Brother Ron Barnes
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Guide to Cover Letters


Your cover letter serves several very important functions. It shows how well you express yourself and how well you can answer the fundamental recruiter questions: "What makes you unique?" and "What contributions can you make to my firm?". A cover letter argues your fit with the job presenting your past experience and providing cause for future interest and action. Your cover letter should support your résumé by motivating the reader to review your résumé and to offer you an interview.


1.   NEATNESS COUNTS-No erasures or white-out. Check your spelling and grammar. One applicant said he was well suited for "writting and editing chores... contac t (sic) me at the adrwss (sic) below." Would you give him your editing work? Another writer said she would enjoy "hearing form (sic) us." Word processing spell checkers make mistakes; so proof everything.

2.   Type (don't handwrite) your letter on the same type of paper you used to create your resume. the purpose of your cover letter is to encourage the reader to read your resume. Using the same weight and color of paper creates a unified package. Use white or ivory paper and black ink. With your luck, the person reading your resume will have eyes as bad as mine. Nothing is easier to read than black ink on white paper.

3.   Avoid cluttered desktop publishing. With the advent of PCs, some job seekers feel the urge to "be creative" using various type sizes and fonts. Avoid this in business correspondence. Except in rare cases, business letters should look conservative. If you want to be creative, do so in your choice of words. Save Microsoft Publisher and Corel Draw for your Christmas cards. 

4.   Have an expert critique your cover letter. A friend or relative with business experience is a good prospect. So are the counselors at your local college Career Center or employment service.

Anatomy of a Cover Letter

HEADING-Should be identical to the heading of your resume. This ties the resume to the cover letter. Be sure to include all the information on your resume heading including telephone numbers, email address and other contact information.

DATE-Always date your cover letter. This is documentation that you met the company's deadline for applications.

INSIDE ADDRESS-Should include the name of the person you are writing to and their title. This personalizes the letter and speeds its delivery to the right person. If you are answering an ad tells you to respond to "Personnel" or other cryptic address, you might want to review the information on INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEWS to identify the appropriate contact. Remember that the advertiser will be receiving several responses very quickly. You don't want your research to delay your response.

Include the name and address of the company. If you are answering an ad which does not give this information, you can find addresses for organizations at SUPERPAGES.COM. You can also find the address and other useful information at the organization's website.

SALUTATION-Should be "Dear Mr. (or Ms.)_________:". Never start a cover letter with "To Whom It May Concern". This shows you know nothing about the organization or the job. Nobody will be concerned. Avoid using "Dear Sir:" or "Gentlemen:". There is a good chance your reader will be a woman. If you can not learn the name of the person who will receive your letter, the salutation should be something like "Dear Hiring Manager," or "Dear Human Resources Manager".

PURPOSE STATEMENT-Tells why you are writing the letter. This paragraph should start with a sentence like, "I am writing to apply for your opportunity for a __________ as advertised in the __________".  Use exactly the same wording for the job used in the advertisement. The organization may have several job openings. You want the reader to quickly identify which job you are applying for. Use vacancy number if applicable.

"I have enclosed my resume (or application)". This alerts the reader to look for your resume or application. Hopefully you remembered to ENCLOSE your resume or application. You would be surprised how many people don't.

"You will notice that I have skills and experience in ........". This tells the reader why you think you deserve the job. It also tells them what to look for in your resume and creates interest to read the resume.

INTEREST STATEMENT-Tells why you are interested in the job. The employer wants to hire somebody who wants this particular job. Nobody wants to hire somebody who is just looking for a paycheck. You also want to show the employer you have done your homework and know something about the job and the employer. The more interest you show in the organization and the job, the more interest the employer will show in you.

This paragraph should focus on the aspects of the job and the organization which interest you. Do not mention pay or benefits. The employer wants to know what you will GIVE to the job, not what you expect to GET from the job.

ACTION STATEMENT-"Please contact me as soon as possible to arrange an interview". You want to create a sense of urgency. Tell the employer if you prefer to be contacted at your home or cell phone number. Mention the best times to call. This increases your chances of making contact.

An interview is an exchange of information. Mention your desire to learn more about the job and the organization. Mention your desire to share additional information about your ability to benefit the organization. You can't cram your whole life into a resume. Let the employer know you have more good news for them at the interview. This creates excitement and a desire for the employer to pick up the telephone and call you. End with a positive statement such as, "I look forward to meeting and working with you."

SIGNATURE-Sign your cover letter. If you are using a word processing program, scan your signature into your computer or use Paint to create a signature. This personalizes the cover letter. Merely typing your name shows that you have automated the process and do not consider the opening to be worth the extra effort of a signature. You are going to get thousands of dollars from this job. The employer likes to think this is worth a little extra effort. He's right.

You can find templates to help you write a powerful cover letter by clicking

For the QuintCareers Tutorial on writing effective cover letters, click

View samples of cover letters at:

Monster Career Center

Virginia Tech Career Services