The Cover Letter You Really Need to Write (or Not?)

Photo by Anthony Shkraba from PexelsThe year is still new-ish, and if you're thinking about - or in the middle of - looking for that perfect job, here's some advice for you from Victoria Silverman. Known to us as the immediate past president of AFP's Golden Gate chapter, she also runs Cook Silverman, a successful executive search firm for nonprofits. Clearly, she understands a thing or two about what employers are looking for. If you're in the job market, this might be just what you needed to read today. 

Do I really need to write a cover letter?
By Victoria Silverman

In a word: YES.

“Why?” you ask.  Well, think about it. You are amongst 20, 50,  200, or 2000 applicants for a job. You’ve submitted a resume. “It’s a beautiful resume,” you think. “A work of art and literature.”  Great.  “What more do I need?” you say to yourself. 

But here’s the thing. A resume is supposed to be a well thought through, chronological (my preference), set of data points, tied together with perfect grammar, consistent tenses, and bullet points.

There is no room for demonstrating passion for the mission of the organization for which you are applying, no license to tell a story about why the mission is so important to you personally, and certainly, no place to truly demonstrate your above-average talents in crafting a letter. You are applying to be a high-level nonprofit executive. Don’t you think it would be beneficial for you to stand out from the rest of the resumes submitted by demonstrating to your potential employer that you have writing chops and passion for the mission?

I can’t speak for all employers, but I can speak for those with whom we work. And the answer is… (you guessed it)…


Should it be a novella? No. It should be concise and to the point, and address both of the issues stated above: a demonstration of your writing chops and your passion for the mission, hopefully with a neat and tidy bow around why that mission is meaningful to you personally. Yes, personally. But not too personal. Think carefully about who is reading this letter and what conclusions you hope they come to, as a result.

Caring about puppies and kittens is nice when applying for an animal welfare organization. But explaining that you have spent all your free time volunteering for an animal rescue organization, including driving across state lines to transport animals to safety…that’s a different ball game. Be honest - if you simply want to change your life by working with animals because you love them, so be it. But be sure to do a really good job at the “writing chops” part and still find a way to make a compelling argument.

Remember to make it worth the reader’s time. Put your heart and soul into the cover letter. It is a defining moment in the application/resume submission game. Play it well.

"It was about this time that ... the Reverend Gilbert Tennent came to me with a request that I would assist him in procuring a subscription for erecting a new meeting-house.... Unwilling to make myself disagreeable to my fellow-citizens by too frequently soliciting their contributions, I absolutely refused. He then desired I would furnish him with a list of the names of persons I knew by experience to be generous and public-spirited. I thought it would be unbecoming in me, after their kind compliance with my solicitations, to mark them out to be worried by other beggars, and therefore refused to give such a list."

The original post appeared on the Cook Silverman site. You can learn more about them here. Their current openings are available on their site here. 

Photo by Anthony Shkraba from Pexels