Seven Keys to a Killer Cover Letter

by Staff - Original publish date: November 5, 2012

Most job seekers understand the value and importance of a well-organized resume  but spend far less energy on crafting a strong cover letter. What they fail to realize is that resumes and cover letters go hand-in-hand.  Employers are very busy and receive hundreds of resumes leaving little time for individual review. Submitting a thoughtful and well-written cover letter can help you outshine your competition and get you one step closer to an interview. Don’t let the energy you’ve spent on developing the perfect resume go to waste by failing to deliver an effective cover letter.  Here we offer some tips to help you craft the perfect cover letter that will get you noticed:

1. Understand what the Cover Letter Must Achieve

A cover letter is basically a sales letter. You are trying to motivate a specific action - an invitation for an interview. In addition to reinforcing the key skills and experience you reference in your resume, a cover letter provides you with the opportunity to:

  • demonstrate your desire to work for the employer
  • identify specific ways your expertise can benefit the organization
  • differentiate yourself from other job seekers
  • demonstrate your individual personality
  • explain anomalies that may stand out in a resume such as gaps in employment
  • arouse interest that will help you get that interview.

2. Know Your Stuff

Avoid using generic or mass produced cover letters. Each cover letter should be customized for each individual employer and include a statement about why you are attracted to the position and company.

Before you begin writing your letter, learn as much as you can about the potential employer. The more you know about an organization, the better you can tailor your cover letter to the firm's needs. Visit the firm's website and scan industry publications so you are up to speed on recent news about the company.

Remember, you want to express what you can do for the employer, not what they can do for you. A cover letter must highlight aspects of your experience that are most useful to the potential employer, and you can earn points for knowing what those aspects are.

3. Make it Personal

Often times a job listing does not include the name of the hiring manager. Never begin a cover letter with "to whom it may concern" or “dear hiring manager.” A generic salutation often signals to potential employers that you lack the initiative to locate the appropriate contact.

Instead, call the company directly and explain the position you are applying for to see if you can fill in the blank or take time to research on the internet or in appropriate business periodicals to get the name and title of the hiring official.

4. Be Strong, Confident and Professional

A good cover letter begins with a powerful, clearly written opening paragraph. Your goal is to briefly describe how you heard about the position and why you're interested in it. If you're replying to an advertisement mentioning a code or job number, refer to this in your cover letter as well as any information specifically requested in the ad that may not be addressed in your resume such as an availability date or a writing sample.

Your tone should be confident without being arrogant. Avoid attempts to be "cute" or "catchy" in your opening. Gimmicky attempts to gain attention can appear insincere. It is best to keep your letter polished and professional as well as interesting and visually appealing. Mention only positive things and be formal, yet friendly and open.

5. Highlight what is Most Relevant

A cover letter should be brief and to the point. It should be no longer than one page - perhaps 3 or 4 paragraphs - and should include your signature. Recruiters are pressed for time and often only have time to skim through applications. Use statistics, highlighted statements, or bullets to make sure that vital information can be easily spotted.

Make sure that the messaging in your letter is consistent with the information included in your resume. Your cover letter should not be a laundry list of items from your resume. Instead, highlight skills and experiences that are most relevant to the job opening and provide concrete examples of the skills, training, and/or experiences that are the basis for your confidence.

6. Check Grammar and Spelling

The smallest grammatical error on your part can call your professionalism and attention to detail into question thereby discouraging a hiring manager from contacting you for an interview. Always spell-check your document and ask friends and family members to proof read your letter before sending it to any potential employer.

7. Follow Up

In addition to expressing gratitude for the hiring manager's time and interest, close your letter by outlining your next steps. Be proactive by stating when you will contact him or her to follow up. And don't forget to include a phone number or e-mail address where you can be reached in case the firm wants to get in touch with you first.

Be sure to follow up with the employer via phone or email in 2-3 weeks if you have not heard from them. In your follow-up email, reiterate your interest in the position, ask about the status of your application and ask if they need any further information from you.