Education Career Services

June 6, 2009

Cover Letter Perfect

Several days ago I was asked the following: “With so many sites and people offering advice, how does one write the perfect cove letter?

June 05_2009Being a career coach and professional writer, I receive questions of this nature often.  I’ll be the first to tell you, there is no such thing as a “perfect cover letter.”  When creating a cover letter (and resume) considerations must be taken into account, including your knowledge, skills, and abilities for a particular position.  Thus far, I’m not being specific, and there is reason.

Cover letter content is subjective and varies from individual to individual as well as from industry to industry.  As a result, I recommend you take a fluid approach to cover letter fundamentals and gather information from outside sources but do not be tied by it.  When I write for students through executive professionals, my goal is to use data triangulation and fuse client knowledge and practice into one impactful strategy.  In this way, cover letter subjectivity is replaced by an objective approach.

To bring it home, according to leading career management associations, effective cover letters must satisfy the following core fundamental rules:

Structural integrity: The typical cover letter consists of three or four paragraphs:

  • First paragraph briefly introduces a target and immediate value you offer.  This is the time to construct a foundation of your knowledge, skills, and accomplishments.
    • Second and third paragraph supports your foundation from the previous paragraph.  This is the time to prove you are the right candidate at minimal risk.  At this stage, the reader is not looking for what you “say” but what you “show.”  Numbers and accomplishments are critical as the adage “past performance predicts future performance” rules everything else.  As a result, many recommend the use of bullets (3 to 5) to draw the reader’s eye.
    • Final paragraph is your call to action.  Consider this the last round of a heavyweight match and the score is tied.  Suggest action and always follow up on it.
  • Solid perfection: Cover letters (as all documents) must be flawless and original:
    • Designed not from a generic template.  The mere design “tells” a great deal about the strategic vision and character of the author.
    • Formatted for reader-friendliness.  There should be plenty of white space to prove your ability to create an organized and efficient document.  If fonts or margins are too small or large, the message you are sending may not be in your favor.
    • Grammatically perfect.  Simply put, there can be no errors.  One error “tells” the reader you are sloppy, not careful, and/or satisfied with less than excellence.

 Your cover letter is not just an introduction; it is the written vehicle lifting you above the crowd and bridging your career dreams to reality.  Unfortunately, you may run across individuals and/or firms who take advantage of cover letter conflict.  So be careful and if you decide assistance is required, place yourself in the reader’s position and examine the finished product with an objective mind.  In any situation, trust yourself in knowing the elements of what makes YOUR perfect cover letter and follow the practice of the top two bullets. 

 I recently published my ninth book dealing with career management issues.  My latest, Resumes & Cover Letters: Writing to Stand Out, goes into great depth with today’s question.  I appreciate the opportunity to bring my research and experience into this question.

 Definitely let me know if YOU have any questions or would like to comment on today’s blog.

 Danny Huffman, MA, CPRW, CPCC, CEIP
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