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How to deliver cover emails that work


How to deliver cover emails that work

How can you make your cover email stand out for project opportunities? Will Bachman shared his top tips on how to create and deliver a professional cover email in a recent virtual event for Umbrex members.

“The goal of the cover email is to get you to the Context Discussion, to get you to stand out so that the intermediary, the staffing firm, or the client want to speak with you,” Bachman said. 

It doesn’t need to say everything about your experience — just enough to capture their attention and have you stand out.

Send a cover email, not a cover letter attachment

It’s common to see cover letters and resumes attached to project opportunity emails. Instead, add the cover letter to the body to the email instead of attaching it as a document. 

“People are typically not going to open that attachment, and they will not open your resume either unless your email really resonates,” Bachman said.

Know how your email appears in someone else’s inbox

Send an email to three or four people you know and ask them, “How does my email appear in your inbox?” You can even have them send a screenshot so you know exactly how it looks. 

Make sure it’s from your full name in the inbox, and not just your email address. Otherwise it can come across as less professional or even spammy. You can change this in your email settings. 

“Don’t use a shared email address, because then it’s confusing as to who the email is actually from,” Bachman added.

Reference exactly which project you are interested in

Sometimes a person will see a project of interest and might send an email that says, “I’m interested in the project you posted.”

However, the company may have more than one project. The decision maker doesn’t need to figure out which project you are inquiring about, and they might just move on.

Indicate where you heard about the project

Whether an email was forwarded to you, someone referred you to the project, or you found it on an alumni job board — mentioning how you learned of the project tells the recipient where you’re coming from and immediately establishes credibility. 

Mention affinity

If you don’t already have an existing relationship with the person, establish some affinity. Look them up and see what you have in common — friends, colleagues, or school, for example. Don’t make a big deal about it but mention it briefly to help establish more credibility.

Share relevant experience

Bachman says this is the most important aspect of the cover email. 

Examples can be your experience in the industry, or similar functional experience in another industry. This establishes that you have expertise in the industry, function, and work required.

Some platforms for responding to opportunities allow 750 words, but Bachman says that is usually way too many. For actual proposals it might make sense to be lengthier, but for a response of interest two or three bullet points demonstrating your relevant experience is better. 

Each bullet could be around 50 words that answer these questions: 

  • What was the situation?
  • What did you do?
  • What was the impact?

Indicate your availability

If the project will be longer than a week or two, be sure to communicate the terms of when you can start, and if you have any key dates that you will not be available. Indicate how many days a week you are available, or your hours of availability, whichever might be relevant for the project. Providing this information up front gives clear communication to the recipient and doesn’t waste anyone’s time.

Indicate your location and your ability to travel

Pay attention to the time zone of the company or client posting the project. What is your ability to work in their relevant time zone? If you are not in the same time zone, exclusively say that you are able to work in their time zone. Also communicate if you could travel as needed or would need to work fully remote. 

Provide your contact information

Bachman emphasized how important it is to always provide this information. Though you are sending from your email and therefore it seems easy to contact you, it’s important that you make it as easy as possible to be contactable by as many methods as possible.

This can be done by adding your phone number, your scheduling link for meetings if you have one, and times you are available to talk.

Mention relevant thought leadership

Be sure to include relevant thought leadership examples that can boost your credibility and experience. Examples of this can be articles, podcasts, books, blogs, or videos. Make sure to provide links instead of simply stating the titles. Make it easy for the recipient to find the content.

Provide references

This is not always necessary, but can be helpful to add. 

“If they are impressive people this can definitely add credibility. It’s optional but a nice touch,” Bachman said. 

If one of your references is well known or gives you credibility that relates well to the project, add them as a reference.

Attach a resume

Even if you have sent your resume before, people are busy and you don’t want to make them track it down. They might just go on to the next candidate who made it easy for them.

 “Rather than saying I’ve already sent my resume, send it again, and be sure to send your most updated version,” Bachman said.

Attach a project list

Bachman highly recommends putting together a project list. “It’s a good investment of time.” 

A project list can include all of the projects you’ve ever done, whether as an independent consultant, with a consulting firm, or as an employee with relevant tasks. Make sure this list is detailed. 

If there are clients or details that shouldn’t be shared, you can create a sanitized version for sharing. “You can make one for yourself, and then another version to send out that might keep confidentiality from previous clients, or take out irrelevant experience for that project,” Bachman said.

Attach a sample of sanitized work

Only around 20% of people make this available, and by providing an actual sample of your work you already stand out.

“It’s better to show rather than tell,” Bachman said. This can really help showcase your work and back up everything you’ve put into your cover email.

Provide your fees

How to set consulting feesIf requested, provide your fees. For more on this topic see our Resource: How to Set Consulting Fees.

 “Sometimes people will reply by saying, ‘my fees are negotiable,’ or ‘I will discuss after I hear more about the project’ — but you might not get that chance to discuss it again,” Bachman pointed out. 

Another way to address this is by saying, “Recently my rate has been X.” This implies that you might be flexible to adjust it while still giving the recipient an idea of your rate, and doesn’t waste anyone’s time. 

Create an email signature

If you don’t already have one, create one and apply it to all emails, not just cover emails. Add your phone number, website, LinkedIn URL, and email address. This puts all of your information in one place that is also easy to copy and paste if needed. 

“If you want to be contacted, be contactable,” Bachman said.

Be pleasantly persistent after you send the cover email

Always follow up after sending your cover email. 

“There is a spectrum between just waiting for a response and harassing the recipient,” Bachman said. Be somewhere in the happy medium — don’t follow up just once and don’t message every two hours. 

If you haven’t heard back, it’s reasonable to follow up the next day or two, unless you are given information on when you should have an expected update. Then wait until that day comes to follow up if you have not heard back. 

“There are possibilities that emails get missed so being pleasantly persistent can pay off.”

What not to ask

  • Don’t ask: “Is this project still available?” 
  • Don’t ask: “What’s the rate?” 

“Don’t expect the person on the other side to do the work — just express your interest,” Bachman said. They most likely wouldn’t even respond to this question. Most posts will have a deadline date or will say if they are no longer available. 

When it comes to rates, there might not be just one rate for one project, and so this might be hard to answer. 

Additional helpful tips

A cover email shouldn’t take hours to put together, and shouldn’t be too long because it will be overwhelming to the recipient. Preparing your project list before putting together a cover email or looking for projects can also help you save time.