Write ‘Great’ Cover Letters

Q.  In an earlier post, you made it clear that cover letters are important to include with a resume.  Could you elaborate on what you consider a great cover letter?  -EM

A.  I can only recall a few “great” cover letters, so I went through a stack of recent ones and read two excellent articles in the current issue of PRSA’s Tactics in order to provide some suggestions. 

The best cover letters get the basics right.  They are short, to the point and typo free.  For starters, formal cover letters must carry a correct inside address, title and salutation.  I received one that was addressed:  Dear E:  (E is the initial of my first name, which I don’t use but it does appear in some directories).  Email cover letters do not require inside addresses or formal salutation–i.e. drop the Dear. 

Susan Balcom Walton, former corporate PR pro and now associate professor of PR at Brigham Young, writes in Tactics that good cover letters are about the job, not just about you.  “Carefully research and consider every job description before you respond,” Walton says. 

Besides highlighting your qualifications and brief description of skills that specifically relate to the job specifications, Walton says your cover letter also can express enthusiasm and explain why the particular opportunity interests you.  “Think of this as your personal sales pitch,” she urges.  “Avoid sounding arrogant and don’t promise to single handedly take the firm to unprecedented levels of success, but do try to exude confidence.” 

If you are sending the letter and resume electronically, only make the resume the attachment.  The transmittal email should be your cover letter, thus avoiding two separate download clicks.  

Mara Woloshin of Woloshin Communications in Portland, Oregon offers the following tips to help get your resume in front of a potential employer: 

  • Avoid creating letters that are obvious and full of cliches.
  • Address your letter to a specific name.
  • Tell employers how you enthusiastically and specifically can serve their needs.
  • It is unacceptable for your application materials to have any typos.
  • Even your mother doesn’t want to hear your life story:  Keep your sentences short.  Keep it succinct.  Use active voice to describe why you are writing, what you have to offer and how you will follow up.

2 comments on this post.
  1. Crystal:

    This is excellent advice. I remember when I started applying for positions, I was terrified to write a cover letter. If you Google cover letters, you will get tons of information and it seems all different. In PRSSA we focused a lot on building a good resume but we rarely discussed the cover letter. I am going to pass along your post to my former PRSSA chapter and let them know this definitely needs to be covered. Thanks for another informative answer!

  2. Ann Woolman:

    Greetings Ron! You are so right. Many even have each paragraph starting with “I” … and so many “I’s” throughout, my impulse is to pitch the letters and the resumes out. “I” is way overused in cover letters … even those of normally strong writers.

    You’ve heard this story: The cover letter was lousy so I ignored the resume. After weeks of interviewing, I reviewed the stack, discovered an awesome resume attached to an “I”-infested letter, interviewed a wonderful talent with the best portfolio I had ever seen, hired her and worked with her for years.

    I told her the back story. That is the last weak letter she ever wrote.

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