Cover Letters

We have spent several posts together on the thrilling subject of resumes.  As a part of a job-seeker’s correspondence toolkit, resumes are the heavy weapon that a hiring manager looks at to determine whether or not to call you in for an interview.  Simply sending in a resume is not a good idea, however.  It is not that simple.

Put yourself in the hiring manager’s position.  She has a pile of resumes on her desk and she has to work through them to find the best candidates for the position.  A skilled manager will spend a few seconds on each resume, and in that time if you do not catch her eye your hard work will end up in the shredder.

The resume itself is not particularly eye catching because they all look pretty much the same.  Without something to really grab the reader’s attention your resume will never see the light of day.  Fortunately, we have another bit of correspondence that can help with that: The Cover Letter.

Think of the cover letter as your introduction to the company.  If you had thirty seconds to tell someone at the company why they should read your resume, what would you say?  The cover letter is that thirty seconds, but instead of speaking directly to a person you need to be able to convince them to keep reading with the contents of the letter.  If you don’t, your resume won’t make it into the “call for interview” pile.

A good rule of thumb is to expand on the objective statement from your combination style resume.  The objective statement articulates what you, the potential employee, are seeking in terms of employment.  It should match as exactly as possible the description of the job that the company is trying to fill, which you should be able to find out through your research on the company.

The second rule of thumb is to show, briefly, why you are the best candidate for the job.  Highlight an aspect of your skill set or your experience that will intrigue the reader and get them to turn the page and read your resume.  For an example of a cover letter that I used, and which resulted in an interview and a job offer, click here: sample cover letter.  This particular letter was written for a job in the defense industry, where the job required experience in ground operations, fire support, and military training.  Those areas were contained in the resume, but I pulled them out and hightlighted them specifically in order to get the firm’s attention – and it worked.  Remember, the key is getting the hiring manager to keep reading!  You really need to hone in on what the company is looking for and why you are the answer to their needs.

The format for a cover letter is pretty standard in the business world.  It is similar to most other forms of correspondence, but to help you put one together here are the elements, from top to bottom:

1.  Your address and contact information.  Include street address, phone number, and email.

2.  Company’s Address.  Include the hiring manager’s name if you can find it.

3.  Greeting. If you know it is a man, use “Sir”, and if it is a woman, use “Ma’am”.  If you don’t know, feel free to use “Sir or Ma’am”, but stay away from anything that could be viewed as informal or unusual.  Don’t start off with “Hey there!” or “Devil Dog,” because you will not look professional and they won’t read past the greeting.

4.  The body of the letter.  Three paragraphs is about right, with the first paragraph telling the reader why you are writing them (i.e., “I am very interested in working at Big Corporation”).  The second paragraph should emphasize your strengths and skills, and why you are the right person to hire to fill the need at the company.  The third paragraph should be a positive reinforcement of the previous paragraphs as well as information on how you will follow up with them (I didn’t have this in the example, but should have.)  Something along the lines of “Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.  The best way to contact me is…”

5.  Closing.  Use something conservative and respectful, as you did with the greeting.  “Sincerely” or “Respectfully” are fine, “Cheers” or “Semper Fi” or “Later” are not the best choices.  Remember, the only impression the person has of you is what they read.  Don’t put something at the end of the letter that will make all of your work a waste of time.

6.  Signature.  Type your name at the bottom of the page with enough space to sign your name above it. I recommend writing your full name and avoiding nicknames or callsigns –  you can introduce yourself more informally when you are there for an interview.

So, take a look at your resume and pick out the strengths that meet the requirements of the company that you would like to apply to for a job.  Using the format in this post, emphasize the things that the company wants, and write as professionally possible.  A solid cover letter, when accompanied by a professional and well written resume, is a huge step in the direction of landing an interview.


Lessons Learned:

1.  The cover letter is the gateway to having the hiring manager read your resume.  It must be professional, compelling, and well written or they will never turn the page.

2.  Emphasize your specific strengths or skills that the employer is seeking.  Pick those from your resume and expand on them for your cover letter.  Be certain that whatever you write in your cover letter is in your resume, though, otherwise the reader will wonder why there is a disconnect between the two.

3.  Keep it to one page!  Brevity is key.  There should be a lot of white space in the cover letter; it should be less dense than the resume.  Remember, the cover letter is the attention gainer and the resume is the meat of your offering to the company.  Don’t cram too much in the cover letter.

4.  Tailor the cover letter to the company you are applying to.  The resumes may be the same for multiple opportunities, but each cover letter should be individually focused on the company you are sending it to.