Not a communications-industry cover letter: “I am interested in a job. My resume is attached. I look forward to hearing from you.”

March 30, 2010

In a previous blog entry about the value of follow-up calls for job seekers, I mentioned it was a smart move for candidates to write a cover letter. Many do not. Many who do, do so poorly.

To get hundreds of applicants down to a manageable group to interview, I toss many good resumes because the cover letter shows a lack of skills aspiring PR pros should demonstrate. A cover letter can showcase your ability to research, to tailor your message, to identify important information, to organize your thoughts and to persuade, as well as to write efficiently.

You do not have much of a chance to stand out among your competition without a good cover letter. The most important part of a cover letter is the beginning, because you have to convince the reader to keep going. Here are a few tips:

Avoid “To whom it may concern.” You need the patience and ability to do research in the communications industry. When you do not take a few minutes to call or go online to find an appropriate contact to whom you can write your cover letter, you look lazy or inept.

Make it easy. Accessing information about you should be quick and easy, so eliminate unnecessary steps. If you e-mail your resume, make your cover letter the body of your e-mail, not an attachment. One purpose of a cover letter is to catch the reader’s attention immediately with something that compels him or her to read your resume.

Prioritize information. Keep the inverted pyramid approach to news release writing in mind when starting a cover letter – most important information first. Personally, the things I want to know right away are the position you are interested in, that your education and internship experience qualifies you, and why you want to work here. Common speed bumps I see in first sentences include “Hello, my name is” introductions or philosophical ramblings about public relations trends. Both have a place in your cover letter. Your name goes at the end after something like “Sincerely,” and while your observations about how social media is changing the way we do business might be interesting, they do not trump your education and experience.

Mindset matters. Many times, the person reviewing your resume will end up working with you if you are hired. In addition to your experience, that person is concerned about whether he or she wants to be around you for hours a day. Make that person want to. Be appreciative without being desperate, and be persistent without taking a bossy tone.

That will get you into the first sentence or two of a cover letter. Maybe we can get into paragraph two next time.

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