Building the Perfect Cover Letter for your Resume

A resume is the tool that you use to sell yourself. A cover letter is the first contact you will have with a potential employer and can be used to ‘market’ your resume.  Cover letters are the headline that entices recruiters to read the rest of the ad – the window dressing that gets them in the store. If someone can’t sell himself or herself effectively, they won’t be able to represent a company to their clients, either.

It is important to address the letter to the correct person and to succinctly summarize – not simply reiterate – information on your resume.   Don’t duplicate what’s already in your resume.

The cover letters needs a ‘hook,’ nothing too over the top, but something that SHOWS not TELLS the recipient you really are must-see candidate. The cover letter should be brief and outline the position(s) you are interested in and key qualifications. The resume should contain a summary of key expertise and a detailed account of work experience and education.  Perform a line item-by-line item analysis of your experience and skills as they directly apply to the job description. For instance, if there are eight different sentences in the qualifications, attempt to treat each as a question and answer it accordingly.

Cover letter points:

  1. To get the attention of the employer – your cover letter is the place to let your enthusiasm for the position shine through. Don’t let the opportunity to communicate with your potential employer go to waste!  Contact human resources department of the company and get the name of a recruiter or hiring manager from the department you are interested in and addressing the letter directly to them. This shows you did some homework prior to simply “dropping off an application.”  Make sure the reader knows the position for which you are applying in the first two sentences.
  2. Where you heard about the position (for tracking purposes) – Tell the employer how you know about the position. Was it a referral by a friend or a current employee? Mention their name! If you found the position in the newspaper – refer to the ad.
  3. To introduce yourself and tell the employer why you are writing.  Note your skills other candidates may not have. It’s important that you STAND OUT. What makes you specifically stand out among other candidates? What unique achievement have you accomplished at work? What special degree or certificate have you earned? What project did you have a part or lead in completing? Include it in the cover letter if it is relevant to the job you are applying to.
  4. To highlight and ‘sell’ your skills and abilities to the employer. How can you contribute to the needs of the company? Give concrete examples of how your experience and past achievements could be a positive asset for the company. If you were the top seller in your previous place of employment, say so! If you have saved your current company money, highlight this in your cover letter.  Demonstrate in the cover letter AND resume where you have applied innovative thinking and initiative, these are two very important things considered in selection.
  5. To tell the employer specifically why you want to work for their company by proving you have done your homework. Tell the reader why you want to work for this company in particular. Yes, this takes some research on your part, but it will be worth it in the end. Don’t waste space telling them about their company’s background (e.g.: “I really want to work at ABC Company, because your company is the foremost supplier of….”).
  6. Conclude with an assurance of professional service, if selected.  Thank the reader and request a follow up via phone or an interview.  Demonstrate your initiative and confidence. Promise the reader that you will follow up on the position if you do not hear from him. Let him/her know the best place to reach you and state that you will call or e-mail to follow up by a certain date. Write that date on your calendar and be sure to call if you do not hear back after sending your cover letter and resume.  Ensure contact information, including home and cell phone, at least two different e-mail addresses, where you can be reached or where a message can be left. A manager is not likely to try a number again.

A cover letter is the introductory ‘hook’ to gain interest in your resume.  Many companies are no longer using cover letters in their electronic job board resume uploads, while some others may have an option to load a separate cover letter. It would still be conducive to ‘add’ the cover letter on the last page of your electronic resume before you upload it to their Internet based database.  This allows recruiters or hiring managers to see your writing style, read about your baseline information, and determine if the person is as interesting as the cover letter and resume.

It is equally important to spend the right type of time and energy on your cover letter as much as it is on your resume.  Metrics and statistics will grab the reader’s attention more than a simple listing of tasks and responsibilities.

Good luck!

Dawn Boyer is a doctoral student at Old Dominion University in the Darden College of Education, working on her PhD in Occupational Studies and Technology), as well as working as a (Doctoral) Graduate Teaching Assistant teaching computer science and technology to undergraduate students. Ms. Boyer has over 20 years of senior management experience in human resources, nine years in the defense-contracting arena. She also provides HR consulting services via D. Boyer Consulting to small businesses, including dynamically growing 8a set-aside defense companies, in the Hampton Roads, Virginia area. Her LinkedIn profile is: http://www.linkedin.com/in/DawnBoyer. She accepts all LinkedIn invites via: Dawn.Boyer@me.com. Join her 4,600+ connections!

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2 Responses

  1. Wow am I really the first comment to this great writing?

  2. If only I had a greenback for each time I came here.. Superb article.

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