Writing a cover letter
The what, why and how!

Writing a cover letter - actually having to do it, seems to send people into a panic.

One of the most common questions I'm asked as a job search coach is for advice on how to write a cover letter - a good one!

It is perhaps the job application document that causes difficulty for most people when they apply for a job.

So, let's take a look at what these documents are, and how they are used by employers and recruiters.

What is a cover letter?

In job search circles, a cover letter usually refers to a letter which has your resume, and/or other job application documentation as an attachment - hence the term 'cover letter', or 'covering letter'.

Just so you know, and to avoid the potential for any future confusion about what is the correct term, here are some other descriptions or terms which are commonly used to describe the same type of document:

  • Job application letters
  • Job application covering letter
  • Resume cover letter
  • Cover letter for resumes

There is no, single correct term - they all refer to the same type of document

Writing a cover letter
What's the purpose of the letter?

From a purely business etiquette viewpoint, the answer to this question is.....the purpose of writing a cover letter is to to explain to the reader why you are writing to them.

Simply said, these types of letters are a courtesy to the reader, so that they know how to deal with your correspondence to them.

Now let's put etiquette in it's proper place - yes, you want your reader to know that the reason you are writing to them is in response to a job ad, or some type of career opportunity with that organisation.

But.....when writing a cover letter you need to do much more than that. You must sell the idea that you are THE ONE!

Your letter has to be written in a style, and with the right sort of content, that compels the reader to actually read what you have written, and to be interested in what you are saying to them.

The secrets to doing this are here - cover letter advice.

Cover letter tips

As a part of the overall impression you create, make sure that your letter follows the correct business letter writing conventions.

This means setting your letter out the correct way, use the right form of salutation, be the right length and so on.

Getting these letter writing basics right is an essential first step in creating a positive impression with the reader.

Check that you've got the basics covered here - cover letter tips.

Cover letters for resumes

In cases where you are supplying documents such as your resume, you would use your cover letter to alert the reader to the fact that you've included some attachments.

Before email existed, could you imagine the confusion..... a resume turning up in the post, in an envelope, all by itself, with no explanation about why it was sent, which advertised position the resume is related to, and so on?

In fact this was not an unusual occurrence. You can also probably imagine how quickly this document found its way to the trash!

The purpose of cover letters for resumes can be summarised as being:

  • An explanation that you are interested in, and are applying for a position, and....why you are applying.
  • To provide a summary of your relevant skills, knowledge, attitudes, education, and experience.
  • To communicate your desire to meet the employer/reader, or participate in an interview so that you can further elaborate on why you would be a suitable employee.

The basics of writing cover letters for resumes, including the structure, length of the letter, correct salutations, and so on are are covered in cover letter tips.

It would be a serious tactical mistake in writing a cover letter if you think that your purpose is to just supply this information.

Everything about the letter - the way it is set out, what you actually write, the tone of your writing - all must be carefully planned so that you make a positive impression on the reader.

All your job application letters must be a strong, professional, compelling sales pitch to the reader.

Writing a cover letter - different types of letters

While the purpose of all cover letters is ultimately to land you a job, there are various types of cover letters that you may want to write. They fall into the following categories:

  • A letter in response to a job advertisement - sent either by standard post, or by email. Basically these are standard job application letters.
  • A cold call, or prospecting letter. You can send this type of letter to organisations that are on your list of preferred employers which you have put together as part of your carer development plan. It's called a prospecting cover letter because you don't know if a position exists or not - you're checking out the prospect of being employed there.
  • A referral letter. This is closely related to a cold call letter. You'll be writing to a prospective employer because of a suggestion from one of your contacts who is known both to you, and the person that you are writing to.

Each type of letter requires a different type of approach - but in all of them you will need to make some sort of sales pitch.

Writing a cover letter
How employers deal with them

Why is it relevant to know this you ask?

Well.....if you know what is likely to happen at the receiving end you can take this information into account when you write your letter. Let's look first at what happens if you send a letter through the post.

The truth is, how people and organisations deal with your letter differs - it depends on the preference of the reader, and/or the person who processes job application letters.

Cover letters with resumes could be dealt with in any of the following ways:

  • Your letter is read first, before the resume. In these instances the reader likes to get some 'sense' or 'feeling' about the person, which is often not possible when reading a resume.
  • Your resume is read first, then your letter. Here the reader prefers to quickly scan the resume and make sure that the candidate has required mix and depth of skills and experience. If the candidate passes this 'first test", then the reader may look at the covering letter to learn about why the person has applied for the position.
  • The job application letter is either not read, or rarely read. This happens more often than you think. Why? So called 'form letters', 'generic letters', or a poorly written, hard to read letter are quickly recognised, and the employer concluded it is not worth the effort of reading it.

Cover letter tips

Given the range of possible treatments of your letter at the receiving end, what then should you be doing when writing a cover letter?

The answer is.....you must write your job application letters as strong, stand alone documents that sell the reader on your suitability for the position.

This means that your letter, by itself, should be so well written, and so targeted in its message, that it alone will convince the reader that you should be seriously considered for an interview.

In other words.....write your letter on the assumption that your resume won't be read.

Email cover letters

Cover letters for resumes that you send by email require the same care and attention that you would put into a normal business letter.

There are also some special techniques that you can use to maximise the chances that your email will be looked at, and not deleted.

Go to this link - email cover letter to find out what the techniques are for writing a cover letter that is to be sent by email..

Writing a cover letter - cold call letters

Cold contacting employers can be a very important, and fruitful part of your job search strategy.

A well written cold call, or prospecting letter can open the way for a meeting or discussion with an employer that can often lead to a job. It's all in how you ask, and what you ask.

Learn what's involved in writing a cold call cover letter here.

Oh!......don't forget to have a look at the One click cover letter - It really is a very clever and effective cover letter writing tool of you're not confident at writing.

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Related Links

Cover letter tips - hints and tips for writing a cover letter that will grab the reader's attention
Cover letter advice - you need to make a sales pitch in your cover letter. Here's what to do
Email cover letter - here's what to do if you are sending your job application by email
Cold call cover letter - here are some ideas to help you make a cold call approach to an employer, in writing