Write the Perfect Cover Letter

A good cover letter can help your resume float to the top of the pile.

If you’re searching for a job, you’ve likely spent a lot of time honing your resume. There’s no doubt that a strong resume is important, but don’t underestimate the value of a good cover letter. After all, the cover letter prefaces the resume—so if you want your resume to be read, then you better write a cover letter that is compelling enough to keep prospective employers reading. Here are some dos and don’ts for writing the perfect cover letter.

DON’T

  • Don’t regurgitate what your resume says. Your cover letter is valuable space to sell yourself in a slightly more creative, less standardized format than a resume. Don’t waste that space being redundant. What’s more—don’t waste your reader’s time. Prospective employers are reading hundreds of resumes; don’t waste their valuable time repeating yourself.
  • Don’t use the same cover letter for every position. You may be able to get away with this with your resume (though you really shouldn’t), but don’t try to make one cover letter work for every position you apply for.

DO

  • Customize your cover letter. Write a targeted letter that addresses the exact position for which you are applying and show why you fit the description.
  • Address your letter to the right person. Avoid sending a “to whom it may concern” letter at all costs. Instead, take the time to determine the proper recipient. This not only personalizes the letter, it shows initiative.
  • Be brief. A cover letter should be short and sweet. Essentially, it’s a sales pitch—and the product you’re selling is you. You want to write just enough to pique your reader’s interest and entice them to read your resume (and then call you to schedule an interview). Limit yourself to three concise paragraphs.
  • Be professional. Use a professional, respectful tone. Use proper spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Your cover letter is a reflection of how you’ll communicate with prospective clients and customers if you are hired—show that you’re up to the task.
  • Use a strong lead. Avoid stating the obvious: “I’m writing in response to the ad you placed for an event planner.” Of course you are. Don’t waste space with that. Instead, try something like this: “With over ten years as a wedding planner and five years managing the special events division at an exclusive resort, I’m an ideal candidate to be your new event planner.”
  • Be interesting. Provide a snippet of what you can offer the prospective employer beyond what your resume says about you. “Event planning is an adventure in averting catastrophe and ensuring that events are executed without a hitch—I’ve transformed an outdoor wedding into an elegant indoor affair in a matter of 30 minutes when a freak hailstorm threatened to ruin the big day; found new guest speakers when the original speaker canceled at the last minute; and solved menu crises when the fresh lobsters didn’t make it in due to canceled flights. The show must always go on.” Your resume will say that you are organized and detail-oriented, but your cover letter will show how you put those skills to use.
  • Close with a next step. You want to entice the employer to call you. “If you’re looking for an experienced event planner who can juggle multiple tasks and think fast on her feet, I think I might have a lot to offer you. I would love to discuss the details of this position with you. May I follow up with a phone call next week?” Chances are you won’t have to—because they’ll be calling you.