WHAT DO COVER LETTERS AND THANK YOU LETTERS HAVE IN COMMON?


Submitted by: Robert Benway, EdD; MBA -  CCC Volunteer Career Coach and Assistant Professor at National Lewis University

Job seekers include cover letters with resumes when applying for jobs.  After first and second interviews, they also send thank you letters.  But what those letters have in common speaks to their real purpose and value to job seekers, and that is persuasion.  Let me explain, below.

Let’s start with cover letters.  Some career counselors no longer think they are necessary, and some job posting boards do not require them.  Personally, I think including a cover letter with your resume is a good idea.  The cover letter allows you to project more of your personality than your resume does, and it also includes a persuasive message intended to make the receiver want to read on and find out more about you.  But the real purpose of the cover letter is the persuasive message it contains, which I explain below.

Remember this acronym; AIDA.  It stands for Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action.  You first want to get your reader’s attention in your opening paragraph by explaining the purpose of your letter, which is you are applying for a job.  But since receivers of resumes get lots of them, you need to define which job you are applying for so the reader will identify you.  Most likely the receiver will be a Human Resources recruiter who must screen the letters and resumes, and route copies of them to department hiring directors.  So they’ll need to match your letter to the correct hiring director; if they are unclear of what job you are applying for, your letter and resume may be discarded. 

In your second paragraph, you’ll want to stimulate interest in the reader, so study the job posting on the company website, or the advertisement.  Pay particular attention to the main purpose of the job, and the qualifications.  Those are the must-haves or nice-to-haves the hiring directors have in mind, and will use to screen resumes.  Then add one or a couple of sentences that explain your qualifications, matching their requirements.  Third, you need to create desire in the hiring director and HR recruiter by explaining how your qualifications can contribute to solving their problems and promoting their objectives.    

Finally, in your third paragraph you want to signal a call to action by asking for: an interview, if you’ve not had one yet; a second interview, if that is their process; or an offer of employment, when you’ve interviewed well and pass the initial screenings.  This piece is critical, because you cannot assume the readers of your letter will understand what you want unless you tell them explicitly. 

Now, let’s examine thank you letters and identify the similarities to cover letters.  Sending thank you letters after your interviews, even telephone or video conference interviews, is a good idea.  You should thank those key people who took their valuable time to interview you, an altogether professional business practice.  But these letters also give you additional opportunities to put yourself in front of the hiring director to promote your skills and personality as being exactly what they need.  This act of persuasion can give you the competitive edge you need in landing the job.  

I follow the AIDA model when I write thank you letters.  First, I get their attention by stating why I am thanking the receivers of my letters.  An example following an interview could be, “Thank you for inviting me to interview for the XYZ position on {date}.  This is the attention getter.  Remember, busy hiring directors may have multiple positions open and they may not exactly remember who you are, so always make it easy for them by signaling yourself. 

In the second paragraph, move to the interest statement by recalling a piece of your conversation during the interview that interested you and obviously interested the hiring director.  An example could be, “During our discussion on {xyz topic} you mentioned how important it will be to find a candidate who has experience in handling {xyz topic}.  Then you move to the desire statement by responding to the interest.  “I know I can contribute to your company (or department) because I have a strong background in {xyz} which I explained during our conversation and which you can find in my resume.”

Finally, in the third paragraph you move to the action statement by requesting a second interview, or a job offer.  Here are both examples.  “Knowing I can contribute exactly what you need from this position, I would appreciate an opportunity to explain my background further in a second interview.”  “I am excited and confident in my ability to perform this job and contribute to your company, which is why I would very much appreciate an offer of employment.” 

One other thing is to avoid beginning too many of your sentences with the word “I,” because you want to present yourself as knowledgeable, experienced, and confident, not narcissistic.   That stated, I wish you success in using cover letters and thank you letters as persuasive messages in your career search.




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