Learn How to Write Cold Contact Cover Letters
Find out What to Include and See Examples
A cold contact cover letter is a document sent with your resume to companies that have not advertised job openings. Sending this letter provides you with an opportunity to be considered by the company for employment. Because writing this type of letter takes time, it's a good idea to only send cold contact cover letters to companies that you are very interested in working for.
What Information You Should Include in the Letter
As with an ordinary cover letter, your goal is to get the company's attention and show that you're a great candidate.
Writing a cold contact cover letter is much harder, however, since you cannot base your pitch off of the information provided in the job description.
In your letter, convey your interest in the organization, identify your most relevant skills and experience, and explain what you would offer the organization. Particularly since you're sending unsolicited correspondence, you should have a strong pitch or thesis statement for why you're worth considering.
For instance, you might say, "From the awards your company has received, it's clear that you make the very best of Widget X. However, the directions on how to assemble Widget X aren't as praised. That's where I can help: As an award-winning technical writer, I excel at explaining complex things in clear, simple language." Here are the basic elements you'll want to include in your cold contact cover letter:
A Good Hook
Start with a strong subject line — this will help ensure that the recipient will open the email, despite not recognizing the sender.
You can try aggressive subject lines like "Why you need a better event planner" or "Increase your sales 10%." Or, try more subtle approaches, such as "Quick request — marketing positions" or "Experienced marketer interested in company X." If you know someone in common, include the person's name in the subject line.
As well, you'll want to have an attention-getting first sentence that conveys both what you want (a job; an informational interview) and what you can offer.
What You Would Offer
Be clear about why you'd be an asset. This is where research comes in: You want to connect the company's needs and goals with your skills and abilities. Show how you're well-suited to help the company achieve its mission, whether that's selling more widgets or making on-time deliveries.
If You're Connected, Mention It
If you have a connection that you can mention, make sure to include that information in the first few sentences of the letter. (Always check beforehand to make sure the connection is comfortable with you including his or her name and prepared to recommend you.)
It's great to say you have a proven track record launching PR campaigns; even better to send a link to an article or press release about the campaign's success. Include link or attachments to your portfolio, writing clips, and any other relevant evidence of your work.
Include Next Steps
Conclude your email by offering next steps, such as a potential time for a follow-up call or a request for an interview or conversation. While your goal may ultimately be a job interview, smaller requests, such as an informational interview, tour of the company, or request for information on the next job fair, may more readily be granted.
Before You Send a Cold Contact Cover Letter
Is it worth it to send a cold contact letters? That's a tricky question to answer. As you can see, crafting a strong cold contact cover letter involves as much time — or even more! — than a cover letter written in response to a posted job description. And even with a strong, targeted letter, there's no guarantee that the company will be receptive to your overture.
However, that doesn't mean that cold contact emails never get results. If you email persuasively and convey clearly why the company needs someone like you, it can be far more attention-getting than one of many emails in a pile of cover letters responding to a posted offer.
Much of the success of a cold cover letter depends on timing, your understanding of the company, and the quality of your letter.
This technique is most likely to be successful when you're truly passionate about a company and believe you'd be an asset.
Before sending a cold contact cover letter, do your research. As well as knowing the company, you'll want to send your letter to the most appropriate person. Use LinkedIn to find out the names of managers or employees in the department where you'd like to work.
Cold Contact Cover Letter Example
The following is an example of a cold contact cover letter sent to an employer that hasn't advertised job openings.
Dear Mr. Paulin,
Independent schools such as Greenwood Elementary require a hardworking, organized administrative staff to ensure that the school runs successfully and efficiently. My administrative experience and organizational skills would help contribute to the long history of success at Greenwood School.
I have extensive administrative experience in an academic setting. For the past two years I have worked at the Early Childhood Center at XYZ College, where I alternated between running activities for the children and answering phones, scheduling parent-teacher meetings, and performing other organizational tasks.
I also served as an intern for the principal of Elementary School, undertaking a variety of office assignments while also observing firsthand the day-to-day duties of an academic administrator.
I have attached my resume, and would love to speak with you regarding how I could make a significant contribution to Greenwood School's daily operations. I will call you within the next week to discuss arranging an interview. Thank you for your time and consideration.
Your signature (hard copy letter)
XYZ Town, NY
Your CV cover letter is both an introduction and a sales pitch. “It should show what sets this individual apart from all others,” advises Jeffrey Stansbury, vice chair of the Department of Craniofacial Biology at the University of Colorado School of Dental Medicine in Aurora. Like any good sales pitch, your cover letter should motivate the customer to learn more about the product—in this case, you.
A good cover letter, like a good sales pitch, has several characteristics. First, like a good doctor, it does no harm: It avoids making a negative impression. Second, it demonstrates that the product suits the consumer's—your future employer's—specific needs. Third, it assures the customer that the quality of the product (you) is superb. Accomplishing all this is easier said than done. So how do you write a cover letter that will do you justice and earn an interview? First you need a plan.
If the cover letter is to be effective, it must definitely be tailored to the particular institution.—Kenton Whitmire
“A successful candidate impresses the committee right off with the cover letter and makes the committee members actually want to dig through the CV and recommendation letters to pull out the details that start to validate the positive claims,” Stansbury says. “It also provides a glimpse into the applicant’s personality and gives some guidance as to whether or not they can communicate in an organized, effective way.”
