Responding to Advertisements

The competition for advertised positions is fierce; the typical ad in a major newspaper or online posting attracts between 300 and 600 responses in a high supply/low demand market. Recruiters must screen out 85% to 90% of these, often within tight time constraints. This means most cover letters are scanned (not read) in 20 to 30 seconds.

Step 1: Study the Job Ad

Avoid the temptation of scanning the ad, deciding to apply and dashing off a standard letter. They are a dime a dozen – the reader will read the first tired line and skip to the resume. You have just lost a golden sales opportunity.

Instead, study the ad. Underline or highlight key words and phrases relating to qualifications, corporate culture and company information. If you meet 80% of the requirements, and the position and company are of interest to you, consider submitting a letter and resume.

Step 2: Research the Position And The Company

First, think about your network. Do you know anyone in the company or in a similar position? Do you know anyone who might have a contact in that company or industry? If so, visit or phone that individual to learn more. Ask detailed, focused questions about issues not covered in the ad, e.g. recipient’s name, title, job responsibilities and qualifications. Do not raise compensation issues.

Begin some research. Use the Internet or public library to gather current, accurate information about the company and industry. Remember to verify data such as titles and names, as these can change quickly in an organization.

Once you have collected some information, you are ready to call the individual or department specified in the ad to get more information. However, if the ad specifically requests “No phone calls”, this needs to be respected. You will then have to rely on your paper research and network.

Be prepared to have your request for additional data rejected from time to time, but also be prepared to capitalize on someone who is willing to talk to you. All of this will give you a better picture of the needs of this prospective employer and a much clearer picture versus other applicants who did not bother to do research.

Step 3: Identify Related SkiIIs and Achievements

Now that you understand what the employer needs, review your skills and qualifications. Make a list of those that best fit the requirements of the position. If at all possible, include accomplishments that were not mentioned in your resume, but would be of particular interest to this prospective employer.

Step 4: Write The Letter

Now you can catch the attention of your reader in the first line of your letter and continue that momentum through to the end! To pull all the data together effectively, remember that every letter has 4 basic segments: salutation, introduction, body and closing.


Your salutation should specify the reader’s name in formal fashion (e.g. Dear Mr. Neilson), unless a previous conversation with the individual established a first name basis. If your attempts to identify the reader have been unsuccessful, “Dear Sir/Madam” is the most widely accepted alternative.


The opening line should refer to your telephone conversation, mention any internal company contacts and/or reflect your understanding of the company’s goals, challenges, financial results or other interesting information you unearthed during your research. It should catch the reader’s attention. Make it clear what position is of interest to you, without relying on the standard “I am responding to your advertisement in the New Zealand Chronicle for a Creative Writer....”Boring!”

If your best efforts at researching a firm were fruitless, do not despair. If you could not find anything, probably nobody else did, either. In this case, rely on your knowledge of industry trends or problems, combined with your ability to ferret out the employer’s needs from the ad. Target those needs, drawing on specific related skills you possess. Follow the rest of the guidelines suggested in this section and your cover letter will still make a strong impact.


Avoid being too wordy. A one-page letter is ideal in the majority of cases. Don’t short change yourself, but remember your reader doesn’t have a lot of time. In the second and third paragraphs be specific about the skills you possess that the reader wants. Tailor your accomplishments, incorporating them either in an indented “bullet” or as part of a paragraph.

If you lack one or more of the qualifications (which is usually the case) do not draw attention to the fact. Consider highlighting something they did not ask for, but you are certain will be appealing to them.

Let your enthusiasm for the company and position show through. Sincere enthusiasm is infectious and you want your reader to be excited about you!

There is no need to include information regarding why you are looking for work or when you will be available to begin a new position. Those issues should be reserved for an interview.

Some advertisements will request that you provide salary expectations. This is also best discussed during an interview. However, to be sure the reader knows you read the ad thoroughly, acknowledge the request in your letter.


Whenever possible, your closing or final paragraph should give the reader an indication of when you will follow up on your correspondence. Companies that have requested no follow-up phone calls, should be respected, otherwise, eight to ten business days are usually recommended as a reasonable time to follow-up. Remember to make a detailed note in your day timer about this follow-up. Finish up your letter by thanking the reader for his/her consideration and/or confirming your interest. Either “Yours truly” or sincerely” are appropriate closings, followed by your name in full.

Step 5: Edit

Review for:

  • Errors in grammar, spelling, typing
  • Return address and phone number, email
  • Catchy first line
  • Flowing, logical paragraphs
  • Minimum use of “I” and jargon
  • Targeted strengths and achievements
  • Reference to all applicable qualifications

When you are certain your letter is perfect have someone else give it an objective critique. Then, take a copy for your records. Do not forget to sign the original.

You are often given many options to deliver your letter. Consider what is the most practical and time permitting option for each situation.

  1. Email has rapidly become a preferred method of delivery, and allows you to meet tight closing deadlines
  2. Hand-delivery, will allow you to visit the location of the prospective employer and give you some added information about the company set-up, professional appeal and environment.
  3. Faxing, once the fastest way of delivery, has become less appealing and poor transmission quality and lack of confidentiality could be a drawback.
  4. Regular mail can also be considered, however tight delivery times may be an issue.


Once you have your goal moving forward, the Resume, becomes the next integral step of your marketing strategy in order to generate interest within your target market. A good marketing document takes time, thought and effort to develop.

Your resume should accomplish the following:

  • Define a clear focus and generate interest in your services.
  • Pinpoint skills, accomplishments, competencies and results.
  • Project your style and personality.
  • Set you apart from your competitors.
  • Compel your audience to find out more about you.

It is extremely important that you are the author of your own resume. No one can sell you as well as you can sell yourself.


Questions to ask yourself:

  • For whom are you writing this document? Who is your target audience?
  •  What are the competencies you want to stress the most? What do you do better than those in the same position?
  • What have you done that demonstrates those competencies and differentiators? Don’t simply list responsibilities or duties. Quantify and qualify your statements. Ask yourself why, how and what were the results of your activities.
  • What is the best format to capture and present this information most effectively?
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