February 22, 2009

Reader Mail Bag: How to Write a Boilerplate Cover Letter

Dear JobMonkey,

I read your letter from a nursing student a few weeks ago (If you missed it, check out the nursing cover letter) question here. I guess I have a similar question. I keep hearing about having a cover letter template, but I can’t quite figure out what that means. I end up rewriting my cover letter for every job application. And considering that I hear back from some few of them in the first place, it’s starting to feel like a waste of time. So, how do I write a cover letter template?

Frustrated Cover Letter Writer

Dear Frustrated,

I’m sorry to hear that the job search is getting you down. In the best of times, it’s discouraging not to hear anything (I always say I’d at least like a rejection letter, so I know where I stand!). But given this economic climate, more and more of you are probably feeling like you’re that tree falling in a forest… with no one to hear you!  I’m sorry.

I think having a boilerplate cover letter is a great idea, and should help you save time on your applications — and free up more time to apply for more jobs. The reason you are probably struggling is because you want to write a cover letter that addresses the unique demands of each position. And this is a good thing. But it’s also a little like reinventing the wheel. Instead of starting from scratch each time, a boilerplate cover letter (or cover letter template, as you call it) will help you to be more efficient and hone in on the important aspects of each application.

Here’s the basic outline for your cover letter:

Contact Details: Start with one of your better cover letters (remember, no reinventing the wheel!) Keep the contact details in there —  name, title, address of employer; your name and address (and email), and the date. These you will update for every new letter, but by having the information in a boilerplate, you won’t waste any time wondering what goes where.

Salutation: “Dear Mr./Mrs. Lastname”  Sometimes the ad (especially if it’s an web ad) won’t spell out the contact person’s name. Do some Internet sleuthing and see if you can figure it out. Hopefully the organization has a website with a list of staff members.  Send a generally addressed letter (“Dear Sir/Madame”) only as an absolute last resort.

Next comes the body of the letter. Your cover letter should have three paragraphs.

Paragraph 1: Introduce yourself and the position you are applying for. Mention how you learned about the job (from an ad, a mutual contact, etc.) For example:

I am writing today to apply for the marketing coordinator position advertised this weekend in the Boston Globe. I welcome the opportunity to put my ten years of experience in marketing communications to work for your firm [insert the name of the organization, if you know it. The more specific the better!]

Paragraph 2: Address your specific skills and experience relevant to the position, expounding on your resume, NOT repeating it. Consider using bullet points to make your letter more readable. Bullet points also lend themselves to easy updating. Read the job ad carefully — if the organization is looking for someone who can organize, supervise and balance budgets, be sure that you cite examples of your competency in each of these areas. For example:

Attached you will find a copy of my resume. I would like to underscore some of my pertinent experience for this position, including:

*Ability to identify and connect with key audiences
As an experienced marcom professional, I have written and published collateral materials that have resulted in a three-fold increase in leads and a six-fold jump in cold sales

*Strong supervisory skills
For the past four years, my job responsibilities have included training, supervising and evaluating eight employees

*Big picture vision … with keen eye for detail
Not only am I able to develop big picture concepts and campaigns that successfully translate my organization’s marketing goals, I am also acutely aware of the importance of making sure each detail works perfectly and in tandem to advance the overall vision

* BA with honors in communications from Boston University
Since my undergraduate career, I have dedicated myself to advancing my academic appreciation for the vast and varied field of communications. I continue to deepen my academic knowledge, even as I advance my practical application skills.

Paragraph 3: Thank the employer for considering your application and mention your plans for follow-up. Be sure to include contact information, including an email address and fax or phone number. For example:

I look forward to discussing how my years of practical and academic experience could help your organization advance its marketing communications agenda. Please contact me at your convenience via email ([email protected]) or cell phone (913-555-1212).

Sign your letter with a handwritten or computer-generated signature.

Now that you have your template ready to go, just save it to your desktop and quickly update it for every new job application.

I hope that helps you with your question about cover letter templates. Good luck in your job search!

Did you have a question about your job search? Send me an email or leave a comment in the comments section — I’ll be sure to address your query in an upcoming post!

Sign up for our newsletter!