Writing a Cover Letter That Gets the Job Done

cover letter writingIt's a debate that has gone on for years. Are resume cover letters really necessary? And if they are, how does someone write a good one? Here are some tips.

When it comes to resume cover letters, there is a long-standing debate about whether or not they are effective or just a waste of time. Well, it is very likely that the cover letters that are a waste of time are that way because they were written poorly.

Naturally, saying that a resume cover letter is written poorly depends on who is being asked. However, regardless of how someone feels about the topic, there are some definite dos and don’ts when it comes to creating a cover letter.

Decide in Advance Why a Cover Letter is Even Needed

The original purpose of a resume cover letter was to politely introduce the sender. It would start out with a statement about who the writer was and how she had heard about the job opening. If the writer had been referred by an acquaintance this would be important to note. Of course, it was paramount to mention why she was the best candidate for the opening before wrapping it all up with a polite comment about when the job seeker would call the reader to follow up.

While many feel it is still important today to include a cover letter with a resume, the purpose of the cover letter seems to have changed. Sure it’s still important to include the job of interest and how the job seeker heard about the opening; however, now it is more important to use the cover letter as an extension of the resume and to help the writer build credibility as the candidate of choice.

Toward this end, job seekers need to consider why they are writing a cover letter. Is it because “everybody is doing it” or do they have a specific purpose in mind? If something needs to be said that cannot be included in the resume this would be a good reason to write a resume cover letter. However, keep in mind the style and length of the cover letter are important, too.

Good Cover Letters Get to the Point

Job seekers have probably heard this hundreds of times: recruiters, like everyone else, are busy people. But they’re also trained to spot what they are (and are not) looking for rather quickly. That means they don’t have ten minutes to read the story of someone’s life. Actually, most resumes initially only get about ten seconds of the reader’s attention. So it’s easy to image how much time a cover letter might get.

In fact, many times a cover letter is not read at all. However, if it does get read it will be to see if it offers any additional insights into skills of the candidate, especially writing and self-expression skills. So make sure that all the i’s have been dotted and all the t’s have been crossed.

This isn’t meant to discourage job seekers from writing a resume cover letter. Instead, it’s meant to have them consider how they can get their point across in about two or three paragraphs. To do that, start with a great opening line.

Think of it as meeting someone for the first time. Job seekers need to make that great first impression. One of the best ways to do that is for job seekers to capture their best skills and experiences into the opening paragraph, similar to using a headline on their resume. Keep in mind that these also should be the qualities that the employer is looking for in a candidate. Otherwise, it may mean the job seeker isn’t the right person for this position.

Next, don’t repeat what it is already in the resume. The goal of the cover letter is to reveal a bit more about job seekers, who they are and what they offer that other candidates might not. So the next paragraph should reveal a special talent or unique job experience that the candidate has to offer, especially how it relates to the current opening. The purpose is to set the job seeker apart from the pack and keep her fresh in the recruiter’s mind.

Finally, the last paragraph should wrap it all up, bring all the points together and tie up any loose ends before concluding. No getting cute about waiting by the phone for the recruiter’s call or using the old line about the job seeker following up in the next few days.

The whole idea behind writing a cover letter is to use it as a tool to highlight special qualifications as well as to point out skill sets that match the employer’s needs. However, it is important to do it in a concise and insightful manner.