For various things, there is an absolute need for a cover letter. Somehow, at one time or another, we just have to do it. Primarily, of course, it is for job applications or for bids, especially when you have your own small business and bid on projects for a living. There are other times, though, in the work place where a cover letter is needed such as in a report submission or in any document for that matter if some action is required or desired. It's a bit like Christmas. Buying the present is one thing but wrapping it so it's attractive and builds interest is quite another! If you think the cover letter is just a last splash of aftershave before the dance...you are wrong. It can be the grabber...the first impression...the flash that sets your submission or CV off from the herd. And when the competition is stiff and there are thousands of resumes sent, especially in job or grant applications or bids, you must craft your cover letter with the care of an artist to get the attention of managers who do the sorting. The 3 piles are (i) OK, let's interview or accept, (ii) maybe a second look, and (iii) toast. Your cover letter is a big influence on the pile you end up in. So here is how to make it stand out:
Identify the need or problem the posting is addressing. Every bid or job posting has clear expectations or terms of reference required of the person or the company. Beneath the enumeration, is the underlying need they want to fill or a problem they want to address. Understand this carefully.
Address this need or problem. Place yourself in the recruiter's position. If you are in the same situation, what would you look for? Write these down.
Review your education and experiences. What in your education and experiences would make you able to address the problem or the need? Make a list of the details of the knowledge, training and experience that relates to the job. If you are a more mature applicant, really focus on what you have achieved in the last 5 years. If it is a bid, link yourself to recent successful projects.
Brand yourself. Forget the photo gambit. But you must now create a particular brief description that ties together your knowledge and experience in such a way that you will grab the attention of the person wading through the pile. Back off the Bing and go right for track record proven characteristics that you would want in an employee or a small company providing a service. Problem solver? Quick learner? Team catalyst? Positive influence and upbeat? What is your PROVEN brand. This is what you need to highlight in your cover letter. You can use the key words in the posting or the call for tenders addressing these specifically. Go for substance, not tap dancing.
Hook and engage the reader. Start by saying what you are bidding on, applying for, or reporting on. Make sure you format the cover letter in an easy to read business format. Avoid cutesy colors and fonts and other gadgets that will distract the reader from the core of what you are saying. Make sure the details are correct and you are addressing this specific posting. Many times, cover letters are such that they can be used over and over again for anything. Bid and application processors sniff the form letter application in a wink.
Focus the Spotlight. Highlight key distinguishing characteristics of yourself, your, or your company's experience. The CV or bid will cover all the regular stuff. The cover letter is the spotlight!
There are other things you need to observe. Limit your cover letter to a page. Make sure all the information is correct as well as the spelling and grammar. And be positive in your formulation without exaggerations and canned words that immediately jade the reader. NEVER say...I love a challenge. Everybody hates challenges...it's just that everybody lies!!!!