Cover Letter Basics
I’ve seen a lot written lately questioning the value of cover letters. Some articles go so far as to say including a cover letter is detrimental. I say bull… nonsense. I’ll address that issue in another post; for today, we’re going to deal with the finer details of writing a cover letter.
Attention To Detail…
…is one of the most important aspects of any resume or cover letter. If you’re fortunate enough to have someone actually read your cover letter, it is imperative that it has no mistakes.
I shouldn’t have to say it, but I will, address the cover letter as if your job depended on it—it might. The cover letter needs to be professionally written and addressed. Below is a standard format.
Your City, State, Zip Code
Your Phone Number
City, State, Zip Code
Dear Mr./Ms. Last Name:
Many job descriptions or online listings don’t provide the name of the person screening the resumes. Quite often all they list is “admin,” or they instruct you to send it to a generic address such as “email@example.com”.
If that’s the case, you have work to do. The easiest way is often the direct approach—call the company and ask. Nine times out of ten, the receptionist will give you the answer. Be sure you get the correct spelling of the person’s name as well as their title. And please double check. Letters often sound alike on the phone, so an “s” can be mistaken for an “f”, or a “b” confused with “v”.
When you feel you have the correct name, check again. Go to LinkedIn and verify the name and title. If they’re not on LinkedIn, try the company website, assuming the person is at a high enough level to be listed.
I realize I spent a lot of time on just the name, but I did it for a reason. Not much will earn you a red flag faster than addressing the resume/cover letter to the wrong person, or to the right person with their name spelled wrong.
Sections of the Cover Letter
Your cover letter should be brief, but not too brief. Half a page is probably not enough, but one page should be all you need, because you’re only going to have three sections. That’s right—three!
• Introduction • Sell • Close
The introduction and the close should be kept to one short paragraph. The sell section you can expand. This is the persuasive part of the letter. This is where you—sell.
I’m going to cover the finer points of how to write the cover letter in a future post, but for now let’s focus on what not to do.
• Never say you’re the best candidate for the job, or that you’re the ideal candidate. You can’t know that. It will make you sound like an ass. • Do not repeat the experience listed on your resume. Surprise them with something new. • Do not write a casual letter or try to be “cutesy.” That’s a quick trip to the trashcan. When it comes to business writing, you can’t go wrong with formal. • Do not bring up personal topics unless it is absolutely supportive of your candidacy for the position.
I have conducted a lot of research into what gatekeepers think of cover letters, and what role they play in the screening process. The long and short of it is this—if you have a great cover letter you stand a much better chance of being called for an interview; however, a bad cover letter will earn you a quick trip to the trash.
Give some thought to whether you want to take the risk, and if you do, start out by getting the basics right. In another post we’ll dig into the details of how to create a persuasive cover letter that will get you the interview.