Creative Cover Letters a great cover letter will do just that.

Creative Cover Letters
In an intensely competitive environment, it is vital to differentiate yourself, and
a great cover letter will do just that. –Diane M. Barowsky, FACHE
You’ve heard about a good opportunity. Your resume is well done and up-to-date. Before
you respond, take a good look at your cover letter. If it’s a form letter, don’t send it. If
you do, you may be making a big mistake.
Consider the response any job opening generates, think about how many resumes will be
received (especially if you are responding to an ad). You can differentiate your candidacy
through a well-written, pertinent, concise cover letter. Your cover letter is an opportunity
to attract the attention of the recipient and get your resume read.
Consider these basic rules for writing a good cover letter:
Address The Letter To The Appropriate Individual. Call the receptionist to get the
person’s name (correct spelling, please) and title. If you cannot obtain that information,
address it to ―Dear Hiring Manager‖ or ―Dear Human Resources Manager,‖ etc. Try not
to use ―Dear Sir or Madam.‖ This makes you appear out of date and suggests your letter
may be one of many, not one crafted for the job you want.
Keep It Brief — Limit The Letter To One Page. The first paragraph should state the
position you are interested in. The second paragraph should describe your specific skills
and expertise and how they match the recipient’s needs. You need to do some homework
here. The third paragraph can be used to explain anything unusual in your resume (gaps
in your career, excessive number of moves in a short time period, etc.) or anything else
that isn’t readily apparent from your resume (unique experience or background, e.g., you
grew up in the city where the job is located, etc.).
Include Both Your Work And Home Phone Numbers. If you are concerned about
phone calls at work, it is fine to add a statement such as ―please feel free to contact me
discreetly at work at 312/782-3113.‖ Don’t expect the hiring manager to call you at home
in the evening. If you prefer messages be left on your home answering machine, state that
in your letter. Then make sure you have a professional greeting on your answering
machine and plan to check for messages frequently.
As you prepare your cover letter, put yourself in the position of the recipient. Does it
attract your attention without being cute or gimmicky? Remember, it is a professional
letter meant to demonstrate your personal style — it should not be to informal or casual.
Ask a colleague to read your cover letter. Is it clear, direct, with good sentence structure
and grammar? Mistakes or misspellings will give a negative impressions and probably
eliminate you from consideration. Does the letter encourage the reader to peruse your
resume? That is its role, after all. Since resumes tend to look alike, a well-written cover
letter can be the determining factor in getting you that interview. It is your chance to
confirm how much you know about the organization and its challenges (beyond what the
ad states). Once you have done your research, you can then describe how your particular
skills are a match for the organization’s needs.
It is okay to fax a resume and cover letter if time is of the essence. However, always
follow-up with an original in the mail. Don’t get lazy and let the fax sheet substitute for a
good cover letter. The amount of time and attention your information receives will
probably be proportional to the amount of time and attention that you expend.
If you are not applying for a specific job but are interested in available opportunities, use
your cover letter as an introduction. You may choose not to include a resume, but make a
case for why the recipient should want to meet with you. Be cautious — don’t include
cliche statements like ―healthcare is undergoing significant change,‖ etc. Research your
intended audience and include a ―hook‖ that will get you noticed — and an introductory
If you have been referred by someone the recipient knows, begin your letter with that.
The key is to attract the reader’s attention. Remember that your cover letter may be one
of dozens — or even hundreds if you are responding to an ad. You need to make a
positive impression quickly.
Your cover letter should be upbeat and enthusiastic without being arrogant — save the
glowing adjectives. Don’t emphasize any shortcomings but do accentuate your strengths.
Don’t complain about your current position (or situation, if you are unemployed). Do be
positive about why you are seeking a new challenge.
Don’t offer salary history or requirements. There is disagreement on this issue — if
salary is requested in an ad, it might be best to state the compensation is only one
determinant and you will be comfortable with a competitive salary for the position in
question. There are always ways to structure a compensation package — don’t eliminate
yourself because your salary is too high or too low.
As you reread your cover letter, count the number of ―I‖s and keep them to a minimum.
Rather than focusing entirely on yourself, focus on the recipient and what you have to
offer. The reader is more interested in what you can do for him or her than what he or she
can do for you.
Your cover letter should look good. A poorly typed, hard to read, small-print cover letter
will not convey the professional image you want. There should be enough white space so
the letter does not look crowded. Using bullets or bold print (sparingly) will add interest
to your letter. Use the same paper that your resume is printed on.
A savvy job seeker will keep track of every cover letter and resume that is mailed with
the date, recipient, and follow-up. Always sign your cover letter — it is surprising how
many people don’t. Nothing makes your cover letter look more like a form letter than the
absence of a signature.
So you are probably asking, ―why all the fuss about something as mundane as a cover
letter?‖ Most professionals have learned how to write good resumes. In an intensely
competitive environment, however, it is vital to differentiate yourself and a great cover
letter will do that. It is your sales pitch — the opportunity to be more creative than you
can be with your resume and to display your personality.
Diane M. Barowsky, FACHE, is president of Barowsky Search Partners in Olympia
Fields, Ill.
This article is reprinted from Healthcare Executive.