“To Whom It May Concern:” is a poor start for a cover letter. Do some research and find out the name of the person to whom the package should be directed. If you absolutely cannot find to whom it should go, aim high. If you send it to the head of the company or head of the department, it will have a better chance of getting to the decision-maker than if you simply send it to the HR department.
It can be difficult to know how to start a cover letter when the resume/cover letter is submitted online and there is no name (and sometimes not even a company name). An alternative to a greeting is to indicate the job posting number or title, and perhaps where the job was posted in a reference line at the beginning of the cover letter; for example: “RE: Marketing Assistant Position – ID# 3456”
Depending on the type of recipient, the cover letter will vary in content and approach. A cover letter to a network contact will be somewhat different in content and tone than a cover letter to a blind job advertisement. A cover letter to a recruiter will have some information normally not included in a cover letter that goes directly to the employer such as information about salary, availability, and relocation. A broadcast cover letter will be set up differently than a cover letter going directly to a specific person. Make sure you are aware of the differences and use the right approach for the audience.
It is much too easy to start every sentence in a cover letter with “I” or “My”, so don’t fall to the temptation. Repetitively saying “I” turns off the reader. Vary your sentence structure and focus on your achievements and results. It makes for better communication all around.
Too Long/Too Short
A cover letter should not run past one page. If you have more than that, you know you are being wordy. Three to four paragraphs is a general rule of thumb. If you will be emailing your cover letter in the body of the email with your resume attached, be briefer than if you were sending it in a more traditional manner or as an attached document. People are accustomed to short, to-the-point email messages so don’t go overboard with detail.
Sometimes people seem to think they can include information in the cover letter that certainly has no place in the resume. A good example would be a reason for leaving an employer. Reason for leaving is irrelevant – focus on the future and how you can make a contribution to a new employer. Health status is another issue that sometimes shows up in a cover letter – “I am in good health, energetic, and ready to get started”. Anything that reveals age, religion, ethnicity, etc. should be withheld from both the cover letter and resume. Employers are very wary of litigation and fair hiring practices. Including information that is not needed/wanted by an employer will hurt, not help.
Your cover letter should have a name header at the top that matches the header on your resume – like a letterhead. Make sure your font size is large enough to be easily read. Keep the alignment of your margins clean and even. The balance from the top of the page to the bottom should be appropriate; avoid large white voids above or below the text by balancing the text visually.
When sending by email, make sure you use a business-like signature without personal mottos and slogans. “Save the endangered snail darter” might be part of your email signature to friends and family but it has no place on an emailed cover letter. Create a signature for job search that contains your contact information such as phone numbers and email address. A branding line might also be appropriate; for example, “Joe Smith, Software Developer”. Always be aware of the presentation you provide to prospective employers and recruiters and make sure it is top-shelf.
You wouldn’t wear just one shoe to a job interview so don’t send your resume without an accompanying cover letter. Be professional but speak to the reader in an appropriate manner. Use the cover letter to highlight your best value and experience. Point out what makes you unique out of the hundreds of other applicants and grab the attention of the reader. Just like the resume, make sure you have NO typos. And of course – avoid these deadly cover letter errors!
About the Author:
Alesia Benedict, Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW) and Job and Career Transition Coach (JCTC) is the President of GetInterviews.com, the country’s leading resume writing firm. They provide professionals with customized, branded resumes and career marketing documents. Her and her firm’s credentials include being cited by JIST Publications as one of the "best resume writers in North America," quoted as a career expert in The Wall Street Journal, and published in a whopping 25+ career books. Established in 1994, the firm has aided more than 75,000 job seekers to date. All resume writers are certified writers.
Salt and pepper. Peanut butter and jelly. Resume and cover letter. Some things just go together. One of the three types of cover letters should always accompany a resume in job search activities. Cover letters come in different "flavors" depending on their use and target audience. Let's go over the main three cover letters you need for your job search.
1 – General Cover Letter. This letter is written to support the resume and has the broadest use in job search. When contacting a company "cold", a general cover letter is your best bet because the primary purpose is to introduce you and highlight some of the key points brought into the resume. Sometimes referred to as a "broadcast letter", it can be used when sending your resume to many recipients at once in a mass mail, too.
