Tips For Writing A Great Cover Letter

by Handlin, Liz Wednesday, July 18, 2007
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Many clients ask me about writing cover letters. Should they send one to a potential employer along with a resume? Should they have a generic cover letter to send to any employer at any time? What information should be included in a cover letter?

First of all, as a job seeker you have to think of every contact with a potential employer as an opportunity to sell yourself. If you send a generic cover letter that says something like, "I want this job because it is a great opportunity..." you aren't selling yourself and you aren't telling the potential employer something they don't already know. In other words, a generic cover letter is basically a useless document and I never recommend that my clients write one.

So, when is a cover letter necessary? If you are applying for a job through a corporate website and the site has a space for you to include a cover letter you should take advantage of the opportunity and write one. On the other hand, if you are working with a recruiter you generally don't need to write a cover letter unless the employer they are representing requests one. If a friend recommends you for a job with his/her employer it's a good idea to write a cover letter that clearly articulates your reasons for applying - you don't want the potential employer to think you are only interested in the job because your friend works there too.

When writing a cover letter you have the opportunity to do several things with one document. A good cover letter will tell a potential employer the following things about you:

  1. Why do you want to work for this particular company?
  2. What special skills, qualifications, passion do you have to offer the company?
  3. You can showcase your ability to research a company and to clearly articulate your value proposition.
  4. You get to showcase your writing skills.
I give my clients the following advice about writing a cover letter:

  1. Research the company, its management team, and its products extensively. Use internet sites like LinkedIn, Google, The Vault, and Zoominfo to find out all about the company and what makes it uniquely interesting to you.

  2. Clearly articulate ways that you, the candidate, could add value to their unique organization. Steer clear of generic statements and focus on specific skills and interests you have that dovetail with their business needs.

  3. To demonstrate how your skills can enhance a potential employer's business, use specific examples drawn from your resume. Don't reiterate what is on your resume verbatim but, instead, expand upon some of your notable accomplishments that are relevant to this particular employer.

  4. If you have a top tier education (Ivy League or top regional school) add a sentence near the beginning of the resume that mentions it.

  5. Keep the cover letter between 1-2 pages in length (600 - 1000 words).

  6. PROOFREAD. The worst thing you can do is send in a cover letter with a spelling or grammatical error because then you have given the employer a perfect excuse to reject you. A cover letter can be your best friend in a job search or, if you leave typos in the document, it can be your worst enemy.