We use writing skills to engage, inspire or persuade people in our personal and work lives. In a career transition or active job search, writing skills are under sharp scrutiny. Each transition task, whether it is completing self-assessment exercises, creating a resume, crafting a cover letter or preparing additional marketing tools requires focused writing – one that is targeted, has meaning for your reader and clearly outlines your value to the potential opportunity.
STRATEGY - Focus & Purpose
Why are you writing?
The purpose of your writing must be clear. Is it request for a networking conversation? Is it to apply for an open position? Is it to share research information with a decision-maker in your target company? Give the reader a reason to read your letter!
What do you want the outcome to be?
The clearer the intended outcome, the more effective the writing. A reader typically asks, “Why am I getting this letter and what do you want me to do with it?” Invite the reader’s curiosity with compelling reasons.
Who is your audience?
Different readers make different meaning from the same piece of writing. Is it someone from within your field of expertise? Or is it someone who will not understand the terminology used from your field? Or will your writing reach people beyond your intended audience? Understand your audience and tailor your writing in content, tone and language to meet the needs of your audience.
STYLE - Organization & Design
Decide on the content.
Research the opportunity first. Second, identify and prioritize information according to importance and value to reader. Is your paragraph organized around one main idea? What kind of supporting statements can elaborate or explain your main idea? Are you using active verbs to engage the reader?
Match the style to the document.
Understand industry writing standards for your document. Each document, for example resume, cover letters, memos or addendums have unique writing attributes. Can a reader find information easily where s/he expects to find it on the document? Are profile statements or headings clearly identified? Have you emphasized your main ideas using italics, boldface or underlining as appropriate?
Organize the information.
Each document is typically divided into separate sections. Select information carefully for each section so that your writing flows quickly and easily. Use examples, charts, numbers or tables as appropriate to inform and persuade your reader.
IMPACT - Return on Investment Factor
The employer has a current and potential need. Can you solve business problems now and in the future? Use information and language that is future focused and clearly links your skills to the deliverables in the opportunity. Make a business case for hiring – What will you bring immediately? Why are you the right fit? How will you be productive and engaged in the employer’s culture?
Create a Picture.
Use succinct examples to create a visual image of your success stories in the reader’s mind. Pay attention to the tone of your letter. Is it personal, courteous and positive? Does it clearly communicate benefits to the reader?
Close strongly. Revisit your purpose and share a proactive follow-up plan with the reader. When will you call to schedule a time to talk? What else can you do to invite curiosity? Ask for the sale!
Keep the communication simple, specific, conversational and inviting. Above all, keep it error-free.
Related: 8 Steps To Writing Your Bio Like a Pro
Sunitha Narayanan is a certified career coach with a passion for connecting people and their talents to life and work opportunities. She is a co-active coach, empowering her clients to believe in their dreams, set actionable goals and actively create joy in their work lives. She is with OI Partners Promark Company
, a firm that offers executive coaching, leadership development and outplacement services. Follow Sunitha on Twitter @sunithanarayana
Image credit JohnONolan
The trouble with cover letters is that they need to be concise and must never be longer than a one-pager. Employers are busy professionals who have 10-20 seconds to skim your cover letter – so it’s important to state your case clearly and to the point.
How to cram lots of information into little space
It's not as difficult as it seems. Less really is more when it comes to crafting a cover letter that hits home. It's a simple matter of focusing your time and attention on the essentials, basically the items an employer is most interested in. Here's 5 ways you can do just that.
1. Three paragraphs
Start with creating three paragraphs on one page. In the first one, tell the reader what job you are applying for and why. In the second you list your skills and experience. And in the third paragraph, clearly and directly ask for the opportunity to have an interview to discuss things further.
2. Stay concise
Make sure you limit each paragraph to three or four well-written sentences, cutting out all the fluff and non-essentials. These could well be the most important sentences you write in your career, so take your time to ensure they are compelling and inspire the reader to want to see your resume and even call you for an interview today.
Leave generous margins so there's plenty of white space and be sure to double space between paragraphs. This will make the cover letter more pleasing on the eye and put the reader at ease.
4. Facilitate reading
Assist the reader see at a glance what you wish to say by using numbers or bullet points. You want the reader to be able get a two second snapshot of the cover letter, as most people do before they read it through.
5. Check and check again
Proof-read through to catch spelling and grammatical errors, then print it out for one final edit. When you think it looks good, send it over to friends and family and let them go through it with a fine tooth comb.
Now imagine how the employer will feel when he or she opens your new cover letter. Hopefully they will find a simple, clearly worded letter that contains only necessary information and with a call to action – getting you in for an interview.
The rule of keeping things simple very much applies to cover letters. With employers being inundated with applications, they will appreciate a brief and effective letter like yours. The next step will be to keep your resume short and sweet to stay consistent with your punchy new cover letter.
For more on cover letters, see First Impressions: 6 Mistakes to Keep Out of Your Cover Letter!