Cover Letter Concepts

There is a lot of confusion about cover letters. Cover letters are not:
* An opportunity to write about your life story and life philosophy
* A chance to write about tell your entire career history
* A place to explain why you left each of your past employers or to focus in detail about why you are unemployed

* An opportunity to talk about how the job you are applying for would benefit you personally

* A place to focus on what you’ve learned as opposed to what you achieved
* A document you can use with each job you apply to without customization.
* Something you can slap together without proofreading.

Instead, cover letters are a succinct explanation of how you meet the requirements of the job. This means you will need to read the job description several times and take a highlighter to it, and then use the highlighted portions as a checklist. Your cover letter, as much as possible, should give examples of how you specifically meet each of the criteria (within one page).

A good structure of a cover letter is as follows:

Opening sentence can be something like this: I am delighted to submit my application for the position of (FILL IN THE ACTUAL JOB TITLE HERE, AND IF NEEDED, THE REQUISITION NUMBER). I believe I would be a strong candidate for this opportunity because (FILL IN LAUNDRY LIST OF SPECIFIC REASONS, BASED ON THE SPECIFICS IN THE JOB DESCRIPTION; if it is a mission-driven organization, you can also add something about your “demonstrated commitment to the mission of ____”).

Give specific examples of how you meet the most important requirements of the job, highlighting end results, numbers, and achievements. (NOTE: How can you tell what’s most important? Consider the job title and what it emphasizes, whether certain points have been repeated in the description, whether certain requirements are essential).

Give specific examples of how you meet the next most important requirements of the job, highlighting end results, numbers, and achievements.

If applicable, mention specific more personal items that may assuage any doubts of the recruiter. For example, if you have a year or more employment gap in your resume, are relocating to another city, aren’t available to work immediately because you are still in school, etc., here is the place to address these issues–briefly, and without making them sound like a big deal. If you are relocating, for example, mention why you are enthusiastic about moving to the new location, and perhaps mention a personal reason why you are moving there.

Then, end with a note mentioning how you are going to follow up on this application with a phone call, if possible; reiteration of your great interest in the position, and a statement of thanks for the employer’s consideration.

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Alicia Mazzara

Thank you for posting this! You’re right, there’s a ton of confusion about cover letters and lots of bad examples out there. Most people I know absolutely hate writing them, so this is very helpful.

Victoria Aleman

This is the best cover letter advice I have seen yet! And I’ve looked plenty because I abhor writing the cover letter and the “thank-you-for-the-interview” letter. Anything to lessen the pain. Your article confirms some of the things I’m already doing and fills in the missing pieces. This is going into my reference file for applying for jobs. Thank you!

Susan Thomas

Good advice. Cover letters should be direct and to the point. As an employer, I want to know why the applicant feels he or she would be a good fit.

R. Anne Hull

Great Template and tips, Heather. Too many people disqualify themselves with TMI in the cover letter. When addressing potential objections (gap in employment, location, etc.) keep it simple and state the positive outcome. At least state why it won’t be a problem in the future. Taking the initiative to follow-up doesn’t have to sound “pushy.”

Andrea Schneider

This is very helpful and practical advice. Thanks for putting it up. The employment gap issue can be hard if it’s medically related. I tend to leave it alone, if it will take any attention away from the rest of the application and wait to be asked, if they do at all. I think having another authentic answer is good too.