No, I’m not kidding, there is more than one type of cover letter

I literally said this to someone at the gym the other morning.

Perhaps not the way I would normally respond, but give me a break, it was early. Chief somehow gets us to the gym in the ungodly hour of 5 am so I wake up sometime around 6ish on a treadmill.

The guys at the gym know what I do. Not that they asked me. They asked Chief.  It’s the southern manners, they often talk to the man instead of the woman.

It’s very interesting, especially for someone not from the south. The closest I get to being a Southern Belle is Carol Burnett’s Scarlette.

On this day, Chief was out of town so it was just me. Somehow, a couple of the guys were talking about early retirement, changing jobs, job searching – you know, stuff up my alley. Then I hear one tell the other that it’s good for him to keep his resume updated all the time (true) but not to worry about a Cover Letter, they’re dead.

Wait. What?

Now boys, I appreciate the southern charm, I really do. However, that advise is as useful as a steering wheel on a mule. And you’re fixin’ to get me riled up.

Too late, riling happened. I had to interject. Because, you know, this is what I do….

Now if you think a couple of good ol’ boys are going to believe a girl who’s just about knee-high to a duck just because she said so well then you’ve only got one oar in the water.

So after the above mentioned “No, I’m not kidding” I did convince them (and educate a little) with some Q&A:

Q: What if you saw a position posted and they asked for a cover letter? Oh, well yeah…
A: That’s right, you would have to write a Traditional Cover Letter, which targets a specific job in a company.

Q: What if you were referred to send your resume to someone in the company? Uh, the same thing?
A: Just about, just a tiny technicality in calling it a Referral Cover Letter which mentions the person who referred you.

Q: Now, what if you wanted to be proactive in your job search and reach out to a company, companies in an industry or an entire region to discover a position that isn’t even posted yet, create enough interest that one is created for you or make such an impression that they refer you to a hidden opportunity – meaning hardly any competition? You can do that?
A: You betcha! It’s called a Value Proposition Letter, which is a crisp, focused letter demonstrating your value. There are versions to this, with minor differences:
– A letter of interest – written without a specific job in mind to a specific company.
– A broadcast letter – written without a specific job to several employers in a targeted sector.
– A prospecting letter – without a specific job to a smaller, more targeted audience.

Q: Okay, lastly, what if you wanted to do something new but didn’t know anything about it so you wanted to reach out to someone to get their advice on how to get into their industry, find out more about what the position is like or even what else you can do once you get into it? I don’t know
A: Another letter – or email – but this time it’s a Networking Letter. You’re basically asking for an Informational Interview to get their advice or gather information about a position, industry or your job search.

My good deed and workout were done for the day.

Oh, and don’t think these things are just thrown together haphazardly. Oh no, each letter is thoroughly researched, targeted and meticulously crafted for the most impact. The most impactful and successful Value Proposition Letters are no more than 150 words – total!

Some hiring managers and recruiters may take the side of the gym boys saying the Cover Letter is dead. It may be in their eyes. But not for everyone.

I know many decision makers across multiple industries that do read the Cover Letters. Some read it before the resume and use it as a deciding factor if they want to read the resume. Some read after the resume as a test to make sure the person sounds the same in both.

Across our industry, it is generally accepted that on the low end, at least 60% of jobs are hidden – meaning they aren’t advertised. Think about it for a minute, how often do you hear or know of when a position needs to be filled, internally you hear those four little words, “do you know anyone…”?

This is why networking and hidden job market strategy using Value Proposition Letters are so amazing. They get results.

Every piece of communication is an opportunity for you to expand your network, cement your brand and open doors. Why would you turn that down? The person on the other side of the desk can choose not to read that letter, but wouldn’t you rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it?

Of course, I guess if someone doesn’t want to make the most of every possible opportunity, they have their reasons, bless their little heart.

 

Has one of these letters been successful for you? Bonus question – I had a lot of fun with the southern sayings in this – I think “bless their heart” is still my favorite. What’s your favorite or one that you don’ hear anymore? 

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As a triple certified as a Professional Resume Writer, Career Coach and Social Media Brand Analyst I help amazing professionals break out of a suffocating corporate existence and get happy in their career.

I’m the career alchemist – I turn job lead into career gold!

Click here – CareerPolish.com – to find out more about we can work together to get you career happy.

First Impressions: The Written Word is a Powerful Thing

You never get a second chance to make a first impression. I use this saying a lot in my marketing pieces and when I speak at functions. How many people have heard this but not give it any credence? Many people I talk to assume this only relates to the visual aspect of a first impression or forget that it extends to all forms of communication. For example: have you ever received an email from an individual or company and immediately formed an opinion of the sender? Today I want to look at written forms of communication and give few tips and reminders about first impressions, which I call Gentle Reminders. I learned this from Miss Manners.

Email.

Oh, I love email. Oftentimes I would rather people communicate with me via email than on the phone because I can get my email on my computer and on my phone so I can instantly respond to them. Yes, I truly fit the definition of one that has a “CrackBerry”, I am never without my phone and only during family time am I not checking it or responding to something I have received on it.

My first gentle reminder is this: email is not texting. You cannot abbreviate or use two letters for entire words. It is not acceptable and frankly you look uneducated when you do so. Can you imagine a hiring manager getting the response back, “tnx for the email, c u 2moro” It almost looks like a Prince song (wow, have I dated myself there).

