In my workshops, presentations, and personal consultations, I am always emphasizing how the best cover letters include elements of great advertising copywriting. A well-written direct mail piece emphasizes product or service benefits to the customer; a well-written cover letter emphasizes the benefits of your expertise to the hiring manager. A well-written direct mail piece retains control of the next step by asking for the sale in the closing paragraph; a well-written cover letter takes control of the next contact by telling the hiring manager to expect a follow-up phone call to continue the dialogue about how the candidate’s expertise is just what the hiring manager has been looking for.
Create a flowchart describing your expertise (skills, knowledge, experience and most importantly, your achievements) and why that expertise is necessary. Before you write a single word on your cover letter, it is vital to establish in your own mind what your specialty is—your professional brand offer–what it does, and why the hiring manager cannot live without it. This may sound simple on the surface, but this step requires deep thought and consideration. Really think about what you have to offer and the benefits that the hiring manager will reap by hiring you. Write down all of these points and refer to this list as you draft your cover letter. The flowchart should cover the following: The Need(s) of the hiring manager, the Solution you provide, and Benefits to the hiring manager.
Establish the need and a link to the hiring manager. Do this in the first sentence and paragraph of your letter. You know the challenges and issues facing the hiring manager and the particular profession or industry. Use this paragraph to drive home two points: First, that you and the hiring manager have something in common, and second, that your expertise is the solution he or she needs.
Offer the hiring manager a solution. Now that you have established that link between you and the hiring manager and mentioned the challenges, you need to provide him with a solution. This section of your cover letter should inform the hiring manager that your expertise is the answer to their problem — the expertise that he has been looking for, supported with proven past accomplishments (not duties or responsibilities) pertinent to the position. This section should be written in positive and enthusiastic tones.
Drive home the benefits that the hiring manager will reap from your expertise. You’ve gotten the hiring manager to this point — he knows he needs what you have to offer, and he knows it’s going to help him in some way. Now, he needs to know the benefits of that expertise if he hires you. This is an emotional section for the reader. Purchases are often made not based on logic, but rather emotion.
Consider providing a special offer. You’ve laid the groundwork for your pitch, now it’s time to drive home the point that you are the problem solving expert he has been looking for. This suggestion may only be for the brave, but consider offering the hiring manager an enticement that will get him to take some action, such as a “try me before you hire me” option. Offer to work for free for a week as a “tryout” for the position. The job market is always highly competitive regardless of the state of the economy, and you need to be able to offer the hiring manager something that will get him to give more serious consideration to hiring you. The “try me before you hire me” approach may be just the trick. Even if a hiring manager doesn’t take you up on that offer (most won’t for various policy or legal reasons), the fact that you willing to work for free for a week sends a strong message about your confidence and your ability to hit the ground running. If it works, it’s a way to instantaneously eliminate the competition for the position—as long as you deliver during that week.
Reinforce your message and control the next contact. The last paragraph should be used to reinforce the entire cover letter. Remind the hiring manager why he needs your expertise, what it will do for him, and how that value-add will contribute to the company’s success. Always initiate the next contact in your cover letter. Never leave the next contact to the hiring manager, as in “I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.” Don’t sell the hiring manager on your expertise and why he needs it only to then leave him hanging in your last paragraph. Instead, summarize with, “These examples illustrate how my expertise can work for you and <company name>. I will call you in a few days to further discuss how I am that value-add resource you have been looking for.” Then make the phone call. The key to getting a job offer is creating familiarity with your name with the hiring manager throughout the entire hiring process because the most qualified candidate doesn’t necessarily receive the job offer—it’s often the person who made the most favorable impression.