The Cover Letter

Saddle your dreams
afore you ride íem.
MARY WEBB
1881-1927

The cover letter is as important as the résumé itself, and is perhaps the most consequential letter a dancer writes (for many dancers it's the only letter they ever write.) Often your first contact with the director, a well-written cover letter makes the most of that all-important first impression. It can significantly improve your chances for an audition by generating excitement and interest. If poorly written, it can be devastating to an otherwise well-formulated self-marketing campaign.

Few dancers invest enough time and care in preparing the cover letter. Many even omit it entirely. This is a serious mistake. A résumé arriving on the directorsí desk without a cover letter that explains why it is being sent leaves the director wondering what the exact intent of the dancer is; it is not always obvious. Does she want to audition for the school? Does she want to audition for the company? Is she coming tommorow? Does she want me to call her? Should I throw this résumé away? These are some questions that might pop-up if you don't include a cover letter.

So never underestimate the power of the cover letter. Since your future job may be riding on it, take the time and care necessary to write this crucial element of your résumé package. Make the most of this chance to stir interest in you as a possible new member of the company.

Basically, a cover letter does three things:

Understand, your cover letter not only introduces you, your résumé, and your experience to the director, but also acts as a sales letter which convinces the director you have something valuable to offer the company. The appearance of the cover letter should be as flawless as the résumé, because it also makes a statement about you to your prospective employer. If it is sloppy, rushed, and unfocused, it will imply that your dancing is sloppy and unfocused. It may also suggest that you are lazy and have little self-respect. Itís as if you showed up at an audition wearing torn tights and a smelly, ragged leotard. Have some self-respect! A well-written cover letter will also suggest that you are professional, diligent, and confident.

The Form of a Business Letter

The cover letter is best written in the form of a business letter. This creates a neat, positive image, enhances readability, and shows that you care about the look of your résumé package. After reading what is included in a business letter read the dancer's step-by-step tricks to writing an effective cover letter.

A business letter contains the following elements in the order of their appearance on the letter:

1. Return address- The return address is single-spaced and, depending on the length of the letter, about five to ten lines from the top of the page. It is flush with the right margin.

2. Date- The date of the letter is positioned on the next line below the return address. The month is capitalized and never abbreviated.

3. Address- This includes the name of the person to whom the letter is sent, his or her title, the name of the company, and the organizationís full mailing address.

4. Salutation- This is a greeting to the person whom you are writing. For example:


		Dear Mr. Martin:

		Dear Ms. Stealer:

		Dear John,

Donít use the directorís first name unless you have been introduced in person and are on a first-name basis. Even then, weigh the closeness of your relationship before following this practice. Use a colon if you have never met the person and use a comma if you have.

Try to avoid such salutations as:


		Dear Sir or Madam:

		To whom it may concern:

		Dear director:

There is no reason to use such impersonal greetings. It is important to show interest in the company, and with a minimum effort you can find the name of the director.

5. Body- The body of the letter starts two spaces beneath the salutation, and contains your message to the director. The text is single-spaced, with a double space between paragraphs. (More on this important part of the cover letter later.)

6. Closing- Sincerely, Sincerely yours, and Most sincerely are appropriate closings for use with persons who are unknown to you. Best wishes, Yours, and Best regards are somewhat informal and normally reserved for persons with whom you have a fairly close relationship. The closing is always followed by a comma and the first letter is always capitalized.

7. The signature line- The signature line is always flush with the closing and at four to six lines below it. It is your full name, with middle initial if applicable. Sign your full name unless you are on familiar terms with the addressee. In this case, just signing your first name or nickname often softens the formal nature of a business letter.

The Elements of an Effective Cover Letter

Following the five basic elements of an effective letter. Have a strong introductory paragraph that generates interest and either states or implies that your are seeking employment. Then a paragraph which highlights your key strengths and outstanding features, and a paragraph summarizing your education and performing experience. Most importantly, follow your history with a paragraph that compels the director to take an action that will lead to an eventual audition. Finally, include a statement of appreciation for the directorís time spent reviewing your résumé package.

