Winning Cover Letters

By Peter Newfield – President of®

THE VALUE OF A COVER LETTER is the ability to present your intentions, qualifications, and availability to a prospective employer in a succinct, appealing format. Your resume can give the nitty-gritty of dates, places of employment, and education but your cover letter must entice the reader to take the extra few minutes to consider you when faced with hundreds and thousands of candidates for any one job opening. The cover letter is your first chance to make a great impression – a personalized letter indicates you are serious about your job search.

I. Do you really need a cover letter? You bet! Just as you would never just show up unannounced at a prospective employer’s door, your resume should never just appear solo on a decision-maker’s desk. Your cover letter is your first opportunity to introduce yourself, present your qualifications, and interest the search committee as a potential candidate for the advertised position.

II. Personalize it to the company - Sure, you could save time and effort by reproducing a “canned” cover letter and hope for the best. Instead, take a few minutes to personalize your cover letter to demonstrate your commitment to the job search effort and show that you are really serious about working for the companies you are contacting. State the reason that you are interested in working for that particular company. Address the cover letter to a specific individual whenever possible.

III. Why are you sending your resume and cover letter? Cover letters should be clear and to the point. Include the specific job title, 2-3 reasons why your experience makes a good fit, and a brief outline of career highlights.

IV. Highlight your strengths! You may be a great person and never call in sick but prospective employers really want to know why they should consider you for this position. Brag a little! Give a few facts, list relevant skills, and state accomplishments on your present or most recent jobs that will be impressive. Increased widget sales by 93%? Negotiate new financial leases/loans? Implement new training programs which reduced staff turnover by 15%?

V. State your intentions and qualifications right up front! If you expect a senior personnel manager or recruiter to wade through a mish-mash of information on your cover letter before understanding why you are sending your resume, chances are, it will never happen.

VI. What makes you different? Emphasize your skills, talents, and experiences to show how you would be a valuable addition to the team. If you have relevant volunteer or professional experience include it briefly in your cover letter. Example: An accountant who serves as volunteer Treasurer for a non-profit health community organization; an international sales rep who has lived in Europe and Asia and speaks several languages.VII. No negative information! Never include personality conflicts with previous employers, pending litigation suits, or sarcastic remarks in your cover letter. If you are bad-mouthing your present place of employment, interviewers will feel uneasy and may relegate your resume to the circular file.

VIII. When to include salary/relocation information - Rule of thumb is to always include salary requirements and/or salary history in the cover letter if a prospective employer requests it. To eliminate this information from your cover letter may justify your resume getting tossed out. Never include salary and relocation information on your resume, only address this information in your cover letter.

IX. How are you prepared to proceed? Take a pro-active approach in your cover letter. State the fact that you are available for a personal interview; give your home, work, e-mail, and/or cell phone numbers where you can be reached; note that you will follow up by phone (where possible) to provide any additional information required.

X. Be direct! A professionally written cover letter and resume can open the doors to your next position on the corporate ladder, as well as a new career in a different field. A clean, error-free presentation combined with strong phrasing and solid facts will encourage the reader to review the attached resume and call you in for an interview. A winning cover letter is your calling card to a new opportunity.

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Peter Newfield is President of®, one of the premier resume writing services in the United States. He is The Resume Expert for,,, and the former Resume Expert for, Spencer Stuart Talent Network and the Career Center on AOL. View samples at: