How to Write Cover Letters

An effective cover letter may be your ticket to success

Melvin Luthy
Chief Editor

This is about selling the greatest product in the world—You! Don't take it lightly. A cover letter can make a great first impression; if done poorly, it can send your resume on an express journey to the trash can. Spend time to get it right. A little extra effort will help you get an interview.

It's all about marketing!

You are now selling the most important product in the world—YOU. Cover letters are your personal headline. They are the attention-getters that pique interest and entice others to read more about you. A well-written cover letter will make you stand out, and will open the door to the next step of selling yourself—the interview.

You have 5 seconds

You are marketing and selling yourself to the recipient of your resume. That's it, plain and simple. How well your letter sells you in the first five seconds will determine whether your resume will be considered or tossed.

Consider how you react to advertising and packaging. Ask yourself, "What entices me to buy one product over another? What is it about one product that catches my attention?" Guess what—your potential employer is going through the same thought process with your cover letter. Your job is to figure out exactly what the employer wants, and to make it clear that YOU have it.

Benefit Selling

Hold on a minute! Before you fire up the word processor, you've got some work to do. You have to learn to think in terms of benefit selling.

Every advertisement that you see on television, hear on the radio, or see in a magazine is trying to appeal to a need or a want. Unless advertisers can appeal to a need or a want in your life, and can make a connection with you, they won't be successful in getting you to buy their product. They want that little voice in the back of your head to scream "I NEED THAT!"

You have to create in the mind of your potential employer a curiosity and interest in YOU. They have to see the real benefits that you offer the position. They must be able to see how you, above all other applicants, will make them shine. Trust me, this will not happen with a generic cover letter sent to both Jerry's Jerky Shack and Boeing Aerospace Division. Your approach must be well-planned for a specific employer and a specific position.

Covering it up

A well-written cover letter is the key to bridging the gap between your resume and the job requirements. First and foremost, understand that employers want employees with excellent writing skills—don't disappoint them in the cover letter. Employers skim hundreds of resumes and cover letters, looking for the few that grab their attention. Show them that you understand the job requirements and explain how you will exceed their expectations.

WARNING:

A quick word of caution: Generalities and hollow statements must be avoided at all cost. One more letter that says "I'm responsible and enjoy working with people" may just send the exhausted hiring manager over the edge!

Give specific information and examples of how your skills and experience relate directly to the new position.

Cover Letters—Points to Remember

  • Customize each letter for the specific position, company, and potential employer.
  • Express some personality and creativity.
  • Explain any items in your resume (work gaps, reasons for changing jobs, etc.) that may be questioned by the reader.
  • Show that you have done your homework on the company and the reviewer. HINT: Do this and you will stand out from most of the competition.
  • Ask for an interview or give information on your proactive follow-up plans.
  • Check carefully for spelling and grammatical errors. Have others read for errors and make suggestions, if appropriate. Nothing says "DON'T HIRE ME" louder than bad grammar and spelling.
  • Use standard paper, fonts, and business letter format for your cover letter. Too much creativity detracts from the message and irritates some conventional employers and Human Relations managers.

Good Form

  • Identify the position for which you are applying. Mention how you heard about the job, especially if you are acting on a personal referral.
  • Demonstrate that you are familiar with the company and the position.
  • Convincingly answer the question "Why should you be interested in me?"
  • Be specific about your skills, talent, and experience, and how they relate to the position and the benefits.
  • Close the sale. Always ask for an interview appointment or let them know when you will be contacting them to follow up.
  • Provide your contact information.
  • Follow Up!

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