Home > Tips > Cover Letters

How to Write a Cover Letter

by Bill Nicholson, Resumes That Jump
Originally published: Apr 12, 2009

We are in the worst economy of the last 75 years. Jobs are shrinking, unemployment is increasing and there are fewer spots at the table for those of you who want to find a job or change jobs (more on changing jobs later). There is some good news…the job market, in terms of finding openings, is much more efficient as a result of postings on the internet; however, there is accompanying bad news. All of the people competing for that job have the same tools at their disposal that you do, so how do you get a leg up on them?

Let’s assume that everyone has used Resumes That Jump, or a firm of comparable quality, to help produce a first-class resume, which can be fine-tuned to the needs of each job to which you apply. Let’s also assume that you have the appropriate credentials and are therefore qualified to apply for the job. We can also assume that there will be several hundred, if not thousand, responses to that job opening.

So, how do you separate yourself from the field and end up being one of the ten or fifteen resumes that the company will pay close attention to? One way is with an attractive, compelling cover letter. A cover letter that is going to get somebody to pay attention to your resume is going to be concise, well-written and specifically address what you can do for this particular employer, as it relates to the job that you are applying for and the company as a whole. It should also indicate that you have been smart enough to research the company and incorporate some key component of the company’s mission statement, core values or other critical data into your letter.

The best cover letters start out with a brief introduction as to who you are and why you think that you can help the company continue to be successful or, if they are having problems, help them address a particular issue that they may have. Your letter needs to be enthusiastic and upbeat ... companies want to hire people who want to join them in their quest and who are excited about that opportunity.

The body of your letter needs to outline three to five meaningful accomplishments that you have achieved during the course of your career, which have specific relevancy to this potential employer and this job opportunity. These statements need to be crisp and backed-up by facts and/or figures. People want employees who can make them money, save them money, or solve a problem. This part of the letter is your opportunity to indicate how you have done that in the past.

The next part of the letter should specifically address the job opening and any additional research that you have done on that opening or on the company. This section also may be a place where, if you are not the perfect candidate (i.e., you have the skills, but are transferring those skills from one industry to another), that you elaborate on why you think this transformation will be an easy one for you and why your previous background enhances your chance of being successful.

Many times, the best employee may be one who came out of another industry – let me give you an example. When I ran a lending area for a bank in Western Pennsylvania, the bank wanted to expand their residential loan production and I hired three loan originators. The first one that I hired, who turned out to be very successful, had never worked in the mortgage origination business, but understood finance, and I felt as if this person could be trained to be successful, based upon her enthusiasm and work ethic. She worked in the finance and insurance (F&I) area of a car dealership and was used to working long hours, six days a week. She also knew how to close a deal and build rapport with clients. She was a winner from the get-go and the next two people that I hired also came out of auto dealerships F&I departments. My point is that there are many skills that are transferrable and, in some cases, your former background may make you even more successful in a new job than someone who, on the surface, may have better previous job experience…but it is up to you to connect the dots and make this argument.

The last part of your letter should be a closing which summarizes the one or two strongest arguments that you have for being considered for this job. If you are applying on-line, it is going to be difficult for you to follow-up; if you are responding in another form or fashion, it may be appropriate for you to indicate that you will call within a week to see about scheduling an appointment.