Critical Cover Letter Advice
By Chelse Benham
“Job seekers often spend countless hours developing their resumes and then
treat their cover letters as an afterthought. This can be a critical mistake; the
cover letter can help your resume get noticed.” – Kim Isaacs, contributing writer
“Do you really need a cover letter when sending out your resume?” The answer
is yes because your resume should arrive on the decision-maker’s desk with a
cover letter that introduces you and presents your qualifications in such a manner
as to entice him/her to actually read your resume.
“We receive cover letters that are so generic. They don’t explain what the skills or
talents of the person are or even identify the particular job being sought.
Sometimes the only remarkable thing about the cover letter is how unremarkable
it is,” said Frank Wagner, director of human resources at The University of
Texas-Pan American. “A cover letter needs to explain what makes the person
different from all the rest and a better candidate for a particular job. It should
identify the person’s strengths with examples and personal career aspirations. It
also needs to briefly list why the person wants to work at UTPA and give the
specific details of the job listing they are applying for. It is best to incorporate the
same terminology found in the listing within the cover letter when describing a set
Dr. Jerry Bills, who holds a doctorate in business and ethics and the author of
“How to write a winning cover letter, “ writes, “A cover letter introduces your
resume and spells out your reason for sending the resume. It also presents your
qualifications and availability to prospective employers. If written in a succinct,
appealing format, it is your first opportunity to make an impression with the hiring
authority or human resource department.”
Bills writes there are some main points that need to be addressed in a cover
letter and they are:
• Cover letters need to be succinct so that they can be quickly scanned by
• They should include the specific job title you are applying for.
• They should provide a list of reasons why your experience makes you a
good fit for the position.
• They should provide a brief summary of your career highlights.
• They need to be personalized because it shows that you are serious about
working for the company.
• The letter should mention something specific about the company.
• It should be addressed to a specific individual whenever possible.
“The cover letter is an excellent vehicle to brag about your special skills and
accomplishments,” Bills writes. “Cover letters can also be used effectively to
make you stand out from the crowd and to show how you would be a valuable
addition to the company. But the cover letter is no place for negative information
– personality conflicts with previous managers, pending litigation, or knocking
your previous employer do not belong in either the resume or cover letter.”
Viewing the cover as one of opportunity may help put it in perspective. Think of
the cover letter as your very first interview. You get to describe yourself as you
would like and it’s a one-way transaction. By its nature, an effective cover letter is
one of the most useful tools that allows you to be proactive.
It can demonstrate your communication and writing skills and allow you to
disclose several things:
• state that you are available to fill immediate or anticipated needs
• provide numerous contact numbers (home number, cell-phone number,
e-mail address or even a friend if you are traveling)
• state that you will follow up by telephone to provide additional information
Kim Isaacs, writer for Monster.com’s resume advice column, provides clear
instructions to follow when creating a cover letter. She offers the following advice:
Say No to the Cover Letter Cop-Out – The first rule of cover letter
etiquette is to send a cover letter – always. It doesn't matter if the hiring
manager didn't ask for it. It's proper business etiquette to accompany a
resume with a cover letter, and it gives you the opportunity to help sell
yourself for the position.
Be Concise – Busy hiring managers don't have time to wade through
letters that could pass for dissertations. Get to the point as expeditiously
as possible, and break any paragraphs seven lines or longer into short,
easily digestible ones.
When e-mailing your cover letter, brevity is even more important. The
nature of e-mail calls are for concise communication, in part because it's
harder to read on screen than on paper. However, don't fall prey to the
one-line cover letter that some job seekers try to pass off. It goes
something like this: “Please see attached resume, and thank you for your
time and consideration.” You should be able to write a convincing cover
letter in a few brief paragraphs.
Keep It Professional But Friendly – While a resume is generally a
formal document, cover letters give you a chance to reveal your
personality. Not only do you want to show that you're a good fit for the
position, but you also want the reader to like you. Appropriate use of
humor, combined with a friendly and professional tone, can help endear
you to the hiring manager.
Get Personal – Whenever possible, address your letter to a specific
person. If a job posting doesn't include a person's name, do some
research to find out who the correct person is. Try calling the employer
(but do respect ads that state “no phone calls”), and ask a receptionist for
the hiring manager's name. Keep the salutation professional by using
“Dear Mr. Jones,” not “Dear Jim.”
Focus on the Employer's Needs – If every other sentence of your letter
begins with “I” or “my,” you need to change the focus. Research the
employer and find out what types of problems managers there are facing,
qualities they look for in employees and their future goals. Then use your
letter to prove that you are the answer to their problems. The most
compelling letters demonstrate what you can do for the employer, not
what the employer can do for you.
Be Original – Your cover letter will stand out if you employ some
creativity. For example, you could include a brief summary of your
toughest sale or most challenging project. You could incorporate excerpts
of performance reviews to highlight your record of success. Or, you could
create two columns in your letter to demonstrate precisely how you meet
the employer's requirements.
Proofread – Cover letters should be free of errors, so thoroughly
proofread them before sending. If proofreading is not your strong suit, get
help from someone with meticulous proofreading skills. If you're
customizing a cover letter that you use for many positions, remove any
placeholders; this will prevent embarrassing errors such as “I would be
delighted to be your next.” And one last tip: whatever you do, please spell
the hiring manager's name correctly.
At CareerJournal.com, authors of “Create A+ Cover Letters with These Smart
Tips,” Wendy S. Enelow and Louise M. Kursmark write, that it is best to
customize each cover letter to reflect the targeted company. They suggest that
you make a bulleted list of your experience, positions, achievements, educational
credentials and more. For each letter you send, choose among these items the
ones that directly match the hiring company's needs.
“This type of cover letter is easier to write than a paragraph-style letter because
each sentence doesn't need to flow with the next. What's more, these letters are
simple to edit, so you can change an item or two and quickly create multiple
versions of your letter within minutes,” Enelow writes.
Enelow and Kursmark suggest the following:
1. Be sure to reference the position title or number when writing an ad-
response letter. Include a "position-reference line" at the beginning of your
cover letter. Type this between the inside address and the salutation. For
Mr. Harry Jones
ABC Manufacturing Company
123 Main Street
Elm, WI 39393
RE: Purchasing Manager Position -- Posting #34837-12
2. Repeat the position in the last paragraph of your cover letter with text such
as "I would welcome the opportunity to interview for the position of
Purchasing Manager (#34837-12) and look forward to speaking with you."
According to the authors company ad-response letters are characterized by the
• A targeted nature – Because these letters are written directly in response
to known hiring criteria and requirements, they closely target a specific
• Bullet style – Your objective when writing in response to an
advertisement is to quickly and easily bring your qualifications to the
forefront as they are directly related to the position requirements. Using
bullet points is the easiest and cleanest way to accomplish this.
• Comparison-list style – You might choose to use the direct-comparison
style when responding to ads, however remember that this is effective
only if you meet or exceed every single one of the stated requirements.
The cover letter is the first impression you make with a potential employer. It
defines who you are and what you have done, drawing attention to aspects about
you that might be overlooked.
It’s your opportunity to move forward through the hiring process, while less
compelling cover letters and resumes get discarded. Be proactive and set
yourself to the task of writing the best cover letter you have ever written. In doing
so, you improve your chances of getting the job interview and most importantly,
"The most prepared are the most dedicated." - Raymond Berry, Pro Football Hall
of Fame receiver