- Writing skills such as spelling, punctuation, and sentence structure.
- Ability to explain clearly what they are looking for.
— Vicky Cassens Zillioux, senior partner/chief administration officer, Strategic Development Worldwide, San DiegoLess is more. Since a cover letter and resume is, in a sense, a first blush presentation of yourself, doing it poorly suggests you will be unlikely to present our company well if you can’t first present yourself well. Use the cover letter to let me know:
- Which job you are applying for. Often we have many openings, and I do not know which resume is being submitted for which job.
- If there is something pertinent I need to know, tell me (referred by a former employee, not able to start until May 1, etc.). If there is any personal connection, establish it (we met once at a trade show and you said, “if you ever need a job…”).
- Why are you applying? There should be a decent reason that of all the jobs available you applied to ours.
- If you have spent any time on our Website, with our catalog, or product, tell me. Those people almost always jump to the top of my stack if they have a decent resume.
— Grant DiCianni, president, Tapestry Productions Inc., Temecula, CA
- Clarity — well written, clear as to the intent and purpose.
- Consistency with my needs and what’s on the resume and my job/company’s needs addressed.
- Concise — tell me what I need to know about you.
- What have you accomplished that is relevant to my needs and my company.
- One page max.
- Attractive formatting — page layout, font size and style, white space, easy to read.
— Fred R. Cooper, managing partner, Compass HR Consulting, LLCA cover letter that:
- tells me why the applicant feels that they are qualified for the job
- shows some personality as we are looking for someone who will complement our company culture and will fit in
- pays attention to details in the job posting and addresses them in the cover letter
I always appreciate a cleverly written cover letter that has been written just for me, as opposed to a generic cover letter that is clearly sent out to every potential employer. I am looking to hire employees who stand out from the pack — and a cover letter that stands out tells me that the candidate is willing to put in the extra work it takes to stand out.– Sheri Graciano, human resource manager, Sacramento Convention & Visitors BureauHonesty, enthusiasm, and respect. If there are parts of the job description that you only have minimal experience in, tell me. I want to know why you’d be great at the job. I want to know why you’re interested in working with my company. Spell my name properly, double check your grammar, and make sure your contact info is on the letter as well as on your resume. If you’re submitting a hard copy, sign it with a decent pen, and print it on high quality paper. It sounds silly, but if you’ve got a stack of letters on cheap paper signed with a blue Bic, and one letter that has a nice heft to it and a nicer looking signature, that one letter will stand out big time. Word of caution: Nice paper means high-end plain paper — not the crazy floral stationary that you got for Christmas a few years ago. I can’t believe how many people will send out an otherwise professional document on hideous personal stationary. It’s a big pet peeve of mine — really tacky. Your cover letter should simply contain:
- Brief introduction.
- What you do.
- Why you want to work here.
- One or two sentences on why you’re the best candidate (without being arrogant!).
— Erin Cheyne, creative director, Cheyne CreativePoignant simplicity. In a sense, how much can the candidate tell me without actually writing much. To break it down I really need to see:
- who they are,
- what position they are applying for,
- where they came from,
- why are they relevant to this position and why I should bother opening their resume,
- a nice close.
That has worked for me in the past during my years in the corporate world, and given the hectic nature of hiring managers and recruiters, that’s probably the best method to get a quick response.– Jeff Gordon, founder of LA-based online marketing agency InterActive99.comA cover letter is an insight into how the job-seeker communicates.
- Does the job-seeker understand what I am looking for?
- Does the job-seeker make a clear logical connection between the job-seeker’s experience and the job requirements?
If a job-seeker is not qualified for the position, the cover letter doesn’t make much difference. But among qualified job-seekers, a good cover letter tells me more about an individual than a resume alone.– Jenson Crawford, director of engineering, Fetch Technologies, El Segundo, CAI like a simple three-paragraph letter:
- First paragraph is who you are and what position you are applying for.
- Second paragraph gives me a sense of why you are qualified for the opportunity
- Third paragraph says you will be following up with me.
— David Shelton, vice president for operations for Medical Advocacy Services for Healthcare (The MASH Program), Fort Worth, TXI want to see a cover letter that understands what I as a hiring manager am looking for rather than the “recap” of previous job responsibilities and tasks completed. I do that by counting the number of “you/your/yours” versus the number of “I/me/my/mine” in a cover letter. A cover letter that has more instances of “you/your/yours” tells me (as a rule of thumb) that you are speaking to my needs, and not your own. I like a bullet list of key accomplishments that can be backed up with quantitative data — real numbers — that prove to me you have a “proven track record.” A list of responsibilities and tasks says nothing about accomplishments. I also look for how well the candidate understands what I need in the way of a solutions-provider and problem-solver.– J.T. Kirk, J.T. Kirk Industries, author of Confessions of a Hiring Manager Rev. 2.0: Getting to and Staying at the Top of the Hiring Manager’s Short List in a Confused Economy (May 2011)I want to be tantalized and teased by a cover letter! I do not want a rehash of the resume. I want to see the 3-4 juicy accomplishments from a candidate’s career (that match my advertised need). These highlights must excite me to such a level that this candidate becomes a can’t-miss prospect. If I am not swept away by the cover letter, then reading the resume is often anti-climactic and doomed for failure.– Ron Kubitz, recruiting manager, Brayman Construction Corp., Saxonburg, PA[I want to see] evidence that the applicant has read the job description and attempted to describe how their skills match the required duties. If I see they’ve made an effort to address specific job requirements and shown how their skills transfer, I am much more likely to call them in for an interview. The cover letter is intended to tell me why the applicant a) wants and b) would be good at the position. It’s my only window into who they are as an individual. I need this in order to make a decision about whether to interview.– Jessica Oman, owner/CEO, Write Ahead Consulting, Vancouver, BC, CanadaI look for the candidate to first and foremost present a positive and confident, but not cocky, image of himself or herself. I also like to see how the candidate feels he or she can help me and/or my client personally, so taking the time to tailor the cover letter to me and my needs or job description is a big plus in my eyes.– Shilonda Downing, founder, Virtual Work TeamCover letters are appealing if they are personalized and show that the author of the letter has done their homework on me, the company and/or the role. General form letters need not apply.– Mike Sprouse, chief marketer, entrepreneur, author, and philanthropist
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. Check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.