Cover Letter Pointers
The term "cover letter" in this Career Guide refers to your letter of application or letter of inquiry, sometimes the first letter you write to an organization. The cover letter gets its name from the fact that it literally covers the resume mailed to a potential employer. You should never send a resume without one. Its purpose is to get the reader's attention, influence his or her thinking, and stimulate action. It gives your reader something tangible to think about, to mull over, to show to others at his or her organization. Frequently a good letter will pave the way for a very profitable personal call.
The following pointers should help you as you write your cover letters:
- Zero-in on your market by asking, "Who do I want to work for?", "Why do I want to be hired by this organization?", and "What do I have to offer?" A CDO career counselor can help with each of these questions. It is critical that you convey the top three to five reasons for the employer to consider you.
- Add power by using fact/examples/evidence. The statement "can initiate and accomplish tasks with little direction" has no credibility until backed with an example such as: "independently began operation of hospital's first personal computer with mainframe accessibility."
- Say good things about yourself. This is one of those rare occasions in which modesty will hurt you.
- Concentrate on quality, not quantity. It is better to send a few well written letters to employers you have researched and are truly interested in than to send large numbers of general letters.
- Address an individual, preferably the person with the power to hire. If you cannot identify the person by means such as networking, an information interview, or printed resources, call the organization and get the right name by talking politely to the person or persons who hold (and often guard) that information - and be sure to spell it right.
- Write from the reader's point of view. What's in it for them? It is natural for people in the job market to look for what they can get - what the benefits are, the training, hours, vacations, etc. Employers, however, want to know why you can be an asset to them. They are not interested, at least initially, in what they can do for you.
- Be natural. Write the way you would talk if the person were sitting before you, i.e., simply and naturally. The acid test of a cover letter is to read it aloud when you're done. You might get a shock, but you'll know for sure if it sounds natural.
- Paint an accurate picture. If you exaggerate, even once, your reader will suspect everything else you write.
- Give your letter a friendly tone, as opposed to one that is stiff and formal. A friendly, conversational letter enables you to say things more clearly, more simply, and more briefly.
- Edit ruthlessly.Look for passive verbs you can make active; this invariably produces a shorter sentence. "The cherry tree was chopped down by George Washington." (Passive verb and nine words.) "George Washington chopped down the cherry tree." (Active verb and seven words.) Try to replace "windy" phrases with brief, concise words:
|at the present time
in the event of
at your earliest convenience
in the majority of instances
due to the fact that
as a fulfillment of my career objectives
the enclosed self-addressed envelope
be good enough to
as soon as you can
since or because
as a way to reach my goal
the enclosed envelope
- Make your letter attractive. Print it on good quality paper using a letter quality or laser printer. Be sure it is spaced properly and that it follows an acceptable business format. Refer to Career Guide L3, Cover Letter Outline and to the books about cover letters on the Job Search Information shelves in the CDO. (See the list in Career Guide L1, Writing Job Search Letters.)
- Individually type each letter. Do not duplicate it as you do your resume. Each resume should be accompanied by an original cover letter, written specifically for the organization and/or the position you are seeking.
- Make it perfect - no typos, no misspellings, no factual errors. If you don't have the little paperback, Elements of Style, by Strunk & White, you may want to pick up a copy.
- Keep it short. Cover letters rarely exceed one page.
- See us for help. A CDO counselor will be happy to critique your letter. You can call the Career Development Office at (716) 673-3327 to schedule an appointment.
Adapted and reprinted with permission from the Career Development Office, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University