All About Cover Letters
- Cover letters are your first introduction to a potential employer. If possible, address your cover letter to the name of the actual hiring authority. You may have to research who that person is.
- A cover letter should be brief, only 3-4 paragraphs long. It should state what job you are interested in, or that you are interested in talking with them about possibilities for employment.
- If you know something about the job opening, state why you think you are a good candidate for that position. It’s perfectly acceptable to briefly highlight one or two of your accomplishments. However, don’t just reiterate what is on your resume. Take this opportunity to point out specifics of your experience and correlate directly with the employer’s needs.
- If you are merely fishing for opportunities, state what you know about the company and how you feel your experience will “add value” to their organization.
- If a friend or relative has referred you to a company, be sure to mention the name of that person in your cover letter.
- Do your research before applying for a position. Get on the Internet and find out as much as you can about the company. It is much easier to address the company’s needs and parallel your experience if you know something about the company.
- It is estimated that the first look at a resume takes only 3-15 seconds! You have a very short window of opportunity to make an impression. The impression starts with your cover letter. Make it a good first impression.
- Closing your cover letter is an important last step. Take a proactive approach by stating you will follow up with the employer. This allows you some measure of control of the job search process. Make a follow-up phone call to make sure your materials arrived. Certain circumstances, such as replying to a blind ad or an ad that states “No phone calls” may dictate that you take a less assertive approach. Conducting yourself in a professional and courteous manner is the most important factor in a successful follow up effort.
In a concise manner, address these issues in your cover letter:
- What position interests you.
- Why you think your experience would benefit the company.
- Briefly highlight one or two accomplishments.
- Let them know when you will follow-up with them.
Cover Letter FAQ’s
How should I handle salary requests?
It is never to your advantage to volunteer salary information. To do so gives an employer a possible reason to screen you out of consideration, and you place yourself at a disadvantage for future discussions. If an ad specifically asks for salary information you can:
a. Provide an average. For example, “My salary history has averaged $40k-$45k over the past five years.”
b. Address the issue without disclosing information. For example, “I will be glad to discuss salary once it is determined I am a good fit for the position” or “Salary is negotiable and can be discussed at time of the interview.”
c. Ignore the request entirely.
What if I don’t have the name of the hiring contact?
First, try calling the department or company and ask for the name. Be sure to ask for the correct spelling of the person’s name. You can also try searching on the company website. If all else fails, address your cover letter to the highest level decision maker in the hiring department, such as the Director of Marketing, Operations Manager, etc.
What if I am unsure of addressee’s gender?
The typical address line will read “Dear Mr.____” or “Dear Ms._____.” However, when it is impossible to determine the addressee’s gender, (i.e. Chris, Pat), address it “Dear Pat Smith,” “Dear Chris Smith,” etc.
Should I follow up?
Yes! You would be surprised how many application materials, including cover letters, get lost in the hiring shuffle. Follow up with a phone call a week after you’ve sent your letter to ensure the company/department received it. Take this opportunity to reiterate your interest in the position and attempt to get a timeline of the hiring process.
Do I mention why I’m in the job market?
While you are certainly not obligated to do so, it may be to your advantage, especially if the reason is for cause which is out of your control, such as relocation, plant closing or a workforce reduction. Regardless, be prepared to answer the question “Why are you looking for a job?” at an interview and never speak badly of a previous manager or company.