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Cover Letter Do's and Don'ts
by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., and Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.
Here are the keys for job-seekers in writing successful (and dynamic) job-search cover letters. Follow these simple rules and guidelines and you should achieve success in this important phase of job-hunting, helping lead you to the next phase... job interviews.
- Don't ever send your resume without a cover letter.
- Do address your letter to a named individual.
- Don't use a sexist salutation, such as "Gentlemen" when answering a blind ad.
- Don't waste your first paragraph by writing a boring introduction. Use the first paragraph to grab the employer's attention; give the employer the reasons you are qualified for the position. Read more.
- Do send an original letter to each employer.
- Don't use such clichés as "Enclosed please find my resume" or "As you can see on my resume enclosed herewith." Employers can see that your resume is enclosed; they don't need you to tell them. Such trite phrases just waste precious space. And don't use pleonasms (wordy phrases), which also waste space.
- Don't depend on the employer to take action. Request action. Request an interview, and tell the employer when you will follow up to arrange it. Then, Do So. It is imperative that you follow up. You will greatly increase your chances of getting interviews if you call the employer after writing instead of sitting back and waiting for a call. Those who wait for the employer to call them will generally have a long wait indeed.
- Don't send a cover letter that contains any typos, misspellings, incorrect grammar or punctuation, smudges, or grease from yesterday's lunch.
- Do use simple language and uncomplicated sentence structure. Ruthlessly eliminate all unnecessary words. Follow the journalist's credo: Write tight!
- Do write cover letters that are unique and specific to you, but if you're having troubles getting started, consider using our Dynamic Cover Letter Formula. And do take advantage of these free cover letter samples.
- Do speak to the requirements of the job, especially when responding to an ad.
- Do keep your letter brief. Never, Never more than one page, and it's best to keep it well under a full page. Each paragraph should have no more than one to three sentences.
- Do tell the employer how you can meet his or her needs and contribute to the company.
- Do distinguish your cover letter from those of other job-seekers by quantifying and giving examples that amplify and prove the claims you make in your letter.
- Do try to answer the question that the employer will be asking while reading your letter: "Why should I hire this person?" Answer with your Unique Selling Proposition.
- Don't rehash your resume. You can use your cover letter to highlight the aspects of your resume that are relevant to the position, but you're wasting precious space -- and the potential employer's time -- if you simply repeat your resume.
- Do avoid negativity. Negativity never has a place in a cover letter.
- Do be sure the potential employer can reach you.
- Do avoid the three most common cover letter mistakes.
- Do use action verbs.
- Don't forget to personally sign the letter, preferably in blue ink.
- Do use e-mailed cover letters, but keep them shorter and more concise.
Some of these do's and don'ts are taken from Dynamic Cover Letters.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker's Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
Katharine Hansen, Ph.D., creative director and associate publisher of Quintessential Careers, is an educator, author, and blogger who provides content for Quintessential Careers, edits QuintZine, an electronic newsletter for jobseekers, and blogs about storytelling in the job search at A Storied Career. Katharine, who earned her PhD in organizational behavior from Union Institute & University, Cincinnati, OH, is author of Dynamic Cover Letters for New Graduates and A Foot in the Door: Networking Your Way into the Hidden Job Market (both published by Ten Speed Press), as well as Top Notch Executive Resumes (Career Press); and with Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., Dynamic Cover Letters, Write Your Way to a Higher GPA (Ten Speed), and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Study Skills (Alpha). Visit her personal Website or reach her by e-mail at kathy(at)quintcareers.com.
Dr. Randall S. Hansen is founder of Quintessential Careers, one of the oldest and most comprehensive career development sites on the Web, as well CEO of EmpoweringSites.com. He is also founder of MyCollegeSuccessStory.com and EnhanceMyVocabulary.com. He is publisher of Quintessential Careers Press, including the Quintessential Careers electronic newsletter, QuintZine. Dr. Hansen is also a published author, with several books, chapters in books, and hundreds of articles. He's often quoted in the media and conducts empowering workshops around the country. Finally, Dr. Hansen is also an educator, having taught at the college level for more than 15 years. Visit his personal Website or reach him by email at randall(at)quintcareers.com.
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