Many of you will have read HBR’s best of blog posts which include David Silverman’s comments on cover letters which amount to “don’t bother”, almost. Before I even got to the body I wanted to like his post. When I was helping MBAs get experience and jobs in consulting at the Fisher College of Business, I saw a ton of poorly written cover letters and the idea that we could just dispense with them was tempting.
But Silverman doesn’t actually say don’t bother. He says something more like don’t bother sending the one you were about to write … because it’s probably poorly written. I like his advice, he says write something specific about the position.
What he didn’t say was what I most wanted to hear: know something about the position! The three categories of letters he says most cover letters fall into all have the same flaw, they could be written by anyone for any position (ever offered by any company in history).
Before you write your cover letter, review your resume and pull out specific things you’ve accomplished. I stress quantifiable results: money saved, sales dollars, widgets produced, etc. I want to see stats in every paragraph for every position. This serves to get the reader in touch with the level of impact you had on the companies you served.
Still BEFORE you write your cover letter, determine the type of impact the position you are applying for is supposed to have on the company. If you can’t answer how this position supports the mission or profitability of the organization, you are not ready for the job and should not apply.
Now that you know what you’ve done and quantified it, and you know what the hiring organization needs, you can write the cover letter that Silverman wants you to write. Be sure to include specific ways in which you can impact the organization and leave the reader with the impression that you know what you’re talking about.
Check out Silverman’s post. He’s right.