Introduction:
The introduction must not only establish your interest in employment, but grab the readerís attention and compel him or her to read further. Here is where your research pays off. Anything you can do to make the letter more personalized and less like a form letter will make the letter more interesting for the director to read. In the introduction, itís also wise to indicate your intentions (reason for writing); this will help the director by making it easy to understand how you might help him or her. Do not be afraid to clearly indicate the position you want to audition for, especially if you omitted the objective section on your résumé. Not only is it less cryptic, it indicates firm goals, confidence, and an awareness of your level.

Use personal contacts to open the letter, with paragraphs, such as:

During a recent discussion with Truman Jones, I became aware of your desire to engage a tall, male principal dancer to partner my former colleague Susan Slipper. I am interested in talking with you about that position.

Use specific information about the company to create introductory paragraphs, like:

I read the article on your company in the December issue of Dance Magazine about your interest in developing young talent and bringing European works to Ballet Washington. As an enthusiastic young dancer who also loves the works of Cranks and Chilean, I found this article unusually interesting and it prompts me to ask for an audition with your company.

Donít underestimate the value of a well-written compliment, such as:

I have been watching Tanz Munchen transform into a world-class company under your direction, and I admire its position as the leading dance company in Germany. I would like to be a part of this exciting company and feel that I can further strengthen your ensemble. Enclosed, therefore, please find my photos and résumé.

It should be clear by now how an imaginative use of research in the opening paragraph of the cover letter will create interest, give a good first impression, and serve you rather nicely in your quest for employment.

Now itís your turn!

Use information you gathered about your target companies to create a compelling opening paragraph for your cover letter. Mention either a mutual acquaintance or specific information about the company, or start with a compliment. The opening paragraph must contain the reasons for which you are writing and the exact position in which you are interested.

Value and summary:
The next two paragraphs do two things. One paragraph describes professional experience which might be of value to the target director, and motivates him or her to invite you for an audition. The second paragraph is dedicated to giving a brief summary of dance education and experience, and might include the number of years you have danced or the teachers with whom you have studied. These two paragraphs provide your main opportunity to market yourself and address the reasons you would be useful to the director. Donít be afraid to highlight or repeat information that is already included on your résumé. Stress your qualifications and enthusiasm in a personal manner.

Now itís your turn!

Use the list of your experience and training, and your knowledge of the target company and its director, to write a compelling paragraph about your extraordinary talents and a short paragraph which summarizes your dance history. Study the examples of cover letters and model your letter after them.

Action paragraph:
So youíve said you want to audition. Youíve mentioned your qualifications. Now what? The next paragraph is very important, because it compels the reader to take some kind of action that will help you get an audition. Here are some examples of action statements:

Please have your assistant call me if you are interested in seeing my performance video.

I would appreciate the opportunity to audition for your company during my planned trip to Atlanta, and will call you next week to determine your interest and, if appropriate, to arrange for the meeting.

Should you have an opening in your company, I would welcome the opportunity to work with you in class, so you may determine if I am appropriate for your choreography. I can be reached at (415) 945-9584, and look forward to hearing from you.

Even if itís simply to tell the secretary to expect your call, this significant paragraph forces the director to take an action, . More importantly, it indicates further communication which might save your résumé from the dreaded "permanent file" where it will have little chance of being seen by the director again.

Now itís your turn!

Write a commanding action paragraph. It must indicate further communications to come and ideally will prod the director to really consider having you audition.

Appreciation paragraph:
Most directors and choreographers are extremely busy, and it is a matter of courtesy to express your appreciation for the time they are taking to review your audition material. See the sample cover letters for some closing paragraph examples. Try to avoid the words "thank you in advance for...." Thank the director for reading the cover letter or for considering you for an audition, or simply thank him or her.

Now itís your turn!

Select a paragraph from the examples below.
1. Thank you for your consideration.
2. I appreciate your time and consideration.
3. Thank you.
4. Thank you for your consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you.

A good cover letter incorporates all of the above elements. The letter is always typed and has an attractive overall appearance. It uses proper grammar and punctuation, and has perfect spelling. The text is concise and does not ramble on. There is no bragging or use of gross exaggerations, nor is the tone too humble or falsely modest. Instead, a job- winning cover letter sounds confident and professional without seeming to be aggressive and pushy.

Make sure you proofread the letter as you do your résumé. Check once for content, once for grammar, and once for typing mistakes and misspelled words. Have someone else read it. Read it backwards often helps find mistakes that were missed.

There is no security
on this earth,
there is only opportunity.
GENERAL DOUGLAS MACARTHUR


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