Monday, July 19, 2010

Cover Letters: From Good to Great

In the world of career management, there is conflicting advice on the importance of cover letters. Realistically speaking, neither your cover letter nor your résumé will get you a job. Your résumé satisfies the application tracking system (ATS) and allows your document to be scanned for keywords and stored in a company’s database and your cover letter will demonstrate that you have the ability to communicate effectively in writing in a grammatically correct fashion. It is only after you have cleared these two hurdles, along with the obligatory good search of your name in an effort to find juicy tidbits about your personal life that you will be considered for job opportunities within any company.

With that information in mind, you need to think of your cover letter as a not only an introduction but also a sales letter that makes the reader what to know more about you. The foundation of your cover letter depends upon how you put into writing your intention, your interest, your motivation, your enthusiasm, your experience and your skills. From a technical perspective, it should also show your personality and professionalism.

To understand what makes a cover letter great, you need to know the dos and don’ts in a cover letter. The first thing you need to get familiar with is to how you should address your letter. A great cover letter should be addressed to the person who is in charge of the application process. It is in your best interest to do some research to know exactly who is involved in the hiring process/decision and ensure that their name, title and company information is spelled correctly.

Write your cover letter in a conversational tone but strive to keep a formal and professional tone. Your letter should sound like you and not a history book. Also, take the time to review the document to ensure that it is free from grammatical spelling errors.

To create a bigger impact, make use of terms and phrases that are significant to the hiring manager or employer. The hiring company often requires specific skills, experience for a certain job position. This critical information is often included in their posted advertisement. When responding to a posted ad, use those listed requirements and match them to your skills and experience.

Some experts will tell you that cover letters should not have bulleted lists while others suggest that using bulleted lists will make the letter much easier to read. The only ‘correct’ format to use when composing a cover letter is the one with which you are most comfortable.

Cover letters should consist of at least three paragraphs. The first paragraph should briefly state what position you are applying for, how you learned about the vacancy, and how qualified are you and what are your general qualifications.

In general, the body of the letter expands upon your qualifications, states the relevant skills and experience you have and then briefly discusses how your skills and experience demonstrate that you are qualified for the job. The concluding paragraph of your letter should contain your request for an interview. Be specific and direct.

Ideally, your cover letter should never be more than one page long however it is also important to resist the temptation to reduce the size of your font to make it fit into a single page. Short paragraphs and plenty of white space will make your document easier to read.

By remembering and incorporating these helpful hints when composing your next targeted cover letter, you can rest assured that you will be one step closer to landing the job of your dreams.

“Career Matters” is an on-line community blog hosted by Mary Salvino. It is designed for those who are seeking advice on managing their career and future job opportunities. We welcome readers to share their experiences, post their comments or ask questions about career related matters. Alternatively, you can e-mail Mary directly at