Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Landing the Job, Part V

The Cover Letter

There seems to be an awful lot of apprehension surrounding cover letters. I think it has to do with the fact that we don't send many actual letters here in the third millennium, and most of us are a little out of practice on our letter writing. Also, while we're all aware that we should have a cover letter to accompany our resume, many have only a vague notion of what it's for or what's supposed to go into it.

Simply put, the purpose of a cover letter is to introduce yourself to your prospective employer. If you're not meeting them in person, this is going to be their first impression of you. It needs to be a good one for them to call you in for an interview. Your goal is to introduce yourself, summarize your qualifications, stress why the company would benefit from hiring you, and ask for an interview.

What I just described is actually just one type of cover letter, albeit the most common: the introductory letter. You would write it to accompany any resume you were sending out "blind" or having a friend walk in. If you were meeting in person with the chief pilot or HR person, your cover letter would be somewhat different in tone and content. The same goes for subsequent updated resumes that you send the company. In each case, though, you should be writing a cover letter to go with your resume.

Now I don't mean to say that every time you hand out your resume, you should have a cover letter attached. To tell you the truth, I think a poorly tailored, overly generic cover letter is more useless than no cover letter at all, so you shouldn't be carrying around a one-size-fits-all cover letter just in case someone asks for your resume. However, anytime you are planning on submitting your resume for a company's consideration, you should write a cover letter to go with it.

This infers that every cover letter should be custom written for the company you are submitting it to. This is absolutely necessary, to an even greater extent than with your resume. This customization starts with your heading and opening. You should know the exact name, title, and address of the person you are submitting your cover letter and resume to. If you don't know it, call somebody who does. When you recap your qualifications, keep in mind what sort of pilot the company is looking for and stress your high points accordingly. Show that you have knowledge of the company's background and operational environment.

Keep in mind that a cover letter is a business letter and should be written accordingly. If you've never been taught how to write a proper business letter, there are some good pointers here and here. It's normal practice to use block formatting when writing cover letters. Proper spelling, punctuation, and grammar are critical. Get several sets of eyes to proofread your cover letter before sending it.

In your opening, reference any prior contact you've had with the person you're addressing. If you talked with them at a job fair a few years ago, mention that. It shows that you have a long-standing interest in this job. If they gave you some pointers by phone recently, express your thanks for their time.

In the opening, you should also specify which job you are applying for. This should match the objective section of your resume. Here's where it's more permissible to tap into the creativity you left off of your resume.

When summarizing your qualifications, reference your enclosed resume and just hit the high points. Example: "As you can see from my enclosed resume, I have been flying multi engine aircraft under Part 135 for the last two years. I have over 1500 hours of multi engine time, much of it at night and under instrument conditions." Try to make it relevant to the job you're applying for: "My experience is in conditions very similar to those that FlyByNight pilots operate in every day, making someone of my background a natural fit for FlyByNight Inc."

Another possible tactic when summarizing qualifications is to use bullets, as follows:
As you can see from the resume I have attached for your consideration, my qualifications and experience mesh very well with FlyByNight's operation:
  • ATP certificate with SA227 type rating
  • Two years full-time Part 135 freight experience
  • Over 3200 hours total time
  • Over 1500 hours in complex multi engine aircraft, including 500 turbine
  • Nearly 1000 hours at night and over 300 in IMC
Naturally, the cover letter is going to be about you. Your challenge is to make it sound like it's about the company and why they would benefit by hiring you. Avoid excessive usage of the word "I." Instead of saying "I think that I would be a valuable addition to FlyByNight," say "FlyByNight Inc, as the nation's leading transporter of time-critical widgets, would benefit greatly from my training, experience, and work ethic."

In your closing, don't be afraid to ask for an interview. Re stress your interest in the job and give several ways the addressee might contact you to invite you to an interview. Thank the addressee for their time and consideration.

Don't forget to put "Enclosure" after the signature block, assuming that you're indeed enclosing a resume.

Print the cover letter on the same nice paper that you're using for your resume. Don't fold it.


OK - so you've been researching jobs, spiffing up your qualifications, working your contacts, and putting together a killer resume and cover letter. It's time to get you an interview - by applying online, sending your resume & CL to the appropriate people, having your contacts go to bat for you, and maybe doing a little in-person groveling. That's the subject for the next post.