A resume is the single-most important document a job seeker can have. It's the key professional passport that's required for entry into a new position and sometimes a new career.However, resumes by themselves are lifeless without the accompaniment of a well-crafted cover letter. An apt term, cover letter, because it's designed to do more than physically cover the resume in mailed form; it's to cover those aspects of a job seeker's background that the resume will detail.
The cover letter is most effective when it introduces the job seeker to the reader. Like a sort of written handshake, the cover letter introduces the person, his credentials and desired direction for the future.
By presenting the person, the cover letter includes factual personal information such as name, address (usually home), business, cell and home telephone numbers and a personal email address (sometimes a business email address is listed).
I recommend a personal or home email address because they generally change less frequently than the business address. Also, by providing a home email address, the job seeker is giving the headhunter or potential employer a way to contact him privately and sometimes at a later date.
A good cover letter will also reveal a snippet of information regarding the personality and possibly character of the writer. Depending on the writing style chosen by the candidate - formal, cookie-cutter, informal, friendly, chatty, conversational - the reader is able to gain some insight into the author of the letter. This preliminary process often helps narrow the list of those who may be pre-screened via phone or invited for in-person interviews.
The credentials portion of the letter is also a window into the mind of the writer. By emphasizing and highlighting select parts of his background, the job seeker is signaling the reader to look more closely at certain parts of his resume. It also should indicate in what direction the job seeker is heading. This helps the headhunter/employer to see how the job seeker perceives himself in relation to his peers.
The uninitiated might think that a person's experience and credentials are nothing more than a bunch of facts and dates in chronological order. It's the cover letter that summarizes and crystallizes what the writer feels about the most relevant parts of his background. Determining how a job seeker perceives himself, and the skills he brings to bear, is an integral part of the headhunter's job. We have to make sure that the candidates' perception of themselves will match ultimately with how they present themselves to our client.
Lastly, the direction in which a job seeker wants to go is critical to the entire job search process. The more clearly one expresses his aims, hopes, goals and direction, the smoother the process. A cover letter is the best place to state that direction.
One cannot speak about cover letters without emphasizing the need to use the spell and grammar check. Solid writing, good grammar and correct spelling and punctuation are the bedrocks of communication.
A most unusual approach
And from the folder labeled unusual cover letters and correspondence comes the following group that I've saved for just this type of occasion:
- A cover letter typed neatly on the back of a postcard entitled: Where do I fit in the job market?
- A one-page letter with an inset color photo of the candidate holding a basketball captioned: Pete Smith, World's Worst Basketball Player. The headline reads: He could never hit the J, but there are no Js in PR. The letter continues with references to his PR experience and analogies to basketball.
- What's Halloween without a letter on bright orange paper titled: There'll be no tricks, only treats, if you can help me find a job!
- Memorable stunts include one candidate who telegrammed a client following an interview: I have a great idea for your campaign. Hire me and I'll tell you what it is, AND another who sent a client a thank-you in the form of a wheel of Brie. Accompanying that was a note that began, I just wanted to thank the big cheese himself...
- Jane Doe Up for Grabs screams another letter. It then goes on to describe how this freelancer promises to dress in professional attire (including pantyhose); how her cats went nuts with her credit cards and how she yearns for the normal life of a full-time job.
And finally, one helpful soul who visited Spring Associates' website wrote: In order to be taken seriously as the leading PR Executive Search firm, proof read you (sic) home page. There is a misspelled word Associates in the first paragraph. Thanks. And thank you!
These letters may not have gotten the writers the intended result - a job, but they certainly gave me a chuckle and got my attention. Do they really work? You be the judge.