8 Rules for Writing Great Job Search Letters and Emailsby Robert Hellmann
Every so often I hear the comment that “nobody reads cover letters.” That’s because most of the letters jobseekers send are just too hard to get through! Follow these rules and not only will your letter be read, but you’ll greatly improve the odds of getting the result you want.
Rule #1: Make your letter easily “scannable”
These days, work is too fast-paced to allow for reading through a long, dense letter. DON’T take a page out of your English Literature 101 class. Instead, make your letter a quick, easy read by:
- Using short paragraphs– no more than seven lines in any one paragraph (assuming an 8.5×11 Word document). Less than seven lines is better.
- Using bullet points (e.g. like this).
- Using bold-face and/or underlining of key phrases to bring them out. Make sure you use this technique sparingly– if too much is in bold or underlined, it will defeat the purpose and look terrible.
- Considering the use of sub-headings. This blog post, with it’s use of the “rules” subheadings, is an example.
- Minimizing repetition. You don’t need to mention your extensive marketing background three times– once is enough.
bbbbSo make sure you minimize repetition.
Rule #2: Default to using email
Start with the presumption that you are going to write your letter of introduction, cover letter, or interview/meeting followup as an email, then “convince yourself” why using postal mail would be better. The reasons you want to default to email: first, it works (as I see every day with clients), and second, sending an email is so much faster. You can skip finding/buying stamps, getting the envelope to print properly, and remembering to mail the letter (it usually takes me about three days!). The table below summarizes the pros and cons of sending an email vs. mailing a letter.
Email vs. Postal Mail in a Job Search: Pros vs. Cons
Your job search time is valuable. Perhaps you’ve heard of the expression “the perfect is the enemy of the good.” There’s so much that you need to do in a job search, so go for “good” or even “great” in your search and let go of “perfect.”
That said, there are several situations where sending a letter by mail will get you a better result.
- If you’ve had an informational or networking meeting and someone really helped you, a handwritten note of appreciation is a very nice touch!
- If you feel the person to whom you are reaching out is more “old school,” e.g. from an older generation, more conservative, etc. then a letter may be more appropriate.
- A letter will stand out more than an email will, improving the odds of it being read. To help a letter stand out even more, consider sending it by “Priority Mail.” If you have the time, you could send an email and, if no response, then a letter.
Rule #3: Always include the “letter” in the body of the email, as people don’t like to open attachments. Enough said.
Rule #4: Engage them with the Email Subject Line
If you do use email, the subject line is key to your message being read. Don’t make it too salesy or pushy. Mention something that they are interested in so that your email gets opened! Examples include:
- “Your article about Supply Chain in…”
- “Referred by Susan Smith, re:…”
- “Open to discussing Fundraising at Ivy University?”
- “Our three mutual connections and shared group on LinkedIn”
- “Hello, and question…” <if you know them>
Rule #5: Make sure your email address is professional
email@example.com won’t cut it. firstname.lastname@example.org will make a better impression and make you more likely to get past the spam filters.
Rule #6: Focus on them
I get so many drafts that are all about “me me me” when the tone/language should be “here’s how I can help you…” , “I believe this meeting would be mutually beneficial because…” or “Your company’s Vision resonates…” If you want them to help you, show appreciation, as in “I would greatly appreciate…” A simple “thank you” can of course go a long way. Sounds easy and obvious but too many clients forget these basic rules of relationships.
Rule #7: Include your pitch (if you haven’t in a prior letter)
Inform the people to whom you are writing of your background and link it to how you can help them. Summarize your background in one or two sentences, and then share some relevant background highlights by including three to six “bulleted” accomplishments. Don’t assume that even your best, closest work colleague knows how you want to position yourself, or remembers the great things you’ve done. Also, strangers will, naturally,want to know from whom they are hearing. A powerful pitch in your email can really help to illustrate how you can help an organization, engage the reader, and spur the action you want.
Rule #8: End with a clear call to action
Say “Would you have 20 minutes available on your calendar to meet?” (it’s so easy for them to hit reply on an email and say yes.) And/or, say “I’ll contact your office to see if I can get on your calendar in a few days, assuming I don’t hear from you first.”
I’ll be posting more in the near future about how to write great email content that gets you the meetings you want, as well has how to follow up with a phone call.