Cover letter secrets part 3 — letterhead and why it matters. This is part 3 of our Cover Letter Secrets series — if you missed the earlier posts find them here and here. We’ve already covered empathy, the one page rule, structure, and research. What’s left? Layout, format, and tone (we’ll get to these). For now, let’s look at your letterhead. Yep, scintillating, I know. But if you want to see why it matters to your job search outcome, read on.

Let’s take it from the top: your Letterhead

“Letterhead” refers to your name, instrument or voice type, and your contact information arranged in an attractive graphic design at the top of your materials. This is the equivalent of your brand logo—a recognizable consistent design of information that conveys your professional identity. Any letter you’ve ever received from a legitimate company or organization featured a letterhead. You should have one, too. It simply says to the reader: I’m a professional.

It’s worth taking some time with the choice of font and layout because this is the first thing the employer will encounter from you. And we all know that when it comes to first impressions, there are no “do overs.”

Use your letterhead consistently on all your promotional materials. This means the material at the top of your cover letter and résumé / CV should be identical (use it also with the bios and contracts you send out, and press releases, your teaching philosophy statement, list of references, etc.).

Test your design sensibilities

Below are 4 different letterhead designs for the same imagined musician. Notice how each font and layout creates a different “personality.” Fonts can convey any of these attributes (and more). They can be strong, elegant, traditional, energized, optimistic, retro, modern, or straight-forward (as well as inappropriate, amateurish, wimpy, awkward, or bombastic).

The four below are all perfectly appropriate for a letterhead used in job applications. See how you would characterize the “personality” of each.

What descriptors would you use for each? There’s no right or wrong here; just what you perceive.

And if you were this musician, which one would you choose to use? And why?

For yourself you need to choose a font and layout that best conveys how you want to come across. This isn’t simply a matter of your own aesthetic preferences, the way you might choose a font for personal correspondence with friends.

This is professional. You want to convey who you really are when you are at work and at your best.

DIY graphic design

When I work with clients on promotional materials I ask them to create 5-7 versions of their letterhead, using a variety of fonts they have on their computer and paste these one after another in one document. I ask them to try lefthand, right hand, and centered justification and to add a line under their name and instrument if they like.

You want to treat your name the way a graphic designer would—as a design element. The capital letters of your first and last names will stand out as will the dots on any lower case “i’s” and any letter the extends above or below the mid-point. So look for fonts that treat these design features of your letterhead in interesting ways. In the example above notice how the “Qs” are quite different from one font to the next as are the lower parts of the letter “g,” and the dots on the 4 “i’s.”

When you’ve got a set of possible letterheads in one document print it out and stand back and see what your eye gravitates to. Not just the boldest or the biggest, but which ones seem to convey more of your sense of yourself.

Whatever you choose, make sure your name is easy to read and is eye catching without being distracting. And stay away from overly ornate “wedding invitation” fonts, please.

Who cares about letterhead? (hint: you should)

All this can seem simply superficial, I know. Because, of course, no one is ever going to hire you because of your great looking letterhead. But first impressions count. And if the first thing an employer encounters form you is a distinct sense of your professionalism and it’s consistent in all your materials, it helps prime them to want to read those materials.

A lot of candidates don’t bother with this. Just as the majority of the 200 other candidates won’t take the time to tailor their cover letter contents to the position.

Your job is to make it to the short list. It’s worth going the extra mile, don’t you think?

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