Writing a Cover Letter as a Letter of Recommendation for Yourself

Writer's block can hit you hard when it comes to writing a cover letter to a potential employer. Here's a technique for getting your message on paper (or computer screen): Write a cover letter first as a letter of recommendation for yourself. It's this simple:

  1. Put yourself in the shoes of one of your previous supervisors.
  2. Write a letter of recommendation about yourself.
  3. Take the best ideas from that letter of recommendation and use them in the cover letter to the potential employer.

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By writing about yourself from another person's point of view, you'll likely be able to say good things about yourself that might otherwise have seemed over the top.

How to Write a Cover Letter About Yourself

Some people have the toughest time saying nice things about themselves. If you have an "I can't brag" complex, consider what someone else would say about you (someone who thinks the world of you, of course). That's right, write down what your supervisor, coworker, friend, or relative might say about you — and use your notes to create a knockout cover letter. Here's how to do it:

Write a Letter of Recommendation from Your Boss
Imagine that your former or present boss is writing a glowing letter of recommendation about you. What do you suppose he would say? Let's find out.

Pick up a piece of paper (or open a new blank document on your computer) and do the following:

  1. Pretend you are your boss, and think of all the things he valued (or values) about you as his employee.
  2. Write a letter of recommendation that your boss might have written about you.

For example: For family reasons, Wendy needed to leave her job at PDQ and she wanted to work as a sales analyst at XLM, one of PDQ's customers. She couldn't think of anything to say to Beth, the sales manager at XLM, to whom her letter should be sent. So she jotted down a fictitious letter of recommendation — one her boss Howard at PDQ might have written to Beth.

Here's what Howard supposedly said:

Ms. Beth Lee
Sales Manager
XLM Electronics
3392 Grand Avenue
San Jose, CA 94228

Dear Beth,
My number-one employee is leaving my team and she wants to join yours. I'm talking about Wendy Davis, my wonderful sales analyst for the last three years. Without her skilled number-crunching and her in-depth understanding of the consumer electronics market, I'm not sure what I'm going to do.

I've depended on Wendy's analyses to help me make my national and international sales decisions. In the last two years, we've climbed in revenue, despite a declining economy. How many manufacturers of peripherals can claim that? To say that Wendy deserves substantial credit for this success is an understatement.

Well, I guess if I have to lose her, I might as well lose her to you, Beth — my favorite customer. You run a tight ship that's laden with pressure. I assure you, Wendy meets your standards. She'll provide you will all the analyses you need to boost your financial confidence.

I hope you are well. Let's get together for coffee at the Consumer Electronics Show next month.
Sincerely,

Howard Johnson

Write a Cover Letter About Yourself
Now, take your imaginary letter of recommendation and work it into a letter from you to your prospective employer. That's what Wendy did with her fictional letter from her boss (above). Here's the letter she finally sent to Beth.

Ms. Beth Lee
Sales Manager
XLM Electronics
3392 Grand Avenue
San Jose, CA 94228

Dear Beth,
After so many phone conversations with you, I feel as though I know you well. Our communications are usually about business between XLM and PDQ; however, this letter is of a more personal nature. I will be moving to the San Jose area in early May and would like to speak with you about your need for a sales analyst.

At first, the idea of leaving PDQ was difficult for me. Then I thought of XLM — what an ideal opportunity to transfer my skills! In addition to having proven myself in sales analyses as Howard Johnson's assistant, I have gained more knowledge of the consumer electronics industry than a former "technophobe" ever thought she could.

I'll be in San Jose next Thursday. Are you free that day to speak in person about my working with you? I'll call you on Monday to check about a time. It will be great to see you again.

Thank you!

Wendy Davis

Enclosure: resume

Tips for Blowing Your Own Horn

To learn how special you are on the job, try this:

  • Talk to a coworker (as long as you can trust him not to spill the beans about your job search) to hear which of your shining qualities he has witnessed. Ask him questions like: What achievement of mine stands out in your mind? What is the most valuable skill I contributed to the team effort? How was I better than others with similar responsibilities?
  • Look through your old evaluation forms and letters to see what supervisors have said about you. You may find some juicy tidbits you can use in your letter.

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Susan Ireland, Resume Author