Question: “What is a cover letter — and why is it important?”
by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.
What is a cover letter? It’s a letter of introduction that highlights your key accomplishments and fit for a job opening. A cover letter adds focus to your resume. Few employers seriously consider a resume that is not accompanied by a cover letter; thus, a cover letter needs to be part of your job-search strategy. Each cover letter must be tailored to each job, each employer.
Why is a cover letter so important? A resume is of limited value to an employer if he or she doesn’t know what kind of work you want to do. A cover letter tells the employer the type of position you’re seeking — and exactly how you are qualified for that position.
Your cover letter can explain things that your resume can’t. If you have large gaps in your employment history, reentering the job market or changing the focus of your career, or relocating and conducting a long-distance job-search, a cover letter can explain these circumstances in a positive way.
What are some of the most important tips when writing a cover letter?
- Whenever possible, address your cover letter to a named individual
- Grab the reader’s attention by writing an appealing first paragraph
- Highlight your three to four key accomplishments/skills/experiences
- Focus on the fit between your qualifications and the job requirements
- Whenever possible, relate yourself to the company
- Never include any negative information
- End your letter by requesting an interview
- Mention that you will follow-up your letter — and then do so
- Cover letters should be kept to under one page; electronic versions even shorter
- Avoid all types of mistakes, including typos, misspellings, and grammatical errors
Resources than can help you with your cover letter:
This article is part of a series from The Career Doctor’s Cures & Remedies to Quintessentially Perplexing Career and Job-Hunting Ailments. Read more.
See a list of all the most common college, career, and job questions — and Dr. Hansen’s solutions.
Who is the Career Doctor? Learn more, read his current career column, or browse the column archives when you visit the Career Doctor’s homepage.
Dr. Randall S. Hansen is a nationally recognized career and job-search expert. He is founder of Quintessential Careers, one of the oldest and most comprehensive career development sites on the Web, as well CEO of EmpoweringSites.com. He is also founder of MyCollegeSuccessStory.com and EnhanceMyVocabulary.com. He is publisher of Quintessential Careers Press, including the Quintessential Careers electronic newsletter, QuintZine. Dr. Hansen is also a published author, with several books, chapters in books, and hundreds of articles. He’s often quoted in the media and conducts empowering workshops around the country. Finally, Dr. Hansen is also an educator, having taught at the college level for more than 15 years. Visit his personal Website or reach him by email at randall(at)quintcareers.com. Check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.
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.