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Write a Real Cover Letter, Not Just a Resume Rehash

I'm always suspicious when I hear recruiters or career experts say the cover letter is dead. I'm sure there are some companies that don't want cover letters, but most still do. If you're looking for excuses not to write a cover letter, you can find plenty:

  • Nobody reads cover letters anymore;
  • Electronic scanners strip them out;
  • Letter-writing ability has no relevance to the job; and
  • They didn't specifically ask for a cover letter.

Fair enough. But what if nobody reads cover letters … except your would-be boss? Our CEO (who has hired a lot of people in the past few years) says he won't even consider a job candidate who hasn't bothered to write a cover letter. "To me, that says they don't care enough about the job to put the time and effort into it."

Letter-writing may not be relevant to all jobs, but willingness to go the extra mile and attention to detail are. The presence of a cover letter helps prove you possess those qualities; the absence implies you don't.

I suspect the biggest reason people try to get out of writing a cover letter is that they don't know what to write. "I already put everything in my resume! What else can I say?"

Well, here are four tips for writing a standout cover letter that will invite hiring managers to read your resume, but won't rehash every detail:

Drop the name of someone who referred you:

Your former colleague Tim Williams suggested I send you my resume. He and I were discussing how easily my background in ____ could transfer to your ….

Spotlight a particular part of your resume:

I would especially like to direct your attention, as you read my resume, to my four years as the ____ at XYZ Construction, a role that required many of the same skills as this opportunity ….

Point out how your past experience prepared you for the new job:

My three years producing ____ at Smith Company and two years of ___ at Jones Corporation have given me the multi-faceted expertise to successfully implement your ...

Express your interest, enthusiasm, and gratitude:

Your firm's reputation for ____ and my longstanding interest in ____ make this opportunity extremely attractive to me. I appreciate the time you've taken to consider my candidacy, and am eager to take the next step….

So, cover all the bases and write the cover letter (but don't screw it up.) And while you're at it, think about what you'll say in the thank-you notes you send after the interview!

If you're a job seeker, do you use cover letters? If you're a hiring manager, do you read them? Are there certain industries or fields where they are never used? Please share your thoughts with us.

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