Employers report that an impressive cover letter is often more important than the resume when making a decision whether to interview a candidate, so it can be a mistake to focus too much attention on the resume and ignore the potential value of a well-written letter. Like the resume, the cover letter is not intended to get you the job—it is intended to get you an interview (when you can convince the employer face-to-face that you are the right one for the job).
A cover letter should work like advertising copy. It should:
- catch the reader’s attention (opening paragraph)
- communicate skills and experience (middle paragraph)
- support your statements with specifics (middle paragraph)
- compel the reader to act (final paragraph)
Whenever you cannot present your resume personally, a cover letter should accompany it. A cover letter should always accompany a resume that is sent by U.S. Postal Service or e-mail. Whatever you write in your e-mail IS your cover letter. A cover letter is not necessary when you deliver your resume to a potential employer at a career fair.
The purpose of the cover letter and resume package is to motivate the employer to take action and invite you for an interview. When delivered together, the two documents should be complementary and work together to accomplish your purpose. The appearance of your resume/cover letter package will be enhanced if both documents are printed on the same high-quality bond paper.
The most important aspect of a cover letter is employer focus. Present the employer with indications of your personality and style along with your skills and abilities. Highlight your qualifications for the specific position you seek, clearly stating your interests and qualifications relative to the employer’s needs.
Always customize your cover letter! Sending out a general cover letter and resume to hundreds of employers is rarely successful. It can create a perception on the employer’s part that you are not a serious and thoughtful person, that you are desperate for a job, or that you don’t really care enough about their organization to learn about them or their needs.
Your letter should be just a few paragraphs and only one page in length. While there is no “perfect formula” regarding length and what to include, keep it relevant and relatively brief.