Thursday, February 5, 2015

Tip of the day: Your intro

Tip: The perfect intro

People often ask me how they should start their cover letters. Job listings can be frustratingly vague, especially in places like Washington, D.C., where some Hill offices and even lobbying shops seem to delight in their anonymity. How do you tailor your letter if you don't even know who's hiring? If you don't know the issue inside and out?

In yesterday's tip, I listed some ways to keep your letter short and sweet. One of those is to get to the point fast, without mucking around trying to answer those questions. I always recommend the three sentence rule:

Three sentences your intro should have

  1. First, the position you're seeking. Letters get passed around a lot, and this context can help you land a job you didn't even know existed. Example: "In your search for an Online Organizer, you're going to need someone who's deadline-driven and full of great ideas."
  2. Second, the first thing that comes to mind when you imagine this office, organization, issue, or position. Example: "As someone with a lifelong passion for protecting wildlife and wildlands, I'm excited by the prospect of bringing those qualities to the Sierra Club."
  3. Third, get ready to make your case. Example: "As a skilled and experienced online professional, I'm ready for the challenge of taking the Sierra Club's online organizing program to the next level."
You don't need to say more than that -- because the person reading the letter already knows it all. She already works for that organization and knows its mission better than you. She knows the key qualifications better than you. All she needs to get out of this paragraph is a sense that you've read the job description well enough to see yourself in it.

The three sentence rule can help you provide that clarity, quickly, without overloading your letter with generalities. Try it out and let me know how it works!