Tips for Writing an Effective Cover Letter

Tips for Writing an Effective Cover Letter

frustrated man with crumpled pieces of paper
Taunee Besson, CMF, Senior Columnist

To give yourself an advantage in the screening process, your first priority should be to concentrate on each job opening and create an email (or letter if you prefer) that speaks to the requirements the company hopes to fill. Here are suggestions for encouraging a recruiter to put your correspondence at the top of the interview pile.

If you know the company, but not the person who will review your resume, call the organization's main number and find out the name of the top Human Resources manager. If that doesn't work, try using Facebook and other online tools to search for the names of appropriate company executives. Then address your cover letter or email to that person. Few people take the time to do this, and it shows impressive initiative.

While talking with the receptionist, see if you can also find out the name and email address of the manager of the department where you would be working. Send a resume to that person too. It's likely that few resumes cross that person's desk and, if she likes yours, it will automatically go into the interview pile.

Of course, many organizations refuse to divulge names of employees, especially managers. So if you can't find a name, use "Good Morning" as a greeting. It's upbeat and it sounds a lot better than "To Whom It May Concern" or "Dear Recruiter."

Generally, cover letters have three main topics:

  • Why I'm interested in you.
  • Why you should be interested in me.
  • Let's get together to discuss our mutual needs.

Instead of using the typical opening line, "This letter and the attached resume are in response to your job listing," try something more original. Visit the company's web site and read its annual report. Look for a professional journal article about the company. Then compose an opening paragraph that specifically mentions one of the employer's attributes, policies or programs you particularly admire. You'll not only impress the reader with your initiative, but you'll also give him some genuine pleasure in acknowledging that he works for an organization you admire.

To write an eye-catching second paragraph that summarizes your relevant skills and background, take your cues from the ad. Look carefully at the job description and requirements for the position. Then construct three to five sentences that show how your experience specifically matches what the employer is seeking. A good listing wears its heart on its sleeve; it outlines exactly what the company wants in an applicant. Pay close attention with what the screener hopes to see and you'll capture his attention and make the interview pile.

Please don't close your email with "I look forward to hearing from you," as the other 400 people responding to the ad probably will. Instead, seize the responsibility of making the second contact yourself. Say you will call in a week to schedule an appointment, make sure they received your resume, and then do it. Following up shows initiative, persistence and genuine interest, three traits potential employers love.

taunee besson

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