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Q-Tips: Critical Cover Letter Tips
Key Letter Writing Advice #1

 

These job-search cover letter related tips -- writing with a dynamic style, tips for highlighting career accomplishments, and more -- have been gathered from numerous sources throughout Quintessential Careers and organized here for your convenience.

 

Your cover letter is a marketing document in which your goal is to spark the interest of the potential employer. We are amazed at how many cover letter "experts" advise people to waste their first paragraphs -- which are the most important part of your cover letter. In this first paragraph, aim to attract the interest of the prospective employer, not simply state that you are applying for a job. Visit the Quintessential Careers Cover Letter Tutorial for more information.

 


 

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The "boomerang letter" is a great way to answer a "help-wanted" ad, according to author Jeffrey Fox. Fox explains the concept of the "boomerang letter" in the Q&A interview he did with Quintessential Careers: "Companies spend lots of money and time creating employment ads and running them in the media. Most importantly, one or more persons in the hiring company wrote or approved the ad copy. They have an emotional investment in that ad. The job candidate who responds to the ad should send some of the words and notions back to the advertiser. The copywriter will read the candidate's letter and think, "this person really gets it, understands what we want." Examples of actual ads and suggested boomerang letters appear in Don't Send A Resume. (Read our review of the book.) People are flattered when their words are reiterated."

 


 

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The salutation in your cover letter should always avoid sexist greetings -- and try to avoid stilted greetings, such as "Dear Madam or Sir." If you don't know the name of your intended recipient (and you should always at least TRY to find out):
  • address the cover letter to "Dear Boxholder" -- a favorite of ours;
  • address the cover letter to "Dear Hiring Manager for "XYZ" Position (where XYZ is replaced with the name of the position);
  • address the cover letter to "Dear Friends" -- though some find that too informal;
  • don't include a salutation; instead simply put "Re: Job XYZ" (where XYZ is replaced with the job listing code or name).

 

You can find other cover letter advice at our Cover Letter Do's and Don'ts and in the third edition of Dynamic Cover Letters (available in our Cover Letter Books Bookstore). The earlier editions of the book have helped more than a hundred thousand job-seekers with their cover letters.

 


 

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In the syndicated column she writes with Dale Dauten, Kate Wendleton talks about how to cut down on frustration when responding to want ads: "If you don't fit 80 percent to 90 percent of the requirements listed, don't bother to apply. Instead, turn your attention to jobs you really fit and are fit for." Wendleton also suggests deploying your cover letter to "make yourself a logical choice for the 'Keep' pile" by using two columns in the cover letter, with listed requirements in Column A and your "fit" in Column B. "Make it easier to include you than to exclude you," Wendleton writes. We give the same advice in our cover-letter books, Dynamic Cover Letters and Dynamic Cover Letters for New Graduates (available in our Cover Letter Books Bookstore).

 

See a sample of such a two-column letter.

 


 

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Most corporate career centers give job-seekers explicit instructions for how they want to receive cover letters and resumes. Some request that you email the material, some request that you submit it via a form from the company's Web site, some request that you fax it, and a very small few ask you to mail it. Some will include the name of the hiring manager, while others will simply ask you to respond with a job number. Email cover letters are a bit different from regular cover letters, though most of the same rules apply. While the 3rd edition of Dynamic Cover Letters (available in our Cover Letter Books Bookstore) provides some good information and sample email cover letters, we also have an article, titled Tips for a Dynamic Email Cover Letter.

 


 

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In their cover letters, those with very little experience may need to deploy transferable skills from past jobs and education to show that they indeed have the critical experience. Read: Strategic Portrayal of Transferable Skills is a Vital Job-search Technique.

 

Another solution is get the experience now through volunteering your relevant professional services to local non-profit organizations; you help a worthy organization and gain the experience you need to move to a better job.

 


 

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One of the biggest problems we see with cover letters is a lack of specificity. There is NO such thing as a "general cover letter;" well, there is, but we call it a BAD cover letter. Cover letters are all about specifics -- about showcasing how you can make a difference to the company. You really need to read: Cover Letter Success is All About Specifics.

