How to Write a Great Cover Letter

How to Write a Great Cover Letter

Cover Letters
Taunee Besson, CMF, Senior Columnist

Q: Give me a choice between writing a cover letter and swimming with sharks, and I'll head for the beach! Can you offer an easy-to-follow approach for writing cover letters that captures an employer's attention and increases my chances of landing a job interview?

A: You aren't alone in your distaste for writing cover letters. Most job seekers are intimidated by the task. It's very common to doubt your ability to compose a letter that will really blow away a jaded, "been there, done that" HR rep.

Fortunately, by using the neat little formula I'm about to divulge, you can create cover letters that should produce a much better than average response. While there are just a few ingredients, together they create a powerful synergy. The most important thing to remember is this: you must always, always tailor your letter to the job you're pursuing. A one-size-fits-all approach may save you time, but it will alienate companies. If you want to get HR's attention, compose your cover letter with their interests in mind.

  1. Begin by addressing your letter to a real person, if possible.
  2. If the ad lists a company, but not the individual responsible for hiring, call the firm's receptionist to find out who's collecting resumes for the position. Saying, "Dear Mr. Janson," is a lot better than "To Whom It May Concern."

  3. Use your first paragraph to establish a bond between you and the reader.
  4. Mention the person who referred you. Do a little research on the company and list several reasons why you want to work there. Be complimentary. Show you've done your homework. Don't start your letter with, "I saw your listing on" Everyone does that. A targeted first paragraph can set you apart from the crowd more than any other component of your letter.

  5. Now that you have HR's attention, tell them about yourself.
  6. Write a few sentences that briefly highlight your accomplishments, skills, and personality traits most relevant to the company's needs. You can even use two columns headed by "You Need" and "I Have," if you really want to hammer the point home.

Once you've composed the letter, use your final paragraph to tell HR that you plan to call or email them in a few days to confirm receipt of your resume and schedule an interview. Then be true to your word. Employers like candidates with initiative and perseverance. Unless the listing says "NO calls," don't hesitate to make the first contact. You'll be one of a very few enterprising candidates who do.

Taunee Besson, CMF, Senior Columnist

Senior Columnist Taunee Besson, CMF, is president of Career Dimensions, Inc., a consulting firm founded in 1979 that works with individual and corporate clients in career transition, job search, executive coaching, talent management and small business issues. She is an award-winning columnist for and a best-selling author of the Wall Street Journal's books on resumes and cover letters. Her articles on a variety of career issues have appeared on numerous career/job websites and trade and business journals. Ms. Besson has been quoted numerous times in The Wall Street Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Business Week, Time, Smart Money, and a number of other websites and publications.

Career Topics
Resume Writing