Tips on Writing a Good Cover Letter

Write To a Person, Not To a Title

Use your network to get the name. Then use it. In your opening paragraph, use the name of the person who referred you.

A colleague of mine, a prominent executive recruiter in the East, receives hundreds of unsolicited, unwanted resumes annually. He responds only to those who use the name of someone he knows. In these situations it becomes a matter of good manners to respond to a "friend of a friend."

Tips On Writing A Good Cover Letter

Your cover letter should be addressed to the person who has the power to hire you! This is most likely the person who manages the department where you want to work.

And that is not the Personnel Director.

Surprisingly, most Personnel Directors have the power to reject candidates, but not to hire them.

You Should Always Have a Strong Opening Statement

Open with a strong positive statement about yourself and your qualifications.

Or simply say that you have been advised to write by Mr. Michael Sanborn (or whomever), the addressee's friend or acquaintance (and a part of your network).

If you have the name of a mutual friend, colleague or acquaintances use it first. If you do not, start off with your best selling point. Then give the name of the position you are aiming for.

Here are some examples of good opening lines:

"I recently graduated from Paramount Business College with a 3.75 grade average and received my Associate Degree in Secretarial Science and Office Management'*

"Enclosed is my resume for your advertised position of Assistant Cook."

"I recently graduated from Johnson County Community College with a Diploma in Food Service and have worked successfully as a cook for Bob's Big Boy on Wallace Avenue for the past two years."

"Your advertisement in The Tribune for a Computer Programmer seems to match my qualifications exactly."

"I have two years of experience as an Operator/Programmer with L. G. Williams, Inc., and have now completed my Certificate in Data Processing courses."

"After five years of successful experience in a similar position in Portland, I am enclosing my application for the Community Development Officer position."

"This sounds like the job I have been waiting for! It appears to match the qualifications gained in my seven years of social work experience."

A good opening statement grabs attention without turning off the reader. It helps to "categorize" your application in the event that the organization is advertising several openings.

If you do not have a very specific opening line in your cover letter, your resume might end up in the wrong place, or in the wrong hands. Or it could take a long time to reach the right person as it floats through the various departments of a large organization.

Each person who receives your resume (by mistake!) will send it on to someone else (who may also be uninterested in it or may be the wrong person to be receiving it!).

Sometimes, someone along the line will "file it." If this happens, you're "dead in the water," and you will probably never hear from anyone in that organization again.

Or they may destroy it or toss it away, deciding not to route it further. And you're dead again!

So you must do whatever you can to keep your resume alive, and to get it onto someone's desk, which has the power to make a hiring decision for someone like you.

Keep Your Letter Short, Make It Look Good, and Include Key Strengths

How long should a cover letter be? Keep it on one page. And the body of your cover letter should occupy no more than about 50 percent of the page.

Use plenty of white space. Keep your sentences short, your paragraphs short, and design your letter so that it looks inviting and easy to read. If you do not, it may not be read at all!

Write several drafts! Edit your letter as carefully as you do your resume. It must be perfect!

It should be tailored as closely as you know how, to the recipient's needs and requirements, as best you know them.

To do this, highlight the best items from your background which directly qualify you for the job. Bring out your strong points... the things someone might miss in the resume itself.

Your objective is to arouse the reader's interest immediately, with something directly related, very interesting... and very attractively presented in an easy-to-read format.

Signing Your Cover Letter

When signing your typewritten cover letter, type your real name. If you wish, sign your nickname, or the name by which you like to be called. But type your full name, first and last. (Skip your middle initial; using it can sound a bit arrogant.)

If your name is Paul Charleston Bosworth, Jr., and if they call you "Chuck," and if your formal written name is P. Charleston Bosworth, type Charleston Bosworth, then sign it "Chuck Bosworth." If you are known as Charles, sign it that way.

Sample Cover Letters

Most cover letters follow a standard outline:
  1. The first paragraph states your strongest point(s) and the job for which you want to be considered.
  2. The second paragraph states why you want to work for this organization (talk about them, not about yourself!)
  3. The third paragraph highlights skills and qualifications from your resume that are relevant to that particular organization.
  4. The fourth paragraph requests an interview and suggests how you will follow up.
Most writers of cover letters make one major mistake above all others. It comes in the closing paragraph.

It is so common that some books written by well-known resume authorities show it as "the correct way." It is not correct.

The mistake is this: In the closing paragraph, the writer mistakenly says:

"My home telephone number is 000-0000, and I may he reached there between the hours of 4 and 6 P.M. daily. Please call me to arrange an interview."

In the minds of knowledgeable people, this is a signal that the writer is lazy. Why? Because it says: "I'm at home, and I want you to call me if you are interested."

Instead, I recommend that you say you'll call, that you do call, and that you continue to call, until you get through.

If they are truly eager to call you, they have your number on a resume, or can find it easily enough at the bottom of your letter.

But by your willingness to call, you show a sense of interest, enthusiasm and willingness to work that the "you call me" letter writer will never be able to imply.

Broadcast Letters

A broadcast letter is a combination cover letter and resume. It is a special letter, directed to a specific person, someone who is the chief executive officer (CEO), a vice-president or other ranking executive of an organization.

It is sometimes called a Marketing Letter, because it is used as a part of the "marketing myself" job-hunting campaign.

Some companies specialize in writing a Broadcast Letter for you, typing these in quantity, and sending them out to appropriate executives in your chosen field. The fee for composing, printing, and sending these letters can be substantial.

I know of some firms which charge hundreds, even thousands of dollars, for this service. Is it worth the cost? I think not.

Do they work? My opinion is that they do not work well enough to justify the cost for most people. If you wish to consider this technique, read Carl Boll's book, Executive Jobs Unlimited, generally considered being the best book on Broadcast Letters.

Advocates of the Marketing, or Broadcast, Letter claim that it pulls inquiries and responses at double or triple the rate which one can expect when using unsolicited resumes and cover letters.

But resumes and cover letters often pull just one to two percent response, and that means that Broadcast Letters would pull four to six percent at the very best.

The primary advantage of Broadcast/Marketing Letters may just lie in the fact that they are professionally prepared, professionally typed and printed, and targeted directly at the leading executives in your field.

Resumes, when sent blindly to personnel offices and recruiters, in quantities large and small, could not be expected to work as well as cleverly-targeted Broadcast Letters.

But otherwise, the difference is usually insignificant.

Responding To Want Ads

When you respond to a "help wanted" advertisement, don't expect miracles.

If an ad lists the name of the employer, an address, phone number, and more, you have a reasonable chance at receiving a reply. But don't hold your breath.

Thousands of people will be reading the very same ad, and many employers are overloaded with responses