WHAT IS A COVER LETTER?
Cover letter advice from a professional resume writer
A cover letter is simply a letter that goes with your resume and serves to introduce you to potential employers.
I am often asked whether a cover letter is essential and I always say yes. But that doesn't mean I think your letter will necessarily be read. Anecdotal evidence suggests that some recruiters and managers completely ignore cover letters and some read them carefully.
Indeed, back when I worked as an HR manager, I never read cover letters, but my boss wouldn't read the resume until he had read the cover letter. Which means you have to write a great cover letter - because you have to assume at least some of the recipients will pay attention to it. And even those who don't read cover letters generally glance at them. (I always used to look at the first paragraph to see which position the candidate was applying for) so they're still important.
What is the purpose of a cover letter?
Your cover letter should do the following:
1) Tell the employer what type of position you seek, or which specific job you're applying for.
2) Outline your key selling points.
3) Address the needs of the employer.
4) Invite the employer to contact you.
The cover letter is a brief introduction, not your entire history so don't try to cover everything. Just make sure that these 4 points are addressed.
You should customize and tweak your letter for every single position, highlighting the skills and experiences that are most important to your target employers.
Check out this article to learn more about how to write a cover letter.
How long should your letter be?
No more than one page - and I actually prefer to keep my letters as short as possible because less really is more to a busy recruiter. If the employer requests email resume submissions, you will be cutting and pasting your letter into the body of an email, and no one likes lengthy emails.I recommend writing your letter following my detailed instructions and then editing several times to make the letter as short as possible.
How do you send your cover letter by email?
If you are emailing your resume, I recommend pasting your cover letter into an email and just attaching your resume. There is no need to send a cover letter as an attachment, although you can if you wish. If you do this, name your cover letter and resume clearly, so that recruiters can see which is which.
When you paste your letter into an email check to see how long it looks. If it looks too long to read at a quick glance, I recommend editing it down. We have all come to expect emails to be brief, so a long letter can be off-putting.
Cover Letters - In Summary
Despite that fact that many people don't really read cover letters, they remain an essential document in the job search. Be sure to make yours as good as it can be - refer to my article on how to write a cover letter if you need help.
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Louise Fletcher is the President of Blue Sky Resumes, and Managing Editor and Co-founder of the preeminent careers blog, Career Hub. She is a Certified Professional Resume Writer and many of her resumes have been published in the JIST "Expert Resumes" series. She has contributed to many online publications including About.com, Monster.com, The Ladders, and Net Temps.