While general in nature, the general cover letter should be "employer focused" meaning the wording shows the reader how the company could benefit from the job seekers experience. A general cover letter does not mention specifics such as salary requirements but may mention relocation if it is an issue. Just as objectives are not used on resumes, language that details the wants of the job seeker such as "I'm looking for a permanent position with a stable company" should be avoided. The cover letter is a sales document that grabs attention, communicates a professional, intelligent message, and shows the benefits of the "product" (the job seeker).
The general cover letter should always end on a proactive note stating the job seeker's intention to follow up with the employer rather than closing with a passive "I await your call" message. End the letter with a specific message about when and how you will follow up and then make sure to follow through. The squeaky wheel gets the oil and the squeak starts right here in the cover letter. How many job seekers say "I will follow up with you by email next Wednesday" and then actually do it? Very few! That's why it makes you stand out when you actually do what you say you will do.
2 – Targeted Cover Letter. When answering a specific job advertisement or responding to an opening for which you have details, a targeted cover letter is the one to use. A targeted letter can be morphed from a General Cover Letter but the content will change to some degree. First of all, the Targeted Cover Letter will mention the specific opening by job title in the first sentence so the reader knows it is a response to the advertisement. It is important for the reader to understand right away which position is being targeted.
Second, the Targeted Cover Letter will bring in specific qualifications which correspond to the requirements outlined in the advertisement. For example, if a job ad states "3-5 years experience in Accounts Receivable" is a top requirement, the Targeted Cover Letter would include verbiage that draws attention to the qualification in that area; perhaps something like "While the position requires 3-5 years experience in AR, I can offer you that and more. My background in Accounts Receivable encompasses almost 7 years of managing over $500,000 in receivables and I have reduced 90 days outstanding by over 75% over the last two years."
The Targeted Cover Letter can be a fantastic sales tool, especially when you have all "must have" requirements and many of the additional qualifications the employer hopes to find.
3 – Recruiter Cover Letter. A recruiter is not an employer so a cover letter that goes to a recruiter needs to be different. It is important to understand the dynamics of how recruiters work and to keep that in mind when creating the cover letter. Recruiters look for candidates for active, open positions and for positions they fill on a regular basis which can be anticipated. Recruiters do not look for jobs for candidates. The recruiter will review your resume to see if your qualifications match up for any active, open positions. If not, the resume is stored in the database for possible future open positions that will match up. The recruiter's job is to vet those selectees very closely so the employer is provided with a selection of great candidates – not mediocre or "maybe" candidates. All this should be kept in mind when working with recruiters so your expectations are realistic.
A cover letter to a recruiter will contain some information that normally is not included in the two other types of cover letters. First, the target salary range should be given to the recruiter including base salary and benefits. The one issue for which a recruiter will aggressively advocate on your behalf with an employer is salary because it benefits the recruiter to attain as high a salary as possible. It is to your advantage to work with the recruiter and be open about your salary requirements from the start.
At the same time, salary is a limiting factor for recruiters. The employer gives them a range within which to work. Some recruiters only take assignments at or above certain salary levels, for instance over six-figures. The recruiter needs to know where you fall in the range and it is acceptable to state a range that you are willing to consider. Remember, the recruiter will always try to get the best salary possible for you with the employer if you are the selected candidate so be realistic and honest.
Relocation flexibility, willingness to "pay your own freight" on relocation, and other factors of your employment can be provided a recruiter in the cover letter. If a company has stated no relocation assistance is available, knowing you are willing to foot the bill to move yourself is something the recruiter needs to know.
In general, there are some general guidelines that apply to cover letters. All cover letters should be kept to one page or less when printed or viewed onscreen. Just like in resumes, typos in cover letters are not acceptable. The name header of the cover letter should also match that of the resume so you have a consistent presentation. And finally, the use of "I" should be limited as much as possible throughout the cover letter so it there isn't a repetitive sentence structure throughout.
All these tips are important when creating and using your cover letter in a job search. Knowing which cover letter to use, how to construct it, and what to include in terms of content can give you a great advantage in the job search. Do hiring managers read cover letters? Yes they do! Make the most of your job search and include a great one to support your efforts.
About the Author:
Alesia Benedict, Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW) and Job and Career Transition Coach (JCTC) is the President of GetInterviews.com, the country's leading resume writing firm.
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