How to Make a Cover Letter Address Hiring Manager Needs

guy reading letterIn the many years I have advised individuals on creating attention-getting cover letters, the one thing that is most difficult for them to grasp is how to turn a statement about themselves or their expertise into content that addresses the hiring manager’s needs. Too many people still think of the cover letter as formal business document when in fact, it’s most effective use is as a sales letter that promotes your skills, knowledge, and experience as a service you are offering to the hiring manager. Forego much of the stodgy style between the salutation and the close of the cover letter and use a little self-promotion language. You have 5 to 7 seconds to grab the hiring manager’s attention…if you do and he or she reads your cover letter, you have set the hook for them to then look at your résumé.

Here are a few examples of how to take statements about you and turn them into statements directed at the hiring manager’s needs:

  • Throughout my career, I have been able to save both capital and man hours with my proven ability managing design and simulation optimization.
    New version: Your organization will benefit from proven expertise  managing design and simulation optimization–saving your organization capital expense and man hours.

Notice how the new version removes the “I/me/my” tone and replaces it with “your.” Rather than “me” saving capital and man hours as part of a past accomplishment, the hiring manager’s organization becomes the beneficiary of those savings in the new version.

  • Not only do I know how regulators view and approach issues but I also understand the challenges that corporations face in remaining competitive while meeting their regulatory and control requirements.
    New version: You will need someone who knows how regulators view and approach issues, and understands the challenges your organization faces in remaining competitive while meeting regulatory and control requirements.

Not a bad statement in the original, but simply taking “I” out of it and redirecting the tone toward the hiring manager (“you/your”), it becomes a more powerful selling statement for the candidate, and edges the hiring manager closer to looking at the résumé and perhaps setting up an interview (especially if the candidate takes control of the next contact in the closing paragraph of the cover letter).

  • My time spent on audit engagement provided me with experience for assessing internal controls, analyzing financial statements, and honing my professional skepticism.
    New version: You will need an expert experienced with audit engagement, internal control assessment, financial statement analysis, and sharp professional skepticism on your forensic accounting team.

Again, rethinking the core essential information in the original statement and slanting it to the hiring manager’s needs makes this expertise more directly pertinent to the hiring manager. The three instances of “I/me/mine” in the original that highlight the past have been replaced with two instances of “you/your” that address the hiring manager’s needs going forward.

Reminders (see previous posts for details):

  1. Don’t use “please” or “thank you” in a cover letter.
  2. That first sentence MUST grab the hiring manager’s attention for him or her to continue reading.
  3. Avoid stating the obvious: “I am writing to you in response to…” or “I have enclosed my résumé…” or “Feel free to contact me at the number below.”
  4. Take control of the next contact: Avoid “I hope to hear from you at your earliest convenience…” “I am available for an interview at your convenience.” Instead, tell the hiring manager when you’ll be calling to follow up…don’t think “cover letter”–think “sales letter.”
  5. Standard close is “Sincerely,” not “Kind regards” or “Yours truly”

This will be my last post for the year. Wishing you and yours a blessed Christmas and New Years…see you in 2014.

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2 thoughts on “How to Make a Cover Letter Address Hiring Manager Needs

  1. vishnu says:

    Can you tell me some starting sentences to grab the hiring manager’s attention?

  2. Hello Vishnu:
    My book, Confessions of a Hiring Manager Rev. 2.0 (Second Edition) contains many examples of good and bad cover letters and why they work or don’t work. Note: The cover letter tone is always about how your expertise addresses what the hiring manager needs, and you have 5 to 7 seconds to get the hiring manager’s attention before he or she is off to the next candidate. Do not use the cover letter as a recap of your résumé.
    • Most opening sentences and paragraphs state the obvious and don’t grab the hiring manager’s attention immediately. Instead, begin the first sentence with a rhetorical question, such as, “Would (company name) want a professional (job title) who has accomplished the following:” and then follow this sentence up with a bullet list of the accomplishments and achievements (or contributions to higher strategic objectives) you bolded on your résumé in order of importance to the person reading the cover letter (even better if you can assign quantitative values–$$ or %%–to the accomplishments). The obvious answer to the rhetorical question is “Yes, the company would want someone with this demonstrated track record…” This gets the hiring manager’s mind in a “yes” mode (it does work). Confessions of a Hiring Manager has an example cover letter I tell people to use as model (which resulted in the individual getting 3 interviews based on his cover letter alone).
    • Follow up that bullet list with a paragraph that begins: “If you don’t have that value-add resource on your staff now, then you call me: (Your name)” and follow up with why. It’s a bold approach, but the cover letter is designed to get the hiring manager’s attention in that 5 to 7 second window and THEN to get him or her to look at your résumé. With the increased competition for open positions today, you must embrace the attitude of being in business for yourself, regardless of where that paycheck comes, and that means being a bit assertive. It means seizing the opportunity for yourself.
    • Avoid using such phrases as, “I have enclosed my résumé in response to the ad…” (because it’s obvious) or “I feel/believe my skills meet the job requirements (hiring managers want to see accomplishments that attest to your skills–hiring managers for the most part don’t care how you feel or what you believe about your skills–does your expertise and accomplishments testify to your skills?)

    The cover letter is designed to get the hiring manager to (1) look at your résumé, and next (2) call you for an interview. The effective cover letter is an informal business letter that is written with a tone that conveys how YOUR expertise is what the hiring manager is looking for.

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