One of the three kinds of cover letters I’ve talked about for 20 years is the cold-contact, or prospecting letter. This letter is used in an exploratory fashion to express an interest in working for a specific employer but not in response to a specific opening. A step beyond the cold-contact/prospecting is the job-proposal letter, in which the job-seeker has comprehensively researched an employer and is proposing that the employer create a position for the job-seeker who asserts that he or she can address one or more of the employer’s challenges. (An excellent resource for how to compose a job-proposal letter is Denise Bissonette’s Beyond Traditional Job Development: The Art of Creating Opportunity.)
While a few of the hiring decision-makers I talked to had interviewed candidates based on a cold-contact/prospecting letter, none had ever created a position for one. They usually cited budgetary reasons for not doing so. Many of them, however, said they often kept those cover letters on file for future openings. Jeff Gordon’s response was typical: “If I have a superstar candidate with a ‘killer’ cover letter but not a fit with current positions, I’ll put them in the coveted ‘save for future’ file. That is indeed the golden file of sharp candidates who would be a great addition to the company in perhaps another role,” says Gordon, founder of LA-based online marketing agency InterActive99.com.
For one of Graciano’s applicants, that filed-away letter paid off: “I have absolutely interviewed candidates based solely on their outstanding cover letter,” Graciano recalls. “In one case, we did not have a specific opening when I interviewed the candidate; however, about four months later we did have an opening and hired that person. Turned out to be one of the best hiring decisions we have ever made as an organization.”
Some respondents, like Shelton, said they would be inclined to refer the writer of a strong cold-contact letter to another employer: “I have interviewed several candidates in the past based solely on their cover letter and resume — even if we didn’t have a position for them,” notes Shelton. “If they are talented, I can always refer them to other professional acquaintances that might be looking for a particular skill set.” Others felt they might create a position if the right person came along.
Especially when the job market is weak, a cold-contact/prospecting/job-proposal letter is not the way to get a new job quickly. But it’s a smart strategy, especially for those already employed who have time to invest in a job search. See also the other parts of the white paper/Cover Letter Reboot package: Cover Letter Wish List: Hiring Decision-Makers Reveal What They Want to See in Cover Letters, Hiring Decision-Makers Cite Top Cover-Letter Mistakes that Disqualify Job-Seekers, and Cover Letters That Wowed: Hiring Decision-Makers Describe Winning Cover Letters.