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Cover Letter: Friend or Foe?

It is common to hear job seekers lament the need for a cover letter. They can be overwhelming. Seem Redundant. As much as I understand the frustration, in most cases we can’t avoid the cover letter and in ALL cases, you can use the cover letter to help. Here are some fundamentals about cover letters.

1. When emailing a resume you can normally get by with a note in the body of the email rather than a traditional cover letter. Because it is in the body of the email, the message doesn’t have to be as long or as formal as a traditional cover letter. The exception to that is when the employer requests a resume and cover letter. In that case, write a formal cover letter, but also write a short note in the body of the email that introduces the attachments and expresses interest in the job.

2. The cover letter has two main purposes. First, to express interest in the job, so be specific about which job you are interested in and why. Two, to grab the attention of the decision-maker through one or two specific benefits of your candidacy. Please notice I wrote “benefits”. Those are different than a list of your experience.

3. A cover letter is not a dissertation. You do not have to cover every detail about you and it does not have to be long.

4. A cover letter should address any limitations you have in availability. For example, if you are going to be out of town in the near future, let them know. I once tried contacting a candidate several times and only tried the third time because the candidate pool was so poor. She returned my call that time. She had been out of the country where she didn’t have access to her cell phone or voicemail. She was a great employee, but I never let her live that down.

5. Don’t give the recipient a reason to not hire you by having typos or bad grammar in the letter. Use spell check and ask someone to read the letter to make sure everything looks just right.

6. A cover letter should have an impactful first sentence to gain the attention of the reader so they keep reading. People are busy so give the reader a reason to commit time to your letter.

7. A cover letter should have three, but no more than four, paragraphs. The first paragraph captures attention and expresses interest. The second paragraph outlines benefits of working with you and gives an example or examples of your value. Paragraph three introduces the attachments and provides a closing call to action (“I look forward to discussing my candidacy further”).

So, a cover letter can be a friend to your search by being an impactful sales piece. A cover letter can also be a foe when full of worthless information, typos, and grammatical mistakes. So begin by getting a strong foundation piece and adjust it each time you send it out.



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