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Prospecting Cover Letter Definition

Cover letters are a staple of your job search, serving as a vehicle for showing off your skills and personality as a prelude to the resume you present to a prospective employer. There's a bit of a difference, however, between how you write cover letters you initiate yourself, and how you write cover letters in response to a direct request from an employer.

Solicited Cover Letters

A solicited cover letter is something you draft when you're applying for a posted job opening or responding to an employment ad. Start off the letter by introducing yourself and stating why you're writing. For example, "I'm writing in regard to the open marketing manager position posted on your website. In my enclosed resume, you'll see I have 10 years experience in marketing and communications, and I've worked in a variety of capacities for both large and medium-sized employers."

Unsolicited Cover Letters

Just because an employer hasn't asked you for your resume doesn't mean he won’t be interested in seeing it -- you just have to make the first move. An unsolicited cover letter is used to pitch yourself to a potential employer, either for an existing job opening, or as a way of introducing yourself to a company you’d like to work with. The former is known as "prospecting," and is used to let an employer know who you are and what kind of job you're looking for. The letter should introduce you, highlight your skills and credentials, and provide a brief explanation of why you're writing. Note why you think you're a good fit for the company, either for an existing job or a future opening. “I've always admired your company’s customer service levels, and I'm very interested in joining your stellar customer retention team."

Cover Letter Elements

All cover letters, whether solicited or unsolicited, should be written on high-quality letterhead. Follow the traditional business letter writing format by including the date, the name and title of the person the letter is addressed to, followed by the body of the letter. End the correspondence with the word, “Sincerely,” followed by your signature and printed name. Use the same format for email correspondence, and always include your contact information in your letter.

Cover Letter Follow-Up

Regardless of whether the cover letter you send is solicited or unsolicited, it's wise to follow-up with the recipient within several days of sending it. Contact the individual by phone, introduce yourself, and say you are calling to verify receipt of your mail. Based on the employer’s response, you might ask more about the position or press for an in-person interview.

 

About the Author

Lisa McQuerrey has been a business writer since 1987. In 1994, she launched a full-service marketing and communications firm. McQuerrey's work has garnered awards from the U.S. Small Business Administration, the International Association of Business Communicators and the Associated Press. She is also the author of several nonfiction trade publications, and, in 2012, had her first young-adult novel published by Glass Page Books.

Photo Credits

  • BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images

Most positions are never advertised. A cold cover letter is an uninvited inquiry to an employer, recruiter or other hiring manager regarding possible job opportunities.   

Cold cover letters' potential advantages include creating a job that didn't previously exist, gaining early consideration for a position that hasn't yet been advertised and expanding your network of contacts. By sending a letter to an employer who's not soliciting candidates, your resume will not be buried in a pile of hundreds of others.

Success Stories  

  • Heather secured a marketing director position after sending a cold cover letter. She read about the company's expansion goals in a trade magazine and sent a letter that outlined how she would help the company achieve its objectives. The company was impressed by Heather's enthusiasm, knowledge of the company's mission and ideas for successful expansion.
     
  • Stuart compiled a list of his dream companies and contacted them directly. His letter arrived at the right time at one of the companies -- a network engineer had just given her notice and a position became available. The company benefited from hiring Stuart and saving on recruitment costs.
     
  • Mark is a salesperson with a passion for sporting goods. His favorite retailer did not have a presence in his local market, so Mark sent a cover letter outlining how he would establish a local presence. After reading the letter, the company flew Mark in for an interview and hired him on the spot.
Before You Write

  • Know Yourself: You are contacting a company that hasn't asked to be contacted. So what do you offer? Why should the company take an interest in you? What skills, abilities and credentials would be desirable to the organization? 
     
  • Research the Employer: Find out as much as you can about your target company, including past performance, goals and competitors so you can knowledgeably write about how you would help the operation.
Components of Your Letter 

  • The Salutation: Since you are writing an unsolicited letter, it's crucial that you address a particular person. Do some research so you can get your resume in the hands of the manager most likely to be interested in hiring you. 
     
  • The Opener: You can use a number of different techniques to open your letter. Here are two examples:

    The Value Proposition:If you have identified goal-surpassing revenue and market-share growth among your goals for this year, my credentials will be of interest. Allow me to introduce myself: A marketing executive with 15 years of experience within Fortune 500 environments...

    The News Angle:After reading of your consulting-services expansion in yesterday's Wall Street Journal, I am eager to join your team as an accounting manager. You will benefit from my top credentials, including CPA with Big Four experience and multilingual fluency (Spanish, Portuguese, Italian)... 
     
  • The Body: Summarize the key strengths you bring to the table. A great strategy is to include a bulleted list of achievements and qualifications that would benefit the company. Provide an overview of your main selling points and examples of how you have contributed to your current or former employers. 
     
  • The Close: End your letter with an action statement, promising to follow up to explore the possibility of an interview. This is a much stronger closing than, "I hope to hear from you soon."

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