Some recruiters are so pushed for time that they won't even get to your resume. Some will scan your cover letter (or the text of the introductory email in which you include your resume) to see if you're worthy of an interview. That's why it's important to make sure your cover letter is presenting you in the best possible way. Here are some tips:Determine what the employer is looking for and meet that need. Read the job description carefully and address all the requirements of the job in your application. This is why it's important to customize a cover letter for each job you're applying for. If a job description says the ideal candidate will have experience in programming web pages, then it's really not necessary, nor applicable, to mention your two years as a support pro. Keep your cover letter short and to the point. It really is good that you have a world of experience over a number of years. But you know what it comes down to? The recruiter's time and attention span. He or she is looking only to fill a need and the easier the information can be discerned, the better. Don't repeat the contents of your resume. Think of the cover letter/introductory email as a synopsis of your work history and a brief introduction to you as a person. Leave out the specifics of work dates and software versions. Try to remain positive. It's okay to briefly mention that you were downsized at your last company. But don't get maudlin or negative about it: "After 24 years with this company I was unceremoniously let go." It may be true, but the recruiter is not interested in being a therapist. A positive tone also indicates professionalism. Write in clear and accessible terms. Again, time is of the essence for a recruiter. The easier it is for the recruiter to understand what you're trying to say, the better your chances. Write your cover letter, let it sit for a few hours, and then reread it. You'll be surprised at what a fresh look will show you. If you have someone else who can read it as well, that is a good idea. Proofread. I've heard from a lot of recruiters who say they will toss a cover letter and resume in the trash if there is a typo.
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.