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Cover Letter for Your Resume - How to Write One that Doesn’t Get Thrown Away?

junk-mail-resume-cover-letterThe advice is very simple:  unless you write a personalized cover letter, addressed to the person who is likely to be reading your resume, and unless it is tailored specifically for the company and the position, don’t even bother including one with your resume!

Generic cover letters rarely get any attention. In fact, 9 out of 10 recruiters admit they don’t look at them at all…

…unless it has their name on it. 

Before writing a cover letter, consider its purpose.  Many job seekers would agree that the purpose of a cover letter is to capture attention and to make your resume stand out.

Unfortunately, cover letters are rarely written in a way that accomplishes that. Why?

Let me give you an example:  Next time you open your mailbox at home, pay attention to the junk mail you throw away right away vs. what captures your attention.  Chances are you would immediate throw away advertising claiming special deals that look like they are sent to millions of other “lucky” customers. You know there is nothing special or unique about them.   However, you would probably pay more attention to the mail that is customized to your needs or preferences or something that has a personal touch and is of value to you. For instance, a hand-written envelope with your name on it containing a personalized coupon for a 50% discount on an item that you really need would probably get a lot more attention from you.

Are you getting the analogy?

Write a cover letter that people would WANT to read.  You ask - Why would they want to read it? Simple – if it makes their job easier for them, they WILL read it:

Find out who is going to be looking at your resume, address that person by their name, establishing a personal “link” (requires doing homework).
  • Study the job description and requirements to make sure you fully understand what they are looking for (try to recreate their checklist).  Make their job easier by pointing out how you satisfy ALL of these requirements.
  • Keep it short and straight to the point. An effective cover letter is 3-4 paragraphs long at most. Anything longer won’t be read.
  • If you are good on the phone, offer to schedule a phone conversation. Give them your number.
  • Get them intrigued.  Mention that you have some ideas about how your previous experience can be applied to address their needs.  Ask if someone on their team would be available to discuss your ideas to see how they can be applied (just make sure you can come up with something really worth their time!).
  • Make your letter memorable but don’t go overboard sounding like a used car salesman.
  • Try to be creative to have your cover letter stand out from a 100 resumes. Some ideas: 
    • Handwrite the address on the envelope and address it to the person you know is in charge of hiring (requires doing homework);
    • Demonstrate the knowledge of the company and the company culture;
    • Demonstrate that you have done research and that you understand what they are looking for;
    • Include a URL to your LinkedIn profile, blog, website or other PROFESSIONAL online resource where someone can learn more about you;
  • Think of other ways to stay in touch and make them remember you: 
    • Connect with them on LinkedIn;
    • Sending in your resume around the holidays? Send them a greeting card;
    • See if you can come up with something similar that is unique…
Finally, and most importantly: as with your resume, proofread your letter three times and then have three other people proofread it.  All your hard work may be ruined over one spelling mistake.

For more information on how to write a good cover letter, please read our article: Tips and Templates for a Perfect Cover Letter
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Tags: resume, recommendations, cover-letter, tips
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  • Andrew Kucheriavy

    James, well, for one you can do some research on websites like LinkedIn. If it is a smaller company, chances are you can find everyone in their HR department and have a good idea about the person who would be reading your resume. Just do a keywords search “HR” or “Recruiting” along with the company name. Even for larger companies you can narrow down your search to a specific geographic area…

  • james penfield

    I concur with Howard's question above. Many companies won't give the name of the hiring manager/name (especially in this online driven proces) for us to use in the cover letter. How should we address the cover letter in that case?

  • Howard Burkat

    Most of the postings I respond to are at large companies with no name available. Yet a cover letter is expected. .Personalization in this case is impossible. I'd like some hints on cover letters when you have no idea who is going to read it.

  • Nupur Gupta

    As you mentioned in the article that, try to send the letter during the holidays but mostly recruiters have their office Ids. If I send the email during the holidays won't they read the email after the holidays are over because they might not be able to access the office ID.

    The other question, Is it considered professional to send greetings for holidays to a company HR manager or to a principal, if you are already in conversation with them via email.

  • Mario

    Thank God another professional that recognize cover-letters uselessness.

    In fact a cover letter is necessary only if you send out a unsolicited resume. If you apply to an advertised vacancy, why you bother to write a cover letter?

    You should forward your thread to job agencies.

  • Dasa Suciu

    And give examples of your activity or projects naming them and mentioning details in terms of numbers or other real facts.

  • Swati


    It was very helpful..Have saved the doc for future reference.

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