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Composing Your Personal and Concise Cover Letters

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Use cover letters to reveal your uniqueness and to show how your assets meet the particular needs of a particular organization. Broadcast cover letters those designed to cover your resume to dozens of different organizations are largely a waste of time. A cover letter should be a personal letter, and the bad reputation cover letters sometimes have among managers stems from the fact that most of the ones they see are of the broad cast variety. Not surprisingly, most get tossed into the wastebasket with little more than a glance sometimes less. However, a well written, targeted, and personal cover letter will always be read and sometimes does more to get your foot in the door than an impressive resume.

A cover letter has two closely related functions to perform. First, it introduces you and your resume to a person in an organization at which you are seeking employment. Second, it requests an interview. How well your interview request is received depends largely on how well you introduce yourself through your letter and resume. The more persuasively you present yourself as a candidate for particular work that meets the needs of a particular organization, the better your chances of winning an interview.

Your resume provides an overview of your career, assets, and accomplishments. Your cover letter should relate the information in your resume specifically to a job or kind of work for a specific organization. It should implicitly answer three questions for your reader:

  1. Why do you want to work for us (or me)?

  2. What do you offer that we (or I) need?

  3. Why should we (or I) take the time to interview you What makes you different from hundreds of other candidates for this position (or kind of work)?
Cover Letter Law 1: Write to a person, not to an organization, department, or functional area.

Make your cover letters sound human and give them some personality, preferably some of your own. If at all possible by legal means, get the name of a particular person to whom to address your letter. If you must write to an impersonal entity in answer to advertisements that give no names and forbid calls, imagine writing to someone you know to give your writing a hint of life and voice.

And don't waste much time answering blind or semi blind ads: respond to those you find particularly appealing, but make your effort proportional to the likelihood of payoff which is slim. Finally, don't give up looking for jobs in organizations that reject you (often without acknowledging receipt of your materials) for advertised openings. Continue networking and researching your way into these organizations in search of other possibilities  and in search of specific individuals with whom to discuss employment possibilities.

Cover Letter Law 2: Keep it to a page and don't simply repeat information from your resume.

Self introductions can lose interest fast. Remember that your total self introduction package will consist of a letter and a resume and a phone conversation. You don't have to pack your entire introduction into any one of these communications. Two or three paragraphs of moderate length (averaging three to four sentences in this genre of writing) should give you enough space to say why your background is particularly well suited to a specific kind of work and why you want to work for a particular organization. You won't be able to elaborate, but that is what you hope to do in the interview your cover letter will request.

Cover Letter Law 3: Always request an interview and always end your letter with provisions for following up on your request.

"Always" is strong, but there are, truly, very few valid exceptions to this law. Some cover letters begin with requests for interviews;

I would like to meet with you about working for Zertex as a......My experience for the past four years at ABC has demonstrated my ability to...

Most cover letters save both the request and the action step the provisions for following up until the end:

I would like to talk with you further about work opportunities in marketing at Zertex and will call your office within the week to see if we can arrange a time to meet.

Waiting around for a response is a drag, so don't do it if you don't have to. Take the initiative for following up, and let your reader know how and when you plan to do so. If you are too distant to request a face to face meeting, suggest making an appointment for a phone interview and indicate when you will call to make the appointment.
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