To tell you the truth, I almost never read cover letters first. Perhaps you remember the joke about the doctor who told his patient to take a warm bath and 4 aspirin. When he called the next day, the patient informed him that he could barely get the warm bath down.
It is much the same case with cover letters. I only hope and pray I can get through all the resumes I have to review on any given day.
Still, you have to write a cover letter. The best advice I can offer is to be brief, interesting, informative and not make it a regurgitation of your resume. Truth be told, I only read cover letters when I have interest in a candidate. So, if you are lazy and haven’t written one, you just may turn a win into a loss by not explaining the “elephant sitting in the room.” When I do take the time to read a cover letter, it is to get answers not addressed in the resume.
For example, if you are from “out of town,” you might want to explain why a cross country move makes sense for you. Family in the local area or having lived there at one time goes a long way toward enhancing your candidacy.
When I say your cover letter needs to be brief, I do mean it. With a space allotment of only one computer screen, you really have to get out your electronic pencil and write and rewrite until only the important points remain.
In 1971 I read a book by Carl Boll called Executive Jobs Unlimited. Carl was a proponent of sending out broadcast letters instead of resumes. I don’t agree with that part of his advice, but his broadcast format letter is what you need for your cover letter.
What I believe he would suggest is that if you are going to bother to write a cover letter, your first paragraph needs to deliver a knockout blow to the reader. It can’t be a statement like “I’m a perfect fit for this job.” That approach is actually offensive to anyone reviewing candidates. Why are you a perfect fit? What are some objective statements about what you have done in your career that will sell me on your candidacy?
You have all been working on perfecting your 90-second announcement. A cover letter is a variation on that theme. It is a brief statement of who you are tailored to the position in question.
You don’t have to go item by item. What you want to do is take a mental snapshot of the job to be filled and present a suitable picture of your credentials and how they fit that frame. It is one of those things that is easy for me to say, but hard for you to do. I realize this. That said, there is no one who knows more about you than you.
If you don’t take the time to write a cover letter, you lose. If you write a cover letter that is too long, you lose. The goal is to communicate your value in a conversational tone that the resume format doesn’t allow.
Those who have suggestions on how to achieve this near impossible objective should send them to Leads@TheFENG.org so you can share your knowledge with your fellow members of The FENG. Be sure to use the subject of “The curse of the cover letter”.