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Uncovering the Cover Letter

August 21, 2009

The issue? Competition from many more experienced candidates trying to get those same jobs because they just recently lost their own. So with lots of competition for just a few jobs, every little factor matters. From the font you choose for your résumé, to the shirt you wear to the interview, every detail is relevant. And that includes a cover letter.

Whatever you do, don’t overlook this major detail. A great cover letter could be the slight edge that gets you into that interview. But how does a fantastic cover letter come about? The New York Times posted an article a couple months ago with just a few helpful hints. I decided to make a more condensed version. Consider it your cover letter cheat sheet.

The key to a successful cover letter is one that says what you can’t say in a résumé. “Cover letters are a graceful way to introduce yourself, to convey your personality and to impress a hiring manager with your experience and writing skills.” It’s your chance to show how great of a communicator you are. Prove to the hiring manager that you can write and you can write well. It’s a major asset in the job market to be an articulate speaker and eloquent writer, so if you have the skills, now is the time to demonstrate it.

The cover letter is quite literally the first impression you get to make. So many excellent candidates spend hours crafting their resume, but simply throw together a cover letter in a quick minute, almost as an afterthought. But if a cover letter is the first thing the hiring manager sees and frankly it’s bad, he or she will never even bother to see the impressive résumé underneath.

Cover letters should generally be no longer than three to four paragraphs. The first paragraph should explain why it is you are writing, be it you are answering an ad; you were referred to the company through networking, etc. The body of the letter should explain what makes you a good candidate. “Highlight qualities you possess that may not fit the confines of a résumé.” You should also show how knowledgeable you are about the company. Finish off the letter with a promise of a follow up in the near future.

Show what can’t be told in the résumé. But avoid giving away too much information. Like a résumé, the cover letter is only there to get you the interview. Once you are in the interview, that’s when you can work on getting the job.

So that’s pretty much it to the mystery of the cover letter. And it wasn’t even that difficult to crack!