Anatomy of a Cover Letter, Part I Print E-mail
Resume and cover letter. They go together like peas and carrots as Forrest Gump would say. A resume is always prefaced with a cover letter, but a cover letter can be the more difficult document to write. In a very small amount of space, a cover letter must accomplish several key tasks: introduce the job seeker; show interest in the job and company; highlight key elements of the job seeker's experience without being repetitive of the resume; and finally, compel the reader to read the resume more closely. That is a great deal of work to be accomplished in about three paragraphs. Many resume writers confess to finding the cover letter more difficult to write than the resume.

Let's break the cover letter down and take a look at the tasks a cover letter must accomplish.

Introduce the job seeker. It is important to make a connection with the reader in the first sentence and that usually is done with some sort of introductory sentence. Such a sentence will provide a frame of reference to the reader so he/she knows the purpose or instigating factors of the cover letter. Why has the cover letter been sent or what has motivated the job seeker to make contact? If you have been referred by someone who is with the company already or who has close ties with the company, this is the place to mention that person by name. Employers always like to hire from within or by word of mouth so mentioning a referrer will give your resume added weight.

Often, the first sentence is a sheer attention grabber. For instance, one of the most compelling introductory sentences I've seen in a cover letter is Project management can be like herding cats. What a vivid mental picture that sentence paints! It compels the reader to read further to find out more about the writer and what he/she knows about project management. It also demonstrates imagination and an out-of-the-box approach. Rather than the boring, rote Enclosed you will find my resume in interest of the position of widget maker. Instead of being boring, make the most of that first sentence.

Show interest in the job and company. Research is crucial to success in job search. The more you can demonstrate your knowledge and interest in a company, the more you will stand above the crowd of other job seekers. Mention new company initiatives in your cover letter or recent news events that have occurred. Possibly allude to your skills in solving a problem the company has or may be experiencing and use that to tie into your background information. Praise the company for recent gains or recognitions. By showing you are informed and well-read on the company, you improve your chances of getting the interview; it shows you are interested in contributing to the company rather than simply focused on what the company can do for you.

Next edition: highlighting the resume without repeating it.