The cover letter has three vital ingredients:
You will find in Part III of this book, "Putting Your Toolkit to Use," that I believe in constructing as generic a letter as possible. As you meet people during your job search, you can provide customized elements. However, these three ingredients should be conveyed in each letter.
Gratitude for the Opportunity
Although you come to your job search with an attitude that says "I have something valuable," the fact remains that the employer is taking time to give you an audience. Even if that means simply reading your cover letter and looking over your résumé, you should remember that the employer's attention requires many other tasks.
Your cover letter should be succinct. Whenever possible, keep it to one page.
Although I have seen some good letters that break the one-page rule, you do so at your own risk. It's time-consuming to read lengthy cover letters. A single-page letter is adequate for conveying the most important ideas about you as a potential employee.
A Significant Accomplishment
Here is the section of the cover letter where you get to brag a little bit. This section might be difficult for some people to write. As a culture, we are taught to be humble. During the job search, however, you need to provide your prospective employer with reasons why you are the right person for the job. You must be willing to promote yourself and your accomplishments. You can rest assured that someone else looking for the job will be promoting his accomplishments.
The significant accomplishment is not a pass/fail type of item. For some, the accomplishment might be management of a multimillion-dollar project. For others, it might be the completion of a particular task. This section of the cover letter should reflect an accomplishment that represents the level of competency you have achieved. It should also convey some idea of your ability to succeed in your desired role with that particular organization.
I have met some new technologists who have a difficult time with this one. They believe, in error, that the accomplishment must always be technical in nature. However, I know many employers who would be happy with someone extolling the fact that they never missed class or that they passed all their courses for the past two years.
Employers respond to confidence. Your willingness to consider something that you've done significant enough to mention on your cover letter will go a long way by itself. As your experience grows, so, too, will the level of accomplishment.
Your Interest in Becoming a Producer
For many people whom I counsel, the single-most damaging mistake they make is not asking for what they want. They go through life frustrated, waiting for their employer to recognize what they want to do and then help them get there.
The same is true in your cover letter. You should clearly identify what you would like and how you are going to help that happen. In your cover letter, you should identify what you would like to do. This section can replace the objective on your résumé.
Note two things here:
Number 2 is important. You have informed the employer that you will be following up in a few days. This is critical. Many job seekers have relegated themselves to a wait-and-see type of mentality. They get résumés out the door and then watch helplessly for their phone to ring. The mental anguish with this approach can be devastating.
I advocate a much more direct approach. Although I don't want to appear pushy, I do want the employer to know that I am on a timetable to make a decision about my job. It's not wise to make contact with a company and then simply wait.
You must understand that people run companies and people make mistakes. People get busy. They forget. In a perfect world, the company could make contact with all potential employees to let them know the status of their résumé and the job in question. However, in the real world, the employees who are charged with reviewing your résumé might have dozens, if not hundreds, of résumés on their desk. Add to this their own primary job responsibilities, and it is unlikely that a call is forthcoming.
A more direct and proactive approach is more effective for another reason: It gives you a better sense of what is happening at a company. You might find that although the primary job was filled, the employer is looking for someone to fill a similar position. You would be surprised at how many times a different job, similar to the first, opens up, but the company starts its employee search from scratch.
Your follow-up calls to the company should be designed to acquire the following important information: