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Hiatt Career Corner: Grab their attention with a well-written cover letter

Published: February 13, 2009
Section: Opinions


I am often asked, “Do I really need to send a cover letter along with my resume?” and “Do potential employers even read cover letters?” The answer to both is a resounding YES!

The cover letter plays a crucial role in engaging an employer to review your resume and call you in for an interview. Think of your resume as a professional time-line and your cover letter as the targeted narrative that illustrates your most relevant skills and experiences, thereby showing the employer that YOU are the perfect fit for their available job opportunity.

A one page document; three to four paragraphs in length, the cover letter is a key piece of your self-marketing campaign and serves as an example of your writing ability. Remember, effective writing skills are highly valued by employers.

Address your letter to the attention of a specific contact within the organization; either a member of the human resources team or someone from a specific department. You should feel free to research online to find an appropriate name and title or to call the employer to inquire whom the best person is to address your letter. Having a specific name helps to establish a personal and targeted tone and will greatly assist you with your job application follow-up process.

The goal of your opening paragraph is to grab the reader’s attention and entice him or her to read further. Communicate your interest in the position for which you are applying, and establish who you are and why you are specifically interested in their organization. Create an obvious, clear “connection” between you and the potential employer.

Also, if you have been referred to him or her by a mutual acquaintance, the opening paragraph is the best place to mention that.

The body of your cover letter is usually one to two paragraphs and should convey your specific qualifications for the position. Your primary task here is to show the employer that you are the best “fit” for their open position.

Review the job description and evaluate the specific skills, knowledge areas, and personal attributes that the employer is looking for in a potential candidate. Then illustrate these characteristics through the use of two or three specific examples from your past experiences; consider class projects, internships, summer or part-time jobs, volunteer opportunities, campus leadership positions. Show that you do in fact possess the qualifications that they are seeking.

DO NOT reiterate your entire resume; simply highlight the most relevant skills and experiences that show you are the strongest candidate for the position.

The closing paragraph is brief. Leave the employer with a very clear sense of your interest in the position and the contribution you would make to their organization. Indicate that your resume is enclosed or attached for review. Mention that you would welcome the opportunity to meet with him or her to discuss the needs of the position and your qualifications. Tell the employer how to best get in touch with you; via e-mail or phone. And state that you will be following up to confirm that your materials have been received. Include a “thank you” statement i.e., “Thank you for reviewing my materials.”

End your letter with a formal salutation, such as, “Sincerely yours.” Below the salutation, add your signature then type your name beneath it.

Editor’s Note: The writer is the Assistant Director for Alumni Services at the Hiatt Career Center.