IT Employment

The purpose of a cover letter

A cover letter is the addition to a resume that puts your experience into a perspective for the job being filled.

Every time I mention what to include in a cover letter in this blog, some people scoff.  Cover letter, they say, "I spit on your cover letter!"

But the truth is you have to have some way of introducing yourself that doesn't include bullet points. Even online programs that let you upload your resume offer a comment section for this. Whether it's a formal Word doc attachment or a couple of paragraphs in an online field, this is where you deliver your core message.

Think of it as being at a meet-and-greet where you are introducing yourself to a stranger. You wouldn't say, "Hi my name is Tom. From 1998-2005, I worked at XYZ industry. My responsibilities included the following..." (You might do that, but expect your listener to fall into a deep coma while you do so.)

Your cover letter or Comment section is the written form of an "elevator speech." I found a piece by Chris King called, "How to craft an effective elevator speech"  that says to start crafting it by determining your niche market. Identify  problem(s) that you can help solve and come up with a solution that is the outcome. What makes you unique? What short story illustrates a successful outcome that you have produced?

Keep the pitch/comment/cover letter relatively short but to the point.

Here are some more tips:

  • Don’t repeat your resume word for word. Use the cover the letter to tell a compelling story about your accomplishments.
  • Reference the job title. The person reading your letter might be looking at hundreds of letters for dozens of different jobs. Mention the specific job you’re applying for and make sure all the content in your letter supports how you will meet the employer's specific needs.
  • Customize. You should try to customize your resume with each job you’re applying for. But if jobs are close enough in description where you can use the same resume, then you should definitely customize the cover letter.
  • End your cover letter with an active statement. Instead of asking readers to call you, say you will follow up with them in a few days to answer any preliminary questions they may have.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

5 comments
davidwaynesmith
davidwaynesmith

I have read a great deal of expert "How To" advice ranging from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) to professional cover letter writers. While there is general agreement on best practices, I have yet to see a model example of what good looks like.

TBone2k
TBone2k

When I was working with a placement service a few years ago, they had me tailor my cover letters two ways: 1. For non skill specific or cold call applications, I had a letter tailored to the company. 2. For postings that spelled out the exact skills required, I actually used a chart outlining their requirements and how my own skills met them. At the time, #2 got some comments about how easy it was to see I was a good match. But I wonder if anyone does that anymore? @GDP, I would be careful with putting the cover letter in the body of the application email. A lot of HR departments just print off the attachments, so you wouldn't want your cover to get lost.

gpachello
gpachello

Totally agree. I think a cover letter is the first form of introduction and if it is properly drafted, assures me that the receiver continue to read my resume. Nowadays I use to include the cover letter directly into the body of the email message and my resume as an attached file. Regards. GDP.

WorkingDigital
WorkingDigital

Here are a few more cover letter pointers that I've shared in the past: 1. Tailor the cover letter to the posted job description. Reference a few key requirements and relate them to your experience and skills. 2. Always attach a separate Word file if given the opportunity. Some online sites give you the option to enter a cover letter in a form field, but a document is always better. 4. Don't address the cover letter to "To whom it may concern". If possible, use the name of the recruiter. If you don't know that, go with "Dear hiring manager". 5. Don't rush it. This is your first impression and a chance to show your writing skills. If you are applying online, write the cover letter before starting the application process. Nothing is more frustrating than filling out five pages of info and have to start over because the system timed out while you edit the cover letter. Last, and most important: 6. Tell them why you want the job. This is very important, and an opportunity missed by many! The best cover letters offer a paragraph about what personally motivates you about the company, the position, or industry. Most hiring managers are looking for motivational fit in addition to job fit, and the cover letter is where you show it.

GreenPirogue
GreenPirogue

I have not really applied for a job in years, but when I was applying for jobs where the hiring manager did not know me, I would include a paragraph where I would embed a table that showed "your requirements" and "my experience". I would really spell it out because the HR manager needs that, and it shows the hiring manager I am cognisant of their needs. The wording, as you mentioned, is different than the resume. Just another pitch to get a phone call or interview.

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