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Cover Letter Writing Tips
By Pat Kendall, Nationally Certified Resume Writer

The cover letter plays an important role in the job search process, and if done properly, it can substantially improve your ability to compete for jobs and generate interviews. It adds a personal touch to your application and shows employers that you are a serious, professional candidate. By example, a well-written cover letter demonstrates communication and organizational skills and shows that you are the type of candidate who is willing to go the extra mile. In this highly competitive job market, the cover letter gives you a much needed edge over other job seekers, as it allows you to describe the specific skills and accomplishments that qualify you for the job.

Here are four key rules of cover letter writing:

Rule #1: CUSTOMIZE: While you can certainly develop a generic 'prototype' letter, make sure you take the time to customize it to fit the employer's requirements. Before you even start your letter, review the criteria for the position and make a list of what the employer wants. This list might include specific areas of expertise, years of experience, technical skills and/or traits like leadership, communication, or ability to work well under pressure. Then, incorporate these items into your letter, demonstrating by example that you have the desired qualities. (Obviously you'll have to balance space limitations and readability as you go.)

Rule #2: MEET THEIR NEEDS: Write the cover letter with the employer's needs in mind - not your own. In other words, don't describe what YOU want, but EXPLAIN WHAT YOU CAN DO FOR THE EMPLOYER. Don't assume that they're going to read between the lines of your resume and dig out the relevant information. They won't. To get their attention, you have to actively describe how you can meet their needs.

Rule #3: ACTIVELY SELL YOURSELF: Tell them WHY they should hire you. Be assertive about your qualifications without being egotistical. The tone of your letter should be professional, but sound as if a real person wrote it - in other words, not too pretentious or formal. One way to judge your letter is to read it out loud. Do you trip over the words? Does it sound like a lawyer wrote it? If so, work on it until it flows naturally and has a conversational tone.

Rule #4: KEEP IT SIMPLE: No matter how sophisticated your resume looks, I recommend that you set your letter up in a typewriter typestyle like COURIER or ELITE. Use a simple block format with left flush margins and ragged right margins, since that looks most like a letter typed on a typewriter. Your cover letter will generate a better response if it LOOKS like it was individually typed rather than computer-generated. Most cover letters should be limited to one page, preferably 3-5 paragraphs with 1" margins all around.

The next item I'm going to cover is LETTER CONTENT. In the first paragraph, get the reader's attention and explain what job you're interested in and how you heard of the position.

Here are some examples:

Your recent advertisement for a marketing manager caught my eye, as my qualifications are very compatible with your requirements.


My solid track record in sales should qualify me for the district manager position described in your recent Wall Street Journal advertisement. My resume is enclosed for your consideration.

The second paragraph should outline your qualifications for the position. This might include your years of experience, formal education, special training, technical skills, current responsibilities, selected accomplishments or highlights of earlier jobs. The best letters also include examples of accomplishments and quantifiable results.

If you're in sales, describe how you increased sales volume. If you're in management, explain how you improved profits or cut costs. If you're in human resources, describe how you developed new training programs or reduced employee turnover. In other words, show how you improved your previous employers' operation. Here's an example:

My background includes 15 years in sales management
with accomplishments in staff development, training and
customer service. I am skilled in team building and have
consistently met or exceeded sales goals in each position
held. Additionally, I hold a bachelors degree in marketing
and have been actively involved in continuing education.

Last but not least is the closing paragraph. This final paragraph is where you:

  1. Request a meeting or personal interview
  2. Mention that you look forward to hearing from them
  3. Explain how they can reach you, and
  4. Thank them for taking the time to consider your application

Here are some examples:

I believe that I can make a positive contribution to
ABC Company and look forward to discussing my capabilities in more detail. I am available for a personal
interview at your earliest convenience and may be reached
after 5 P.M. at the phone number listed above. Thank you
for your time and consideration.

I would like to meet with you to discuss your opportunity
in more detail, and will call next week to see when your schedule
might allow time for a brief meeting. Thank you for your time.

Obviously It takes some time to get it right. Writing a good letter is hard work, but the more letters you write, the easier it gets!

Copyright 1998 by Pat Kendall, a Nationally Certified Resume Writer (NCRW) with over 17 years of experience in resume writing and job search consulting. Pat owns and operates Advanced Resume Concepts, a resume service based in Aloha, Oregon. For information about services, prices and consultation fees, please contact:

Pat Kendall, NCRW
Advanced Resume Concepts
Ph: 503-591-9143
Fax: 503-642-2535

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