July 1, 2009

Your Cover Letter

Filed under: insights — Paul Kilman @ 11:19 am

A good friend of mine asked me to critique the cover letter she wanted to use in her job search.  Without going into the details of her situation, let me share what I counseled her – and also believe will be helpful to you: 

It is my opinion that effective cover letters need to be short and written with the employers perspective foremost.  Imagine the first sentence of such a letter reading something like this:  “Can your firm use the help of a skilled employment attorney?”  Note how the employer can immediately understand what you are offering and whether it makes sense to read any further.   Believe me that most people do not have the time or patience to read long cover letters to figure out who you are and how they might be able to use your background.  It’s up to you to say how you can be of service to them. 

A cover letter is also a writing sample and an important part of the first impression you make.   Ensure that it is well crafted.   

Avoid letters with descriptions extolling what you believe are your personal attributes, such as the following:  “I am an overachiever with superlative people skills;”  “I am a change agent,” etc.  Let the description of your key accomplishments and contributions lead the reader to these understandings.  It is more believable and powerful that way. 

Cover letters are often separated from resumes or simply thrown out after being read.  Make sure your resume includes the same vital points in a visible way that the cover letter presents.    

Remember that cover letters and resumes are marketing documents.  Also, most of the time today, this information is being sent electronically.  The cover letter e-mail message encourages the employer to open up and read your resume.  Your resume presents just enough information to entice the employer to meet with you to learn more from you directly. 

As a side comment, I sometimes receive emails from people in which no message is written, just a document attached.  I think that people think that I know that this attachment is a resume and/or cover letter.  Note that in the age of malicious viruses, few people open these to find out.  Please introduce yourself in the e-mail message. 

If you have personal profiles on LinkedIn and other social networking sites, read them carefully.  Ensure that they are consistent with or complement the image of yourself that your cover letter and resume present.  Employers are checking.

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