Best Practices: Cover Letters

Why should I even include a cover letter? Several reasons.

While your resume should include all the facts about your training and experience, the cover letter is where you can let your personality shine through. The cover letter is also where you can include things that should not be included in your resume like a personal connection to someone, a referral by someone, an explanation of why you were out of the workforce for a period of time, or why you may be switching careers.

And, very important, the cover letter is where you illustrate a personal connection to the job. Why do you want this particular job? Why do you want to work for this particular company? Do some homework and make those points right up front.

So, here’s a few “rules” to keep in mind:

  • Keep it short – no more than one page
  • Keep it conversational – avoid stilted language like “enclosed please find…”
  • Match the font, paper and margins to your resume
  • Avoid “cute” phrases like “your search is over!” – wow :(

If you’ve done your homework, you should know who to address in your cover letter. Dear Ms. Smith, never use “to whom it may concern!” Use the language verbatim from the job listing to make key points about how your experience matches the listing. Remember if these are electronically scanned, it’s important to have those words in there that were used in the job description.

Don’t make it all about you: I, I, I, me, me, me. Talk about how your interests and/or passions align with the company’s or how you can help support the company’s mission. Demonstrate your accomplishments and goals by addressing how they fit in with the company’s goals. You will also be illustrating the point that you did your homework and know a bit about the company.

Keep it succinct. This is your opportunity to shine. Make two or three key points in the first or second paragraph; in the last paragraph, express your excitement about the position and state that you are looking forward to talking with them.

Remember, the goal of the cover letter and resume is to get you in the door. You want an interview. The cover letter is a big part of getting the hiring manager’s attention. Take the time to make it great!