Tech & Work

Three tips for writing an effective cover letter

Some experts think that the introductory note you include with your resume is even more important than the resume. Here are three tips for making your cover letter more dynamic.

Some experts think that the introductory note you include with your resume is even more important than the resume. Here are three tips for making your cover letter more dynamic.


Since so many of us, particularly those in IT, don't actually send paper resumes anymore, "cover letter" is a bit of a misnomer. But even if you e-mail a resume, there has to be some kind of introductory note to accompany your resume. Some career experts will tell you this introductory piece is even more important than the resume itself. It's where you can offer a picture of the real you and not feel constricted by bulleted lists.

The goal with a cover letter is the same as with the resume: to stand out from the crowd. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when you're composing your cover letter.

1. Grab the reader from the get-go

I recently unearthed some copies of my old resumes and cover letters. The good news is that I customized each cover letter for the position; the bad news is that every one began with some variation of "I am writing in response to your ad for...." Every. Single. One. It's a wonder anyone looking at the cover letter could stay awake past the fourth word. So what's the alternative?

Instead of saying,

"I am writing in response to your ad for an IT project manager," try

"My experience in managing the workplan, schedule, and budget for several large migrations makes me a good fit for the IT project manager position you advertised."

2. Avoid passive voice

A lot of people don't even know what passive voice is, much less when they're using it. Passive voice is when you make the object of an action into the subject of a sentence. It's not always grammatically incorrect, but it isn't very dynamic when used in a resume. Here's an example of passive voice:

"I received many honors for my work."

This sentence would be much more dynamic if you say:

"I earned many honors in the course of my work." The implication with the latter is that your actions got you the honors, and the honors weren't just being handed out.

3. Don't be touchy-feely

I see a lot of cover letters with the phrases "I feel..." or "I believe...." I understand the natural inclination to use these words because they sound less boastful; but if you had to choose between "I feel that I can lead a large project from start to finish" and "My track record shows my success with leading projects," which would you choose? Another alternative is to just use stronger qualifiers, like "I am convinced that I can lead a large project...."

In all of the instances above, be certain to qualify and quantify your statements with results, e.g., specific time/money savings for the company, a marked decrease in network downtime, etc.


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.

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