by Teena Rose
A cover letter sent to a company that may not have publicly advertised positions is called a cold-contact letter. You’re contacting the employer to introduce yourself with the hope that it may spark an interest and result in a warm lead (also known as an interview). For obvious reasons, a cold-contact letter will generate the fewest leads, so paying special attention to the content and adding a couple unique elements will increase your return rate.
[Editor’s note: To see an explanation of cold-contact prospecting letters and two other types of cover letter, see The Basics of a Dynamic Cover Letter.]
Understanding the obstacles, too, will help you determine how to best handle them and result in additional responses to your correspondence.
Obstacles could arise from sending your cover letter and resume to a strained hiring department. Or maybe, a position doesn’t exist for you, or your skill set doesn’t match the employer’s needs even if the organization is hiring. The point is, if you’re determined to conduct a cold-contact campaign, don’t be overly concerned when you receive few responses.
It seems cliched or redundant to mention researching the company before forwarding your documents, but it’s amazing on how many job-seekers fail to do just that. It’s pivotal that you take a “quality, not quantity” approach to your job search. Focusing your efforts on targeting, researching, and applying to a small and specific, targeted list of employers will generate a higher return from your efforts. By researching potential employers, you’re reflecting to the company that you’re serious about joining its team — so much so, that you’re willing to dedicate your personal time to learning about the company.
Unlike correspondence written a decade ago, the tone of letters has changed in today’s job market. Incorporating a conversational tone to your letter will help readers relate to you. It’s difficult to explain what exactly writing in conversational tone is other than to say it’s similar to how you speak. You’ll ditch many of the stuffy, stock fragments that once existed, such as, “Please find my resume attached in response to the position advertised in the Dayton Daily News.” Instead, start your letter with, for example, “A few months back, I met with John Brickman at the business exposition in Vancouver. I was stunned by his knowledge of the robotics industry. I realized, after speaking with him for only a few minutes, that Jackman Technologies, Inc., was a perfect fit for my skill set — and let me tell you why.”
Don’t design the letter to have a heavy or light appearance. You’re shooting for something that is within a “happy medium.” When you’re finished writing, sit back and examine your words. Let it sit overnight, if necessary. Always analyze every fragment and sentence you’re using to determine if there’s a better or more effective way of presenting yourself. It sounds a bit obsessive-compulsive, but unfortunately, you REALLY DO have just one chance to make a great first impression.
Ensure that you’re not wasting your time, or more importantly, the company’s time. If you’re a software engineer and the company you’re targeting outsources its entire system needs, then you’re wasting time vying for employment with that company. Know your viability factor before adding any company to your target list. Make a courtesy phone call, if necessary. If you place a call, ask for a contact name too. Why not kill two birds with one stone?
Do your legwork before sending any cold-contact letter. Every job-seeker finds himself or herself sending this type of letter from time to time, so do yourself a favor by cultivating the info you’ll need to design a letter that outshines those used by others. A good rule of thumb is “be innovative, not imitative.”
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
Teena Rose is a personal branding expert, LinkedIn profile author, and executive resume writer with Resume to Referral. With an estimated 70 percent of her client base made up of repeat and referral clients, it’s no surprise that she’s one of the most highly endorsed resume writers/career coaches on LinkedIn. Professionals use her service because of the bottom-line returns she produces; i.e. more job interviews, shorter job-search, and higher starting salaries. She’s a valuable expert contributor to Quintessential Careers as well. Teena’s authored several books, including Designing a Cover Letter to “Wow” Hiring Personnel (2nd edition); How to Design, Write, and Compile a Quality Brag Book (2nd edition); and Cracking the Code to Pharmaceutical Sales. You can reach Teena at admin(at)resumetoreferral.com or (937) 325-2149.
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Most positions are never advertised. A cold cover letter is an uninvited inquiry to an employer, recruiter or other hiring manager regarding possible job opportunities.
Cold cover letters' potential advantages include creating a job that didn't previously exist, gaining early consideration for a position that hasn't yet been advertised and expanding your network of contacts. By sending a letter to an employer who's not soliciting candidates, your resume will not be buried in a pile of hundreds of others.
- Heather secured a marketing director position after sending a cold cover letter. She read about the company's expansion goals in a trade magazine and sent a letter that outlined how she would help the company achieve its objectives. The company was impressed by Heather's enthusiasm, knowledge of the company's mission and ideas for successful expansion.
- Stuart compiled a list of his dream companies and contacted them directly. His letter arrived at the right time at one of the companies -- a network engineer had just given her notice and a position became available. The company benefited from hiring Stuart and saving on recruitment costs.
- Mark is a salesperson with a passion for sporting goods. His favorite retailer did not have a presence in his local market, so Mark sent a cover letter outlining how he would establish a local presence. After reading the letter, the company flew Mark in for an interview and hired him on the spot.
- Know Yourself: You are contacting a company that hasn't asked to be contacted. So what do you offer? Why should the company take an interest in you? What skills, abilities and credentials would be desirable to the organization?
- Research the Employer: Find out as much as you can about your target company, including past performance, goals and competitors so you can knowledgeably write about how you would help the operation.
- The Salutation: Since you are writing an unsolicited letter, it's crucial that you address a particular person. Do some research so you can get your resume in the hands of the manager most likely to be interested in hiring you.
- The Opener: You can use a number of different techniques to open your letter. Here are two examples:
The Value Proposition:If you have identified goal-surpassing revenue and market-share growth among your goals for this year, my credentials will be of interest. Allow me to introduce myself: A marketing executive with 15 years of experience within Fortune 500 environments...
The News Angle:After reading of your consulting-services expansion in yesterday's Wall Street Journal, I am eager to join your team as an accounting manager. You will benefit from my top credentials, including CPA with Big Four experience and multilingual fluency (Spanish, Portuguese, Italian)...
- The Body: Summarize the key strengths you bring to the table. A great strategy is to include a bulleted list of achievements and qualifications that would benefit the company. Provide an overview of your main selling points and examples of how you have contributed to your current or former employers.
- The Close: End your letter with an action statement, promising to follow up to explore the possibility of an interview. This is a much stronger closing than, "I hope to hear from you soon."