I am fast coming to the conclusion that most people don’t understand the purpose of a cover letter. Either that or I am greatly confused.
My little window on the world is The FECG, the consulting practice that I share with Bruce Lynn. With any luck, a few times a month, alumni members of The FENG engage our services to find them a full time, part time or interim person. (Please visit our website: www.TheFECG.com if you want to learn more about us.)
Since the only folks we consider for our assignments are members of The FENG, I get an “up close and personal” view of what “outsiders” are most likely receiving from our membership. I hope you won’t mind my saying that much of it is a little on the frightening side.
I am going to skip over the resumes that are attached, except to mention our file naming convention “BudMatthew.doc” in the hopes that you will adopt it for your other purposes. (I think you will agree that it’s a lot better than the normal “Resume.doc” that I used to see.) Notice it isn’t “budmatthew.doc,” nor is it “budm.doc.” For clarity of presentation, I suggest you use the shift key that you will find located on both sides of your keyboard.
If you are using Outlook or any similar kind of email client, I suggest you find out how to set up your email so your proper name and not just your email address appears at the top in the “From” box. If you look under “File, Account Settings” and select the box below Account Settings which is also named Account Settings. Highlight your email address and click “Change.” You will now be well on your way to finding the right boxes you need to complete to ensure your From box is properly formatted
Entering a subject is the next step. Let’s not get in a rush here. Reread the posting and see if a specific “subject” has been suggested. One of the powerful features of Outlook is the ability to filter based on subject and have all the messages that bear this subject go into a special folder. That is why it has been requested. (In case you were wondering.) If you tend to “click and shoot,” (and let them figure it out) this could be why you aren’t hearing back. Consider the possibility that the recipient may be actually working on more than one assignment. If you get “misclassified” your candidacy may make no sense at all, and trust me, they aren’t going to spend time figuring it out or write back to ask. (We do, but we aren’t like the rest of the world.)
All this verbiage and I still haven’t gotten to the body of the email. Hard to believe, but I am still not close to being done.
“Dear Sir or Madame” may be a good opening if you have no clue who you are writing to, but it is offensive and careless if you do. (Again, we aren’t easily offended, but others may be. You know how sensitive recruiters can be.) If it is a note to me, please write “Dear Matt.” (If it is a note to someone else, please don’t write “Dear Matt” because it will only confuse them. I would suggest you use their name instead.
If you have gotten past all of these high hurdles, we are now in the body of the message. The information in the body should not be a repeat of your resume. Instead, you should try to answer all of the questions your reader may have about why you have responded, and if they have asked for your compensation – desired or past, please provide it. You can be sneaky about compensation, but you must put something down. If the job range is $100,000 and you have earned $175,000 in base pay, you can say I have earned in excess of $100,000 and still be telling the truth. (On another night, I will delve into “white lies” that are okay.) If the job says “no relocation” and you don’t live nearby, put in a rationale why this city makes sense. “I drove through there once” probably wouldn’t be considered a good answer, but I will leave it to you to come up with something better. If your industry is wrong or not obvious, take a few sentences to explain the links. If you are a banker and the job is in manufacturing, you have a tough case to make, but this is where you can do it.
And finally, we get to “Matt’s most frequent pet peeve”: OUTGOING SIGNATURES. If you don’t know what this is or don’t know how to set one up, I STRONGLY suggest you spend as much as an entire week figuring it out if you need to, because there is no more important issue for your success. And, yes, an outgoing signature should appear even on replies, even though Microsoft doesn’t think that should be the default.
Your outgoing signature should somehow include your “Greeting to use” (only my Mother called me Matthew), and ALL of your other important points of contact such as street address, (Most likely, no one will come to visit. Yes, I know it is archaic, but it just makes it look like a real letter.), followed by your phone numbers in order of preference, and finally your email address. (Just so you know, sometimes you can only see the email address in if you copy and paste the “From” into Word or Notepad. Sometimes you can see it when you hit reply. (If I ever meet Bill Gates I will ask him why on your behalf.)
Like the game of Othello, all of the above should take a minute to learn but can take a lifetime to master. The devil is in the details. Spell check and proofread before you hit send.
If you do all of these things and do them well, I really will “have you covered.”