At the executive level, communications skills are critical to success. So when top-level job candidates use a standard, impersonal-yet-professional cover letter template, they’re leaving a potential employer with some big doubts about their strategic communications acumen.
Managers hiring for senior-level roles look for nuance throughout the recruiting process, seeking signs of high-level skills in negotiation, persuasion, coalition-building, collaboration, strategic thinking and more. For them, being able to talk to your accomplishments in an interview will not be enough. They’ll be looking for everything you do to reinforce their perception of your capabilities — right down to the cover letter.
If your standard cover letter template doesn’t have a strategy behind it, it’s time to make some changes.
A good executive cover letter gets personal
Whether your new role will involve courting potential clients or investors, managing a department, leading marketing initiatives or driving internal change, your success will be dependent on your ability to persuade others to a course of action. The basis in successful persuasion is always the others’ needs — so leading off with what you like about the company or why it’s the perfect role for you is good information, but it doesn’t move you towards your goal.
A persuasive cover letter not only engages the reader’s attention and starts pre-selling your qualifications, it also shows that you can use communication proactively as part of a strategy.
Your cover letter is a sales tactic–an opportunity to begin to build your case for employment. Here are three ways to ensure that it makes the case effectively:
- Figure out what the company needs most from this role. A well-considered answer will probably result from some easy research — job description, company’s mission and vision statements — and get real teeth when you do some deeper probing — collecting insights from your network, understanding why the role is open, getting a feel for the company culture and priorities. Even addressing their priorities on the surface level — continuity, importance to strategy, adding a good fit to the team — is better than starting off talking about what you want from an employer. So, if you don’t have a concrete understanding of how you’ll fit into the role, keep the statement general, but always think of why the role exists when talking about why you’re the right one to fill it.
- Lead off with “you.” It’s simple to understand, but harder to put into practice — your cover letter should always start with something about the recipient. “You,” “Your company,” “XYZ Corporation.” Even common phrases starting with “I” can be rephrased to focus on them. So, a simple shift might be from:
- Establish next steps. In the sales process, you never walk away from a meeting without establishing next steps. It’s the same in job search. You may not have control over their hiring process, but you do have control over how informed you are about it, and how you react to it. The standard “I look forward to hearing from you” reserves you no power in the process. Instead, identify how you will follow up and then follow through. Close the letter with a promise to make a personal call next Tuesday, for instance. Or to follow up by email if you don’t receive a response. By making and keeping commitments you’re presupposing a professional relationship of some kind–turning you from a resume into a real breathing human being– and showing you’re proactive, organized and can take charge of a business relationship for mutual benefit. By letting them know that they’ll hear from you regardless, you’ve given them a gentle nudge to follow up themselves, or at least be prepared to talk to you when you call.
I was excited to learn of the Senior Sales Director opportunity…
XYZ Corporation’s Senior Sales Director role is a critical part of your business development strategy overseas…
A well-crafted executive cover letter template gives you the structure to ensure you’re presenting the best case for your qualifications while allowing you flexibility to create a direct connection with the recruiter, hiring manager or networking contact that receives it. In that way the best cover letter template is no template at all — it’s a custom-crafted approach every time.
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