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Killer Cover Letters

Posted on 18 August 2008

In some respects, the cover letter can be more important than a resume. Its purpose is to communicate your knowledge of the field, your interest in the company and the value you can potentially contribute to the firm. The cover letter expands on your resume, attempting to illustrate a “match” between your previous experience and the qualifications an organization seeks in an ideal candidate.

Cover letters must be personalized and never mass-produced. The reader needs to feel that you are genuinely interested in the company and that you have done your homework, as evidenced by your keen interest in, and thorough knowledge of, the organization to which you are applying.

The resume alone cannot adequately convey your enthusiasm for a field or a particular organization. The resume is a credential stating that that you have the basic skills to do the job. The cover letter introduces the “fit” between your unique skill sets and the work that the company performs. To sum up, always send your resume out with a carefully crafted letter emphasizing the employer’s needs and how you can assist them.

Four Important Components of Cover Letters

  • Appearance: Address your letters to an individual. Avoid the appearance of mass-produced cover letters by making sure to personalize each one. Take the time to track down the name and title of the person with whom you wish to interview and include the name of the organization several times in the body of the letter. Your resume, cover letter and envelope should match; good quality bond paper is preferred.
  • Form: A potential employer will scan your letter quickly, spending less than a minute reviewing it. The letter should be short, concise and fit easily on one page. Standard business form (your address and the date in the upper left corner, addressee’s name and address at the left, above the salutation) is preferable.
  • Style: Your style is your own, and it reflects your individuality. However, remember that the letter is intended to communicate information with clarity and impact. Be simple and direct. Stress the value and skills that you will be able to offer an employer. Your cover letter should always be good enough to stand alone (without a resume), so be careful of repeating much information that is already covered in your resume.
  • Content: Remember that most jobs require excellent communication and writing skills. The cover letter is an opportunity to show your talents. Write four paragraphs of “personalized prose” (let your personality show through the letter so that the reader gets a good impression of who you really are). Your aim is to motivate the employer to want to talk with you in person. Avoid the overuse of “I” and “my.” It is better to use “you,” “your” and the name of the company, etc. Remember that you are not just talking about how great you are, but also trying to address the company’s needs and how you are a good match for them.

What Should I Say?

  • Paragraph No. 1: Mention the contact(s) who know the addressee and who suggested that you write or informed you of the opportunity. State your specific reason for writing (i.e., suggesting you have some expertise that could be of value to them).
  • Paragraph No. 2: Show that you are knowledgeable about the company and its products/services. You must illustrate that you have done your homework in researching the company.
  • Paragraph No. 3: Describe (list) your professional skills. State the exact nature of the “fit” in terms of your skills and how they could be utilized by the company.
  • Paragraph No. 4: Ask for an opportunity to meet in order to discuss their needs and the valuable contributions that you could make to the organization. Indicate that you will call within two weeks to follow up on your interest in meeting with them. Employers will not usually contact you. They are also interested in seeing your initiative.

Timing Is (Almost) Everything

Landing an interview, as well as a job, is frequently a function of being in the right place at the right time. Therefore, do not be surprised if you get rejected the first time around. If you really want to work for a particular company, maintain your contacts over months, and years if need be, thereby improving your chances that someday you will find yourself in the right place at the right time with that particular firm. Persistence and patience will pay off.

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7 Comments For This Post

  1. Christen says:

    I have never, ever liked writing cover letters – they always feel so fake and phony to me. Your article brings up some good points and I do believe I’ll be putting more effort into my letters. I imagine this will be extremely important as I look to relocate to another state – what do you suggest for someone looking to move cross-country? Should that be addressed in the letter?

  2. Resume Tips says: has some excellent cover letter samples. See how your cover letter compares.

    Resume to Referral
    Resume and Career Services

  3. OneofYou says:

    I also don`t like traditional cover letters.
    Unfortunately, employers and professional resume writers do not think so.
    Every cover letter must be unique,not banal.

  4. Katie says:

    “Your cover letter should always be good enough to stand alone (without a resume), so be careful of repeating much information that is already covered in your resume.”

    I’m a unsure what is being said here. I’ve always heard that you should NOT reiterate what is written in your resume.

    Either way, great advice. Thanks!

  5. BCD says:

    I’m wondering what to do if you are applying online and if you are dealing with a recruiter or contractor company. Do I research the recruiter? Or not say anything as specified for the 2nd paragraph? The job I’m applying for right now does not say who the client is.

    Katie, I’ve heard the same thing, not to just repeat your resume.

  6. Vera says:

    I usually consider the cover letter as the main thing. The resume is more of a reference or just a support document. If you have a very good cover letter. The resume will just give the details if the recipient is interested to see more.

  7. ACS Distance Education says:

    Great helpful little article – I work in distance education with so many people who are job seeking at the moment and I know cover letters are so important. Many people can overlook the first impression that all important cover letter gives. We do have courses in writing and technical writing for those who would like to develop their writing skills further too. I always encourage my students to study the art of communication when job seeking!

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