Cover Letter Dos and Don'ts

Kate Lorenz, CareerBuilder.com

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Most people are familiar with the importance of a well-constructed resume, and put a fair amount of time into creating one. But just as important is the cover letter that accompanies and introduces your resume.

In an extremely competitive job market, neglecting your cover letter is a big mistake. Why? A cover letter is your first opportunity to tell a prospective employer about yourself, and to do so in your own words. Like a written interview, a cover letter gives you the opportunity to point out applicable experience and qualities that make you right for the job. And just like any other important job searching tool, there are definite dos and don'ts to follow to make sure your cover letter is an asset, not a hindrance.

Do personalize your letter.
Nobody likes to receive impersonal mail. Cover letters that begin with phrases like "To Whom it May Concern," sound like random junk or bulk mail, rather than an important correspondence. You expect the company to take the time to read through your material, so you too need to take some time to research the correct addressee. Call the company, look on its Web site or talk to others to find the correct contact.

Don't send a generic cover letter to many different companies.
Hiring managers can spot a mass mailing a mile away. What gets their attention are letters that address the company -- and its needs -- specifically. Research the company prior to writing the letter. Check out recent news and read through the company's Web site, and then incorporate what you learned into your letter. Doing so will demonstrate to employers that you are informed, motivated and willing to go the extra mile.

Do address the specific position advertised.
Companies that post openings are making your life easier by telling you the qualities they are seeking. Show the company that you paid attention. If a company advertises that it is looking for sales experience, make sure you address your sales experience. One way to do this is by making a table for yourself before writing your letter. List the company's stated needs in one column, and your corresponding experience and qualifications in another column. You can then use that information to write a letter that tells them exactly what they want to know.

Don't make the reader work too hard to see that you are right for the position.
Include specific examples about your past successes and experience. If you are looking for a marketing position, give the reader detailed information about a marketing campaign you successfully executed. Don't just tell the reader that you are motivated. Give an example that shows your motivation. You need to lay all of your pertinent information out in a way that lets the person making the hiring decision easily see how your experience and qualities fit the company's needs.

Do get to the point.
Hiring managers receive letters and resumes from dozens and even hundreds of applicants, and often just don't have the time to read lengthy, wordy letters. Be direct. In the first paragraph, include the title of the position you are interested in and then move on to your specific qualifications immediately.

Don't end your letter passively.
Nobody gets a job by sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring. Similarly, not many people get a call once a resume or cover letter is sent. Since you are the one looking for work, you need to take the initiative and follow up. Instead of ending the letter with "I look forward to hearing from you," close with "I will call you next week to discuss a time for us to meet." Once you've included this call to action, however, make sure you follow your own promise.

Do write and edit your letter with great care.
Nothing says "I don't really want this job" like a cover letter with typos, incorrect information, or spelling errors. Make sure the company's name is spelled correctly. Check to see if the contact is a male or female. And, while it sounds almost too obvious to mention, be sure to sign your letter. Careless -- and easily correctable -- mistakes tell the company that you did not take this simple task seriously.

Last Updated: 24/09/2007 - 3:50 PM


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