June 18, 2015

Preparing a Fabulous Cover Letter

By: Claire Kittle Dixon

seinfeldThis month is a continuation of last month’s post about creating a stellar resume. This month we’re tackling cover letters.

A date is a job interview that lasts all night.

– Jerry Seinfeld 

Anyone who has known me for long knows I compare work – especially applying for a job – to dating. After all, the comparisons are many.

And frankly, thinking of the application process (writing your résumé and creating your cover letter) like dating is actually quite useful.

While the end goal of dating is a prosperous relationship, the end goal of the application process is for you to land a job. And the rules to follow are quite the same:

  • Always tell the truth
  • Be straightforward and don’t play games
  • Show off your best attributes
  • Just be YOU!

Keep these simple rules in mind as you move forward and you will be on your way to a job offer — and a stellar dating life.


The Cover Letter

Have you ever met someone you were attracted to and it sparked an internal monologue about why this person should want to date you? “Hey there, hot stuff. We should go out. I’m smart, witty, have great personal hygiene, and I can quote Dodgeball from start to finish.”

Think of your cover letter as a similar pitch – only in your out loud voice and not related to Dodgeball. You’re trying to convince the hiring manager that you should be considered for the job.

Your cover letter should be no longer than one page and contain four basic elements, preferably in this order:

  • A mention of the job for which you are applying
  • An explanation of why you are interested (especially how you are philosophically aligned with the organization’s mission)
  • A brief summary of why you are qualified (no need to rehash your entire résumé – just hit on the high points)
  • Anything else the job posting asks for (such as salary history, etc.)

You can also use the cover letter to explain things that do not belong in a résumé, such as why you are on the job market (i.e. your organization is expecting layoffs, the campaign will be ending in November, etc.), why you had a gap in your résumé, whether you are willing to relocate, etc.

Your cover letter should reflect the fact you have done your homework about the opening and the organization; sending a formulaic, generic cover letter won’t work in your favor and may well work against you. Take the time to write a thoughtful, business formatted letter tailored to the specific position; and it will be evident to the hiring manger.

Unfortunately, cover letters are often the reason candidates get voted off the island. Some common cover letter gaffes you should avoid are:

  • Mentioning the wrong position/organization
  • Addressing the letter to the wrong person
  • Sending a nonspecific cover letter which provides no value to the hiring manager and demonstrates you are not taking the application process seriously
  • Spelling/grammatical errors
  • Failing to include all the items the job posting requested
  • Talking too much about you and not enough about the organization and opportunity
  • Using an informal format or no format at all

Armed with these simple guidelines, authoring a cover letter for a job you are truly passionate about and qualified for should be easy – maybe even easier than convincing someone you are worthy of a first date.


Now What?

tumblr_n1y2bxDttg1qza49co1_500After you’ve sent off your beautifully crafted résumé and personalized cover letter, the ball is in the organization’s court, right? Wrong, my friend! After a great date would you just sit there and wait for the phone to ring? No!

You should take the initiative to follow-up with the organization via email several days after you have applied and ask if you can provide any additional information. If you don’t hear anything after this second communication, it may be safe to assume the organization is not interested.

And, like dating, you should just let go – lest you be labeled a stalker.

The most important thing to remember is that you have skills and experience that some organization out there is going to fall in love with. You just need to find it, and send a résumé and cover letter that makes that case and live happily ever after.


Claire Kittle Dixon is the Executive Director of Talent Market.