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Friday, May 30, 2008

Getting Started - Writing Your Cover Letter - Part 1

It is extremely important for your initial email to a company or potential client to function as a formal cover letter, just as it would if you were responding to an employment position in the brick and mortar world. To get started, this article provides some basic information on what to include and what to leave out.

Cover Letter Tips

When writing your cover letter (and resume), 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 résumé 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 are available to accept the position if offered. Additional information beyond this can be counterproductive, as it dilutes the core purpose of the cover letter and resume.

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 and 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 to 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 it sure that it is easy on the eyes. It should be easy to scan the letter, and have a logical progression. Keep in mind, the reviewer of your resume has 100s (if not 1,000s) of cover letters and résumés to look at; therefore, 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 résumé; instead, its an introduction of yourself and an argument for why you are the best candidate for their company and the specific position - i.e. avoid the generic cover letter (this point will be noted again in later tips).

PLEASE do NOT follow the advice of poorly written resume books and websites that advise on using platitudes and clichés in your cover letter. Résumé 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/résumé 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 website, and search the "about us" pages for names of individuals to address your cover letter and resume to. It takes a few seconds; however will make your letter stand out.