Cover Letters to Recruiters
In the world of recruiters and executive search firms, resumes rule. But this doesn't mean you should ignore or forgo sending cover letters.
"If a candidate's resume is a good fit to what I'm looking for, then I'm going to take a look at the cover letter," says Dan Anderson, a partner in St. Paul-based executive search and recruitment services firm C. Anderson & Associates. At Anderson's firm, both the resume and cover letter are filed for future reference.
Your Situation Dictates Your Cover Letter Approach
So what do recruiters look for in a cover letter? It depends on which of these three scenarios you're dealing with:
- Ad-Response Cover Letters: If a search firm is handling a job opening, gear your cover letter to the ad's desired qualifications.
"Let's say I'm reviewing responses to a Monster posting," says Anderson. "If the candidate has taken the time to tailor the cover letter and bring out how their background meets the qualifications I want, my impression is going to be that they're a sharp individual.
"One of the best cover letters I ever saw was written by a gentleman who took each point from the ad requirements section and answered every single one with a precise summary of how he fit my client's needs," he adds. "When I read it, I thought, ‘Finally! Somebody answered the question.'"
- Referral Cover Letters: "I always read a cover letter if it begins with something like ‘You worked with my friend so-and-so on a recent search, and he told me about your service,'" says Anderson. "If you've been referred to me by a source, this should be mentioned in the first line of your cover letter."
- Cold Cover Letters: These accompany unsolicited resumes. Recruiters receive dozens of these on any given day, so be brief. "Think ‘meat and potatoes' in terms of communicating only your top qualifications, and eliminate any additional fluff," says Diane Oates, founder and director of Corporate Diversity Search, a Webster, New York, firm that places women and minorities in Fortune 500 companies. Anderson adds that for this kind of cover letter, it's also a good idea to tell the recruiter your salary requirements, your target position and industry, and your availability for relocation or travel.
Eight Rules for Cover Letters
Regardless of what kind of letter you're writing, use this advice from recruiters to guide your efforts and maximize your chances for success:
- Remember Your Purpose: "Candidates need to ask themselves why they're writing to the recruiter in the first place," Anderson says. "Are you answering an ad? Introducing yourself? Or just spamming some generic letter out, which is never going to be very effective."
- Be Brief: "Brevity is extremely important on any cover letter to a recruiter," says Anderson, who prefers cover letters be a half-page or shorter.
- Narrow Your Focus: When replying to an advertised opening, your cover letter will focus on a specific opportunity. But when writing a referral or cold cover letter, many candidates are too broad in their job targets. "Don't try to make yourself all things to all people in your cover letter," Anderson advises. "As a recruiter, I'm looking for specialists with certain sets of expertise, not generalists."
- Set Realistic Goals: Don't use the cover letter to try to secure a position several steps above your current level. "Recruiters can only place people into positions that are the next logical step for them," Anderson explains.
- Emphasize Your Main Selling Points: "I like to see cover letters that profile a candidate's top qualifications," says Oates. "Whether that's a high GPA, a unique skill set or a strong record of professional advancement, write it down."
- Explain Unemployment or Gaps in Your Work History: Otherwise-qualified candidates who don't articulate good reasons for being out of a job or for a gap in their employment run a high risk of being screened out.
- Never Overstate Your Qualifications: Oates advises candidates to avoid exaggerating qualifications in order to be seen as a perfect match to an advertised opening. "Your cover letter, like your resume, should be completely truthful and accurate," Oates says. "Never falsify or misrepresent your background."
- Follow the Rules of Business Writing: "I like to see coherency, fluid sentences and concise writing," Anderson says. "Leave out the flowery language and generic descriptions, don't include personal details like your marital status, don't forget to include your contact information and of course, make sure you spell-check." Consult business-writing references for guidance.
Sample Email Cover Letter Message for a Hiring Manager
One way to apply for a job is to send an email cover letter to a hiring manager. But what should you include in your message? An email cover letter should include the same basic information as a written cover letter. The only differences are in how you format your cover letter and how you include your contact information.
Review the guidelines below for what to include in the email cover letter message you plan to send to the hiring manager.
You’ll also find a sample message you can use as an inspiration for your own letters and emails.
What to Include in an Email to a Hiring Manager
Subject: The subject line of your message should include your name and the job title. For example, “Michael Jameson - Marketing Director Position.”
Greeting: The message should include a professional greeting. If you have a contact person, use his or her name. Otherwise, use “Dear Hiring Manager.”
Note: It’s a smart strategy to learn the name of your contact person when at all possible. You can do this, perhaps most simply, by calling the organization and asking the receptionist to direct you to their Human Resources department. Someone in this department should be able to tell you the name of the person coordinating their search. Alternatively, you can check out the organization’s website to learn the name of their Hiring Manager or search LinkedIn for this information.
The Body of the Message: Your message doesn’t need to be long, but it does need to capture the reader’s attention and sell them on why you’re a strong applicant for the job. The goal of the letter is to “sell” yourself as a desirable candidate and get a job interview, not just to say that your resume is attached.
Write two or three paragraphs, carefully matching your qualifications to the job requirements. The closer you reflect these stated qualifications in your cover letter, the higher your chances are of getting chosen for an interview.
Closing: Close your message with a professional closing like “Sincerely,” “Best regards,” or “Yours truly.”
Signature: Your signature is where you will include all of your contact information: full name, address, phone, email, and your LinkedIn URL if you opt to include it. Make sure that your email address sounds professional: best case scenario, it will be comprised simply of your name: “email@example.com.” Never use a “cutesy” email (“KatyCatWoman” or “Roger_ShadowMage”). You may want to create an email account dedicated solely to your job search in order to keep close track of your applications and employer responses.
Sample Email Cover Letter Message
Subject: Editorial Assistant Position - Jane Jones
Dear Hiring Manager,
I would like to express my deep interest in a position as editorial assistant for your publishing company.
As a recent graduate with writing, editing, and administrative experience, I believe I am a strong candidate for a position at the 123 Publishing Company.
You specify that you are looking for someone with strong writing skills. As an English major at XYZ University, a writing tutor, and an editorial intern for both a government magazine and a college marketing office, I have become a skilled writer with a variety of publication experience.
My maturity, practical experience, attention to detail, and eagerness to enter the publishing business will make me an excellent editorial assistant. I would love to begin my career with your company and am confident that I would be a beneficial addition to the 123 Publishing Company.
I have attached my resume to this email and will call within the next week to see if we might arrange a time to speak together.
Thank you so much for your time and consideration.
111 Main Street
Town, NY 11111
Cell: (555) 555-5555
How to Send Your Resume With Your Cover Letter
Attach your resume to your email message in the format requested by the employer. If a specific format isn't required, send the resume as an attached PDF or Word document.
More Sample Cover Letters
Review cover letter samples for a variety of career fields and employment levels, including an internship cover letter sample, entry-level, targeted, and email cover letters.