 


 

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Never, never -- never ever -- include any negative information in your cover letter. Negative information immediately puts your cover letter (and entire application) into the trash. Think of your cover letter as a sales document. Thus, talk only of the great things about you and how you are going to make a contribution to your future employer. Discuss what you can bring to the employer; discuss your key skills and qualities.Take some time to go through our tutorial on cover letters. Go to the Dynamic Cover Letters Tutorial For Developing a Stunningly Effective Cover Letter. You'll find more than 100 pages of advice, hints, and samples to help you create successful cover letters.

 

You might also want to read: Cover Letter Success is All About Specifics and/or the 3rd edition of Dynamic Cover Letters (available in our Cover Letter Books Bookstore). The first two editions have helped more than 100,000 job-seekers create successful cover letters -- and the third edition is the best one yet.

 


 

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Applying to jobs online? When you are looking for a job, make everything you do easy for the employer. If the employer has to spend more time on your application than on others, guess what? He or she won't; he or she will simply move on to the next applicant. Make cover letters and resumes sent over the Internet as easy as possible for employers so they'll consider your application. Always send your cover letter and resume as unformatted text within the email message as well as formatted as attachments. If you don't provide both options, you risk not being considered. Why? Because some employers only want text, while others request formatted attachments. Still others don't open attachments for fear of viruses or other security reasons, and some may not be able to open your attachments because of software incompatibilities. For guidelines to follow on text-based resumes, read our article, Scannable Resume Fundamentals.

 


 

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What salutation should you use in a cover letter if you don't know the identity of the hiring manager? Simple. You should make it a point always to know the identity of the hiring manager and address your letter specifically for that person. There should be very few times in your job search correspondence that can't find out the name of the person you are writing to. As long a want ad provides the name of the hiring company, it is quite easy to call the firm and obtain the name of the hiring manager. In fact, doing so often results in your letter and resume getting more notice because it shows initiative. On those rare times when you do not know the name or gender of the person you are writing to (such as when respond to a blind-box ad), try "Dear Boxholder," "Dear Friends," or just begin the letter without a salutation (but with a reference to the job you are applying for).

 


 

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The biggest trick to composing a dynamic cover letter is to begin it in a way that will draw the reader in and make him or her want to read more -- and ultimately read your resume and invite you for an interview. And you may have as few as 20 seconds to grab that person's attention. Let's look at it this way: A 1999 study funded by Pitney-Bowes revealed that the average worker receives 190 messages a day of all kinds -- faxes, e-mails, phone calls, letters, memos, air-express deliveries, people just stopping by to chat. Most workers have to actually stop their work to deal with messages at least three times per hour, and 40 percent are interrupted six or more times an hour. That means the busy hiring manager has very little time to spend on each piece of communication crossing his or her desk, so your letter needs to get attention in a hurry to be effective.

 

This Q Tip is an exclusive excerpt from the 3rd Edition of Dynamic Cover Letters.

 


 

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Although many employers who scan resumes electronically don't scan cover letters, they often use cover letters to help them code the source of resumes. They want to know whether you sent your resume in response to a print ad, Internet ad, or whether you were referred to the employer's company, or are simply making a cold contact. Your cover letter provides that information, so if you know the company is scanning resumes, don't omit the cover letter -- it provides information your resume can't.

 

This Q Tip is an exclusive excerpt from the 3rd Edition of Dynamic Cover Letters.

 


 

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Here's a good tip from the Brian Krueger, author of the excellent College Grad Job Hunter (available in our College Graduate Career Books Bookstore): Add a handwritten postscript (PS) to the bottom of your cover letters. Let it highlight one of your best qualifications. It will be the first thing employers notice.

 


 

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How should you send cover letters electronically? In our book, Dynamic Cover Letters for New Graduates, we advise: "brevity is particularly important. For some readers, a screen of email seems equivalent to a page of type."

 

Other guidelines for sending your cover letter via email are: keep it brief; even shorter than a standard cover letter; know the company guidelines, which can usually be found on each company's Web site (Check out our Directory of Company Career Centers; use limited formatting so that the letters can be more easily scanned (and because not everyone has email software that allows stylized text); make good use of keywords in your cover letter; and as always, proofread and edit your work, making sure there are no errors of any kind.

