Dear Sam: I think I have a pretty good résumé, but I have no idea where
to start when writing a cover letter. Is it necessary to submit a cover
letter when applying for a job? I’d prefer to just submit my résumé so
I don’t have to write a cover letter for every job I am interested in.
I’m finding I don’t apply for some positions as I can’t get over the
stumbling block of writing the cover letter to accompany my résumé.
Help! – Tony
Dear Tony: A cover letter is your opportunity to
introduce yourself to a prospective employer, expand on and personalize
your résumé, and highlight how your skills and experiences will fulfill
the employer's needs. A cover letter should be a key part of every
application, regardless of whether it is requested. The letter should
engage the hiring manager and propel him or her to read your résumé.
should not have to create a new cover letter for each job you are
interested in. If you have defined your objective when creating your
résumé, meaning you know what you want to do, who you are marketing
your candidacy to, and what language will attract his or her interest,
then your cover letter will be developed using that information as your
guide. When you have taken time to really understand what will trigger
your target audience, and have incorporated that content into your
application materials, your résumé and cover letter will not need to be
modified each time you apply for a position.
Keep in mind a
cover letter not only expresses your interest in the company and/or
position, but also gives the employer the opportunity to observe your
attentiveness to detail, spelling, grammar, and quality of your written
communication. While you may have heard stories of employers not even
looking at cover letters, I have heard just as many in which employers
focus heavily on the cover letter as a window into the style of the
When writing your cover letter, there are many
strategies you can employ in the development and organization of the
content. Here are some guidelines:
1. Open the letter noting
your key qualifications and the position of interest. Use the first
paragraph to capture the recipient's attention and make him or her want
to read further.
2. Use the center section of your cover letter
to explore your experiences, successes, and skills that have supported
your performance. Oftentimes, I use bullet points to focus the hiring
manager's attention on the most important pieces of information, which
also helps to break up a heavy-looking one-page letter. Bullet points
also allow for a quick way to tailor your cover letter to a specific
opportunity, should that be necessary.
3. Close with an
action-oriented statement. Do not take the passive approach and wait
for a hiring manager to call you. Of course, if the posting says no
calls, don’t call; but most of the time, a follow-up call is
appropriate to reiterate your interest.
4. Keep it brief.
Generally cover letters should be no more than one page and include
ample white space to facilitate ease of readability. Don’t however make
it so brief that at a quick glance it looks like you aren’t bringing
anything to the table.
5. Do all you can to obtain the name of
the hiring manager and address your cover letter accordingly. When all
else fails, address the letter to Dear Hiring Manager.
the same heading from your résumé in order to present a clean and
professional package. Don't forget to sign your letter if you are
sending a hard copy.
Take a look at the cover letter I have presented (click here),
it engages the reader by immediately introducing the candidate’s
qualifications, using an attractive format to pull the reader’s eye
through the main section of the letter, and providing proof and support
of claims made in the letter and résumé. As you can see, a cover letter
can serve a much higher purpose than you might have thought, by
capturing increased interest in your candidacy.