One of the most important jobs of any good sales pitch is to avoid doing harm. Some cover letters inadvertently convey negative impressions of a candidate, especially if they “look sloppy or indicate an inability to communicate in English,” says H. Robert Horvitz, who shared the Nobel Prize for physiology and medicine and has chaired search committees at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. “These things can kill someone's chances," adds Kenton Whitmire, chemistry professor and former chair of the chemistry department at Rice University in Houston, Texas.
Horvitz adds that cover letters “should be neat and professional,” and should fit on one page. Whitmire would allow applicants a bit more room: The letter, he says, should be “no longer than one to two pages.” To keep it short, “the cover letter should not reproduce the information in the CV, publications list, or other documents provided," Whitmire says, "but it should be used as a vehicle to highlight those things that the candidate believes will make him or her a good match for the position at hand.”
An effective cover letter doesn't just emphasize your best qualities; it also shows how well those qualities are likely to mesh with the open position. “Applicants should begin by reading advertisements for faculty positions carefully and be sure that their background and goals are appropriate for the position in question. You lose credibility if you can't make a case that you fit the ad,” Whitmire says. “If the cover letter is to be effective, it must definitely be tailored to the particular institution.”
“There's no excuse for not writing a cover letter that shows how your education, experience, and interests fit with what the institution is seeking,” warns Julia Miller Vick, coauthor of the Academic Job Search Handbook, which is now in its fourth edition. “Not doing this would reflect laziness,” Horvitz observes. At best, Vick adds, “a form letter or one that is generic doesn't accomplish much and leaves how the application is reviewed completely up to the reviewing committee." At worst, a generic cover letter can make you seem undesirable.
“While many people applying for academic positions tend to think that the review process is an evaluation of their previous work—how good is it?—the issue that is as important is the match," Whitmire says. "How will this person fit in here? The former is necessary, but the decision to interview will often be made upon research area or some other measure of fit to the department's needs at that moment in time.”
Begin by learning about the department in general and the open position in particular. Department websites are a good starting point, but don't stop there. Go beyond the public information, and seek a sense of perspective. “It is best if candidates speak with their advisers and mentors to get some feel for the institution where they wish to apply,” Whitmire suggests. Close senior colleagues can serve the same purpose. Read beyond the job ad, and figure out what they're really looking for.
Once you've got a fix on the institution, the department, and the open position, ask yourself what abilities or special qualities a candidate needs to excel in that position. Then determine which of your qualifications and accomplishments will particularly interest this department. Think about your research plans, past research accomplishments, special projects, and previous employment.
What evidence can you put forward that your background and plans prepare you well for this opening? How well do your research interests match those described in the advertisement? How well will they complement the work of the current faculty? How will your presence there make the department better? All this information will determine what to emphasize in your cover letter.
Writing the body of the letter
Your research accomplishments and plans should constitute the body of your cover letter for a research university position. At institutions where teaching is the primary emphasis, your primary focus should be your teaching experience, philosophy, and goals—and the suitability of your research program to a teaching-focused environment.
“An outline of plans for teaching and research needs to be specific to be meaningful,” Stansbury says. Focus on your most important two or three examples of proposed research projects and innovative teaching plans, such as developing novel courses. These examples should change from one cover letter to another, as you customize your letters for different jobs.
After the body of your cover letter has been drafted, you come to the most critical step: writing an attention-getting introduction. Salespeople call this "having a handle." Your handle is what you offer that makes you especially well qualified for a particular faculty opening. For example, summarizing how well your research interests match the ones the department advertised provides an effective letter opening.
The opening paragraph should be short but more than one sentence. After you've captured the reader's attention with the handle, clearly but briefly summarize your most important—and relevant—qualifications. Anything less than a sharp focus and your readers will quickly lose interest and move on to the next application.
Closing the letter
End your letter decisively. Don't let it meander to an indefinite or weak close. A decisive close projects an image of you as assertive, confident, and decisive. It never hurts to close by requesting an interview.
Make your cover letter an example of your best writing by editing it carefully. It must be easy to read. Focus and clarity of expression in your letter imply focus and clarity of thought—very desirable qualities in a faculty member.
Then return to the critical issue: whether your research interests, other qualifications, and personality meet the search committee’s requirements. Anything that doesn’t accentuate the match should be deleted ruthlessly.
Now, set your letter aside for a day or two before editing it again. The detachment you gain from this short break will help you see what you've written more clearly. Detachment makes it easier to determine whether your paragraphs flow smoothly from one to the next. The logic that seemed so obvious when you were writing may seem much less so a day or two later. Carefully review both your cover letter and your CV to be sure the information in them is perfectly consistent. Often, a committee won't bother to try to resolve any discrepancies they find; they'll just move on to the next application.
Finally, Whitmire advises, “be sure to have your cover letter reviewed by someone [who] can be trusted and who has experience. Often, getting a second opinion about how something sounds to the reader—i.e., what they got from reading the letter, not what you intended in writing it—can be very valuable.”
This article is an updated version of an article originally published on 10 March
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John K. Borchardt
John K. Borchardt has a Ph.D. in chemistry. He is the author of the book Career Management for Scientists and Engineers.