Cover Letter

I have heard some HR people tell me that they don’t even read the cover letter. Oddly enough, these are the same companies on my “I won’t work for these companies” list. For most companies, cover letters are important. Send a different cover letter for each job for which you apply. Keep it short. Keep it simple. Keep it to the point.

The 5-paragraph cover letter

  1. Opening paragraph. Tell them what position you are applying for and where you found the posting. Include a job number if one is given in the ad.
    • If you can drop a name, here’s the place to do it. “So-and-so suggested I send you my resume.”
  2. Your 30-second commercial.
  3. A short accomplishments list – bulleted if necessary.
  4. Other skills relevant to the job (in my case this is usually Microsoft Project)
  5. Closing. In my case, I have a web page, and I want them to go to it. I have never gotten a call based on my web page, but those who interview me, generally have gone to the web page before talking to me. Variations on this theme are
    • I will call you next Thursday to discuss this position (in the rare event that you actually have contact information).
    • You can get additional information by calling me at xxx-xxx-xxxx.
    • You could say, “I look forward to hearing from you.” but that sounds weak. I prefer to challenge them to take the next step rather than sit back and wait for them to take it.

Here’s a sample:

I am applying for the Project Manager (AF1234) posted on

I am an IT professional with 15 years’ experience1 in software application development serving as project manager, quality assurance manager, product delivery manger, software development team manager2, and the associated hands-on positions.

My most relevant work to this position was with XYZ Company where I cut customer complaint rates by 90%, turn around time by 67% and was credited with two customer “saves.”

I am fully competent in Microsoft Office especially: Project, Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Visio2. I have used these tools in conjunction with web publishing software to manage projects and post reports over an intranet.

You can get additional information on my web page, or by calling me at (XXX) XXX-XXXX.

  1. I actually have more like 30 years experience, but I don’t tell them that. They can do the math and figure out that I am ancient.
  2. I juggle the position of these items depending upon the job for which I am applying.

Notice that the letter is short with short sentences, short paragraphs and a lot of white space. I want them to be able to read it at a glace. Ideally they should be able to read it between the time they let go of it and it falls completely into the trash can.

Having said that you need to send a new cover letter for each position for which you apply, you can see that it doesn’t have to be totally new. There are a lot of reusable components.

Other touchy issues:

What do I use as a salutation?

  •   If you have a name use it. Unless there is a reason to use a title (such as “Dr.” or “The Honorable” etc.), don’t use one.
  • Don’t assume gender. “Dear Robin Smith” will work if the person’s name is Robin Smith no matter which rest room Robin uses.
  • If you don’t have a name, use a title. “Dear Hiring Manager” works very well.

How do I skirt the salary requirement?

  • Ignore it if you can. If they really want you, they will call.
  • I use the following “formula”. In 1996 I was making $X1. My last position paid $X2 with a bonus of $X3. I have held positions that have paid as high as $X4. Where I fit in your organization depends on what the entire employment package looks like.
    • It so happens that X2 is about 50% bigger than X1 (which indicates that I am “promotable”) and X4 is somewhat more than X2 indicating that I am willing to take a step backwards.