Now that you’ve defined your personal brand and built your executive resume around your promise of value to your target employers, you’re ready to get your resume out there.
But it’s been more than 5 years since you were in a job search. Back then, you knew it was important to include a cover letter with your resume. Do you still need one? Or is the cover letter a dying relic?
If you’re mostly responding to job board postings, you probably don’t need a cover letter.
Be aware that, especially at the top executive level (typically Director and above – VP, EVP, C-suite, President, General Manager, etc.), the vast majority of jobs come through networking your way into your target companies, NOT from job boards.
Assuming that your main job search strategy is networking — by far the most successful method — you’ll be sending your resume to select people. You’ll need to introduce it with some kind of covering letter – whether you snail-mail it or email it.
Although there are recruiters and hiring decision makers who will skip right over your cover letters, others will read them religiously and judge candidates by them as strongly as they do their resumes and online presence.
Doesn’t it make sense to include a cover letter – one that’s as hard-hitting and brand-reinforcing as your targeted resume?
My research and experience over the years revealed that NOT having a cover letter may ruin your chances, but HAVING a cover letter will not hurt your chances.
At the very least, a covering letter or email message is an expected courtesy to the reader, and clarifies why you’re writing to them.
How to write your cover letter to position yourself as a good hiring choice, and to get it (and your attached resume) read:
→ Send it to an actual person, putting their name in the salutation. “Dear Sir”, “Dear Madam”, or “To Whom It May Concern” won’t do. Identify people at your target companies, or those associated with them, to whom you’ll send your letter, with attached resume or other appropriate materials.
→ Customize it for each employer. One sure way to have your letter overlooked is to use a template, sending generic content to each employer. A cover letter is an opportunity to zero in on your ability to solve that company’s problems even more specifically than you will in your targeted resume. For added oomph, mention each company by name within the body of the letter once or twice.
→ Simply rehashing your resume in the cover letter can have a negative impact. Your cover letter should be regarded and written as one more stand-alone personal marketing piece in your brand communications plan, supporting your brand and good-fit qualities for the company.
→ Well-written job descriptions that look like a good mutual fit are valuable resources for composing cover letters that will hit home. Use the same keywords in your cover letters, providing specific examples of your contributions and expertise, matching their needs with your promise of value in those areas.
→ Generate chemistry and entice them to want to read your attached resume, by touching on your personal brand attributes (personality, passions, motivating strengths, etc.).
→ The thrust of cover letters should vary to meet specific circumstances and compel specific readers. For instance, a cold-call letter may have a different focus and read a bit differently than a referral letter.
→ Because you’re focusing your search towards one kind of job, you may be able to re-use some of your cover letter messaging from one letter to the next, customizing the introductory paragraph and elsewhere as needed.
→ Keep it brief. Short intro, 2 or 3 qualifying paragraphs, 3 or four short bullet points, and one closing paragraph. I also like to add a P.S. that includes a compelling quote, because it will capture attention.
→ An “old is new again” approach to sending your resume is to snail mail it flat, in a 9 x 12 inch envelope, with cover letter paper-clipped on top.
It all comes back to step one in launching any successful executive job search campaign – narrowing your search and knowing your target audience, then researching your list of target companies to determine their needs and how you can solve their problems.
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