August 26th, 2009 | 6:00 am

Ask-A-Career-Coach: How Do I Create A Cover Letter Template?

filed under Ask A Career Coach

jobsearchContributed by Caroline Ceniza-Levine of SixFigureStart

When creating a profile specifically for a company’s hiring site, what is the best, most effective “generic” cover letter for different positions within various divisions?

This question came from a recent teleseminar attendee, and I love the sub-questions implicit in it.

First of all, should you ever write a generic cover letter? The ideal answer is no. You should have a specific position in mind and a specific person to whom to address the letter. Knowing the position enables you to highlight the right skills and experiences within your background that position you appropriately. Knowing the person enables you to better engage the reader. However, some companies ask that all candidates, even senior ones, upload their resume into the hiring site, so in that case your cover letter ideally mentions you are referred by Jane Doe Insider regarding the X Specific Spot.

Secondly, should you ever apply simultaneously for various divisions? As an entry-level or junior candidate the answer will almost invariable be yes. Be careful not to apply to completely disparate roles, however, because then you will appear scattered and uncommitted or as if you do not understand that the positions are different.

For an experienced candidate, unless the roles within the divisions are similar (e.g., within a media company you apply for a finance role within the books division and within the TV division), then applying across very different divisions undermines the weight of your experience.

Finally, how do you create a cover letter template? While a generic letter is invariably weaker than a tailored letter, it is not feasible nor recommended to craft a tailored letter in every case. The idea is to apply for a lot of jobs and get a lot of leads going simultaneously, and you just can’t do that on any scale when you stop to write a new cover letter every five minutes. So, to get that generic template that requires minimal or no tweaking, focus on your 3-4 biggest qualifications and create a letter that tailors your unqiue value to your target industry (e.g., media in the above example) and/ or function (e.g., finance in the same example). This personalizes the letter to you and your overall target (if not the specific company target). This satisfies the key requirements that the letter position you well (it is tailored to your unique value proposition) and that the letter engages the target (it is tailored to the industry and/or function so you demonstrate that you understand them).

A final word of advice: it’s fine to include visiting company targets and applying to their website as part of your search. Just don’t make it your entire search. Networking and reaching out to companies directly offline is the best way to find a job, especially in a tight market. Don’t bury your nose in your computer and think you are doing the best search you can. You need to put yourself out there beyond the cover letter.

Caroline Ceniza-Levine is co-founder of SixFigureStart, a career coaching firm comprised exclusively of former Fortune 500 recruiters. Prior to launching SixFigureStart, Caroline recruited for Accenture, Booz Allen, Citigroup, Disney ABC, Oliver Wyman, Time Inc, TV Guide and others. You can reach Caroline at [email protected]

1 comment

  1. professional resumes

    Thank you for these excellent tips about writing a resumé. The cover letter is very important and should not be taken lightly.