Email gentle reminder two: please make sure your Caps Lock is NOT on. I have literally emailed someone back asking them to stop yelling at me when I receive an email in all capitol letters. It was a gentle reminder but effective. Read the following lines and see if you can pick up on the difference:

Thank you for your time yesterday; I truly enjoyed our conversation and look forward to meeting again next Tuesday at 3:00.

THANK YOU FOR YOUR TIME YESTERDAY I TRULY ENJOYED OUR CONVERSATION AND LOOK FORWARD TO MEETING AGAIN NEXT TUESDAY AT 3:00.

Same sentence yet there is a major difference in tone.

Email gentle reminder three: Tone, humor and subtleties do not translate well in email so you must keep this in mind. A majority of humor and subtlety is translated through non-verbal communication i.e. a slight smile, a raising of the eyebrow, a widening of the eyes. The reader cannot see you, they cannot read your mind and they certainly do not know what frame of mind you are in when you are writing the email so you must be vigilant in creating a message that is clear and leaves no room for interpretation. Let me state it frankly – humor does not translate well at all, just do not use it period.

Here is another thought to keep in mind: the intended recipient may know you well enough to understand you, but do you really know that they are the only one that will read the email? How many companies have filtering programs for their emails? How many other eyes view their emails? That was something that I had to do in a former life, check all incoming emails for a company and let me tell you, I read a emails containing information that I really did not want to know and wish I could forget!

Email tip: Write the email then walk away. Let it sit then come back and read it again. I have written an email or even a blog and thought what I was writing was exactly what I was thinking and it all was very clear. Much to my dismay, in re-reading the information later I found that the two were not the same and revisions were necessary to make sure my point was clear.

Letters, Thank You Cards, Cover Letters etc.

Gentle Reminder One: First and foremost – check you spelling. Now check it again. Do no solely rely on spell check. I can tell you that I worked four Merrill Lynch. The word “four” in the previous sentence is spelled correctly, but it is the wrong for! And grammar check did not pick up on it either. One misspelled word can ruin a wonderful creation and send it straight into the trash. Have someone else proof it, someone you trust to proof read. I have business partners, two are wonderful at reading content for content alone, making sure the message is clear. The other is wonderful at spelling and grammar. They are an invaluable team: Manuel, Jackie and Jake, I value their opinions and trust their thoughts.

When I write a hand written note, I type it out on the computer first to use spell check as my first line of defense. Then I print it out and go through it word by word. Then I will copy it to the note. And if my writing is not neat, I throw it away and start again. No use sending a hand written note if no one can read it, it defeats the purpose.

Gentle Reminder Two: When writing a hand written note, be sure to reference something that the reader will remember in order to connect you to the interview. It should be something that was a positive exchange. For example, if you are sending a thank you note after an interview, be sure to include something discussed during the interview. “I thoroughly enjoyed learning about the new automotive ordering process, what an incredible time and money saver!”

One caveat, do not refer to an “inside” joke or lighthearted moment during the interview. It may have eased the situation at that moment, however a day or two later the recipient may not remember the environment in which the exchange transpired or simply not think it funny today.

Gentle Reminder Three: When addressing the envelope, please make sure that it is done neatly and professionally. Use full titles, company name, spell out the address (Suite 500 not Ste 500), use proper business form as it is business communication.

Assistance Letters

This I am making a separate topic due to the uniqueness of the letter. Whether this be a request for an information interview, an introduction or any other appeal make sure you are very clear. If you are appealing to someone to share their time, opinion or expertise please do not send them a five page flattery-dripping letter praising them and in the last sentence end with “by the way, can you….”

Be sincere, honest and direct. If you are asking someone to grant you their time, tell them why you are making this request, they will want to know. No mater who you are your most valuable asset is time and for someone to share theirs with you will require information. I am not simply going to meet with someone because they asked me to. I know that may sound snobbish, and in a way I suppose I am being selfish. I have children, a fiancé, family, friends and a business. My time is valuable and I have limited time to share with everyone that I would love to so please, let the recipient know your intentions.

For me, I want to know why you want to meet with me, what you would like to discuss, and an expectation of time. If you do not set the time expectation, I will. I would also like to know what lead you to contact me specifically.

Let me give you an example. I recently received a request for a meeting. The gentleman and I had met a few years ago through another company and he had found me on LinkedIn. He is a period of transition and would like my advice on a specific topic. He was very clear to tell me that he has attended workshops and done quite a bit of research, which tells me that he is not looking for me to provide all of the answers. He asked for a specific amount of time and suggested a time period for me to check my calendar, at my convenience.

I appreciated several things about this request:
1. He told me how he knew me and was able to establish a connection.
2. He has done his homework on the topic he would like to discuss.
3. He was very specific about the time requested.
4. He recognized the value of my time and promised to honor this.
5. He was specific about the topic, which will lead to a well run meeting.
6. He was very professional in all of his communication.
7. He used common courtesy and manners.

We are meeting next week and I am looking forward to meeting this gentleman, I have been impressed so far. I have no doubt, as there has been a stream of communication that he will present as professional in person as he has in the virtual world.

Gentle Reminder: You set a tone when you are writing correspondence. It is imperative that if you establish a very professional tone you uphold this through out any future contact or communication.

In short, take your time, be clear, be professional and be positive. The written word is a powerful thing when used wisely.