 


 

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Wondering how to address a cover letter in response to a blind ad in which no contact person, address, or business/organization name is listed? As we write in our book, Dynamic Cover Letters (Ten Speed Press), sometimes employers, for various reasons, place blind classified ads that do not identify the company. But some blind ads are more blind than others. Some may use the initials for the company's name sent to a post office box. In these cases, you may be able to discover the name of the company. The most common blind ad, however, uses only a box number at the publication carrying the ad, and in these cases, there is virtually no way to uncover the name of the company.

 

So, how do you address your cover letter? Our favorite for blind-box ads is "Dear Boxholder." We've also often used "Dear Friends" or "Dear Hiring Manager for [name of position]." Avoid at all costs "To Whom it May Concern," or worse, a sexist salutation such as "Gentlemen." Finally, it is also acceptable when responding to a blind-box ad to omit the salutation and begin with the body of the letter.

 


 

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Sending out dozens -- or even hundreds -- of resumes and getting no replies? First, be sure you have sent out cover letters with your resumes and have followed appropriate cover-letter techniques: writing to a named individual, requesting an interview, and promising action. Now, list all your recipients in a spreadsheet and start contacting them right away. Never expect employers to respond to your inquiries; as you may have discovered, very few do so. Follow up your resume/cover letter after about a week to 10 days later with a phone call. Read more about cover letters and job-hunting at Quintessential Careers: Cover Letter Resources, which includes a link to our Cover Letter Tutorial.

 


 

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The cover letter is a crucial marketing document that must be directed to a named individual and create enough interest on the part of the potential employer to inspire him or her to then look at your resume. You must create interest while quantifying your qualifications for the position you seek. You must also demonstrate some knowledge of the company and stress what you can do for the company. Finally, you must request action -- an interview. Visit Quintessential Careers: Cover Letter Resources, which includes a link to the cover letter tutorial, a list of cover letters do's and don'ts, a cover-letter formula, and much more.

 


 

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Writers get writer's block and sometimes job-hunters get job-hunter's block, especially when they are new to job-hunting. The key is getting focused on what you want to accomplish, which should motivate you to get you on the right path to finding that ideal opportunity for you. A step-by-step plan for job-hunting can help keep you on course. Identify key companies in the geographic areas that interest you. A number of reference books in your local library or university library that list corporations and divisions by location. You could also contact the area chambers of commerce to get that kind of information -- or even track down the phone books.

 

Check out our Quintessential Directory of Company Career Centers. Once you've identified the companies, contact each company to get a name of a person to whom to send your cover letter and resume. Next, write dynamic cover letters to these people; look here to find some great sample cover letters. Then do the required follow-up. Call the people you wrote to about 10 days later and request an interview. Be prepared for some rejection. While the cold-contact method is much more successful than responding to want ads and job listings, you will still get numerous rejections.

 


 

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One of the secrets of writing great cover letters that get you results is writing to a named individual. Rather than writing to a title or human resources, it makes much more sense to contact all the prospective employers on your targeted list and obtain the names of hiring managers for the type of position you seek. Address your letters to a named individual rather than just a title. Lots more tips and suggestions can be found on our our cover letter resources section, including Cover Letter Do's and Don'ts.

 


 

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Should you include a cover letter when you send your resume via e-mail or via fax? Unless an employer specifically states no cover letters, you should always include a cover letter. You wouldn't want to eliminate a key selling tool in your job-search portfolio. The whole point of a cover letter is to draw interest in you and motivate the employer to look over your resume. For some great tips on writing a dynamic cover letter, visit our cover letter resources page, which includes some great links, such as to a cover letter tutorial (for those who need a lot of help with writing cover letters) and a cover letter formula. When sending a fax, of course, send a normal cover letter. Email is a little trickier. Send your cover letter both as part of the email. You need to make a quick sale in your email, so why not take advantage of the possibility of including a short cover letter?

 


 

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According to Phil Hey, professor of English and writing at Briar Cliff College, the most common mistake students make on their resumes and cover letters is a failure to give evidence of achievement -- proof that their actions had positive, recognized results. In the Q&A interview Hey did with Quintessential Careers, he noted, "Employers don't want a dead history of education and job descriptions; they want some outcomes that show that the applicant really can produce on the job."
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  Find even more cover letter writing tips in Critical Cover Letter Tips: Key Letter Writing Advice #2.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 


 

Check out all of our Quick and Quintessential Critical Cover Letter Tips.

 

Review all our Quick and Quintessential Tips to Guide Your Job Search and Work Life.

 


 

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