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Sunday, July 02, 2006

Cover Letter Writing Tips

When writing your cover letter, keep in mind that the reviewer is only interested in one thing: the facts. Do not think of your cover letter as an autobiography; it should be brief and to the point. The purpose of the cover letter (and resume) should be one thing – it should demonstrate that you meet or exceed the requirements listed in the job description. It should demonstrate that you're interested in the position, and that you're available to accept the position if offered. Additional information beyond this can be counterproductive, as it dilutes the core purpose of the cover letter.
When writing the cover letter, avoid negatives. A cover letter is not the place to explain why you left or are leaving an employer, why there are gaps in your employment dates, etc. These "negatives" are best delivered in person during the interview so that your personality can counter them.
Try to avoid a salary history in the cover letter. Even if the position specifically asks for your salary history, providing this information will more likely cost you a job than not. If the job ad specifically says that resumes without a salary history will not be considered, give a historical salary range, and state that your salary requirements are flexible based on the opportunity the position will provide.
Spend time thinking about the layout of your letter, and make sure that it's easy on the eyes. It should be easy to scan the letter, and have a logical progression. Keep in mind, the reviewer of your cover letter and resume has hundreds (if not thousands) of cover letters and resumes to look at, so make it easy for him/her to find the information you want to highlight. Bunched up text in long paragraphs will frustrate anyone who has to review hundreds of resumes and cover letters a week. In addition to the layout, don't just repeat your resume. Your cover letter is not a summary of your resume; instead, it's an introduction of yourself, and an argument for why you are the best candidate for their company and the specific position. Above all, avoid the generic cover letter that you get from books. If you are not sure how to write a targeted non-generic cover letter, we suggest using a professional cover letter writing service. The services are fairly inexpensive - professional cover letter writing services start at about $30.
PLEASE do NOT follow the advice of poorly written resume and cover letter books and web sites that advise on using platitudes and cliches in your cover letter. Resume reviewers do this for a living. They know that almost every candidate promises "excellent written and verbal communication skills", and the ability to "think outside the box" and "juggle multiple tasks". The point here is to be different and stand out. The goal is to demonstrate your written communication skills by writing a good cover letter – Cutting and pasting a phrase from a cover letter / resume book is not impressive.
As noted above, personalize your cover letter if possible. Your cover letter should be addressed to a specific person - avoid the "Dear Sir or Madam". Form letters insult the reviewer's intelligence and indicate that you, the writer, are broadcasting his/her resume to every employer in the area. Or you have not made an effort to learn more about the company. Generic/canned cover letters can lead to failure.. Even if you do not know the name of the recipient, you usually can find a contact name at the company fairly easily. Go to their company web site, and search the "about us" pages for names of individuals to address your cover letter and resume to. It takes a few seconds and it will make your letter stand out.