Your cover letter presents your intentions, qualifications and availability to a prospective employer in a succinct and appealing format. As your first chance to make a great impression, a personalized letter indicates you are serious about your job search. Your resume can give the nitty-gritty of dates, places of employment and education, but your cover letter must entice the reader to consider you amidst hundreds, or even thousands, of candidates for any one job opening.
1. Do You Really Need a Cover Letter?
You bet! Just as you would never show up unannounced at a prospective employer's door, your resume should never just appear solo on a decision maker's desk. Your cover letter is your first opportunity to introduce yourself, present your qualifications and show the search committee you are a potential candidate for the advertised position.
2. Personalize It to the Company.
Anyone can reproduce a “canned” cover letter and hope for the best. Instead, take a few minutes to personalize your letter to show a company you are serious about working there. State the reason for your interest in the company. Show that you have done your homework by mentioning company specifics such as a department, a new project or a recent acquisition. Address the cover letter to a specific individual whenever possible.
3. Why are You Sending Your Resume and Cover Letter?
Cover letters should be clear and to the point. Include the specific job title, two to three reasons why your experience makes a good fit and a brief outline of your career highlights.
4. Highlight Your Strengths.
You may be a great person and never call in sick, but prospective employers really want to know why they should consider you for this position. Brag a little! Give a few facts, list relevant skills and state accomplishments on recent jobs that will be impressive.
Increased overseas sales by 93 percent.
Negotiated new financial leases or loans.
Implemented new training programs that reduced staff turnover by 15 percent.
5. State Your Intentions and Qualifications Right up Front.
Don't expect a senior personnel manager or recruiter to wade through a mishmash of information on your cover letter before understanding why you are sending your resume.
6. What Makes You Different?
Emphasize your skills, talents and experiences to show how you would be a valuable addition to the team. If you have relevant volunteer or professional experience, mention it briefly in your cover letter. For example, if you are an accountant who serves as volunteer treasurer for a nonprofit community health organization, include that information. Or if you are an international sales rep who has lived in Europe and Asia and speaks several languages, add that to your letter.
7. No Negative Information.
Never include personality conflicts with previous employers, pending litigation suits or sarcastic remarks in your cover letter. If you are bad-mouthing your present place of employment, interviewers may fear a repeat performance if they hire you.
8. When Should You Include Salary and/or Relocation Information?
The rule of thumb is to always include salary requirements and/or salary history in the cover letter if a prospective employer requests it. For example, you could write: “My salary requirements are $60,000-$75,000 (negotiable).” Or you might write: “My current salary is $53,000 at XYZ corporation.” Eliminating this information from your cover letter may justify your resume getting tossed out. Never include salary and relocation information on your resume — only address this information in your cover letter.
9. Take Action Steps.
Take a proactive approach in your cover letter. State the fact that you are available for a personal interview; give your home, work, email and/or cell phone numbers where you can be reached; note that you will follow up by phone (whenever possible) to provide any additional information required.
10. Be Direct!
A professionally written cover letter and resume can open the door to your next position on the corporate ladder or to a new career in a different field. A clean, error-free presentation, combined with strong phrasing and solid facts, will encourage the reader to review the attached resume and call you in for an interview.
Peter Newfield is President of resume writing service Career Resumes