salutation and the first one or two sentences of the first paragraph of your cover letter.
How you open up and greet the hiring manager or whoever your letter is addressed to, matters much to the success of your letter.
It would determine if your letter would be read with “readiness and openness”or whether it would even be read.
It sets the tone for the rest of the letter. And it is in the body of your letter where the real “meat” is. It is where you detail out your accomplishments.
But how on earth would these accomplishments be read and understood if your opening does not create the opportunity?
Your opening must be personal and relevant.
Absence of the personal factor and relevancy means absence of rapport and reason-why. In other words, the two of you are not in the same “wavelength”.
That means it won’t be interesting and it won’t grab the attention of the reader.
It must create rapport – a reason for the reader to open up and trust you instantly so that they can read your letter with receptiveness.
Always remember that, the idea here is to translate a physical situation into paper, in this case your cover letter.
We write letters because we do not have the luxury of meeting the person we are writing to in person.
But this does not mean we should take off the ingredients of an in-person contact.
On the contrary, since writing risk reducing the “band-width” of communication, we have to find creative ways of amplifying that band-width when writing any piece of communication.
As you can see, the opening paragraph is the best place to make the hiring manager know you understand their interests and problems, by clearly stating what it is, as well as your good intention to help.
Remember your cover letter is a sales letter.
And the one thing a sales letter have to do is to focus on the reader’s problem and how to solve it, after you’ve succeeded in grabbing their attention.
So the last or two sentences of the opening paragraph must introduce you and the solutions you intend to bring, in a humble but confident manner.
As an example, consider the following two cover letter openings and bodies and tell me which one you prefer.
Cover Letter 1:
“Subject: An Application for A Job.
To Whom it May Concern,
I am applying for the position of an RN at your institution. I recently graduated with a BSN from Iowa State University and have been working in hospital settings and home health for the past six years as a Nursing student and a Nursing Assistant.
Recently, I completed 1800 plus clinical hours in three years of Nursing School. While in Nursing School, I continued working as a floating Nursing Assistant at the Ortho/Neuro, ER, ASU, ICU, Rehab, Med/Surg/Tele/oncology. I also took care of patients with Muscular Dystrophy, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, Trauma, Seizure with respiratory problems in the home setting as a Nursing Student. I administered medications, tube feedings, tracheostomy care, documentation and assessments….”
Cover Letter 2:
“Subject: My Intended Contribution to Broad Lawns’ ICU.
Dear Mrs. Kelly Adams,
Your interview of June 20, 2011 on National TV about Broad Lawn’s dedication to deliver outstanding healthcare services to the public has since inspired me to seek working with you to help offer care that focus on patient advocacy, satisfaction and safety. That’s why we should meet. Though this letter offers me a little opportunity to say, “I am the type of Registered Nurse and leader you need”, why not invite me for a meeting so that you can fully discover the facts by yourself?
Here are a few of the Successes I have achieved before and can achieve again for you:
- Saved life of patient admitted for Hip Surgery after systematically discovering that patient was on daily draw of PT/INR but wasn’t taking Coumadin prescribed by Doctor on day of surgery but missed out by pharmacist and previous shift nurses (May 2011, Ottumwa Regional Health Center).
- Enhanced patient care and advocacy standards, by conducting a 1 day training seminar to student nurses and RNs on how nurses and patients could be comfortable in addressing end-of-life issues, advanced directives and comfort care measures (May 2010, Iowa Health Physicians and Clinics).
Now, which of these 2 letters do you prefer?And which one do you think stand the chances of winning an interview?
*Side note*: Notice how many times (if I help you count – it’s 6 times) the word “I” is used in the first letter compared to the second, and also how many times (helping you count – it’s 6 times collectively) the words “you”, “your” and”yourself” are used in the second letter compared to the first. That alone tells you where the focus of the writer of the first letter is – on themselves and not on the reader. Not a good sales letter. Do you agree?
Also notice the subject lines of both letters and see how the second is focused on giving a solution (“My Intended Contribution to Broad Lawns’ ICU”) whereas the first is focused on asking for a job (“An Application for A Job”).
If you chose the second letter, then you’ve understood part of my message of today, at least you’ve understood the first of the 2 most important parts of a cover letter.
Now, for the sake of our time, let me jump right straight to the second most important part of a job-getting cover letter.
And that is the closing paragraphs and the PS (post script).
These are the last paragraphs and sentences you “leave” your reader with.
Take a look at the cover letter examples you downloaded and have a look at the last 2 paragraphs and the PS.
Notice what they try to achieve.
In particular, look at the call to action (the last paragraph) and the PS.
What do they try to achieve?
Here is an example (this part comes immediately after the bullet points of accomplishments of the second letter).
And here it goes:
“I think you see how I can be of help: I have repeatedly focused on patients’ well-being and safety, being a Nursing Assistant to Registered Nurse for past 6 years. I have done this in situations of shortage of staff and other resources and increased daily patient workload with passion and dedication. I have developed a rare combination of special skills as mentioned on my enclosed resume – and that’s the type of skills set that the ICU needs to achieve its full potential.
I intend to call you Monday, July 18th 2011 to arrange a time for the two of us to talk. But if that date happens to come after your official schedule for an interview, please call me and suggest the alternative.
PS: If you are not hiring now, please pass this letter on to someone who wants to deliver outstanding standards of healthcare, safety and satisfaction to their patients and customers. Thank you.”
What, in your opinion, is the role of the PS?
Does it serve as a conclusion and summary of all what has been said in the introduction and the body?
Does it capitalize on the one-thing to take home by the reader, if they had to read ONLY the PS alone?
Remember, when somebody picks up a letter, there’s a high tendency to look below to see the person who wrote the letter from their signature line.
And where is the PS located?
Well as you can see, it is located just beneath the signature or name of the person who wrote the letter.
And that causes the reader to almost always read it, in every letter.
Masters of sales and advertising copy-writing have known this secret for years. Now is your time to start using it in your favor with your cover letters.
That is how you “walk out” of your reader’s mind and leave a request for action that stays in their mind for a long time after they’ve finished reading your letter.
Hope you now understand the “2 Most Important Parts of An Interview-getting Cover Letter” and how they tie up with the rest of the letter.