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12 Best Practices for a Winning Cover Letter - Part 1

8/12/2009 4:51:24 PM

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By: Gordon Walter

The cover letter is often an afterthought. A job candidate sees an ad in the paper or online and scrambles to get a resume in the organization's possession. The cover letter sometimes is a hastily written, patchy communication that is little more than a hand-off of resume. This is far removed from the objective that cover letters should achieve. A well-written cover letter introduces you, prompts the reader to want to know more about you, and establishes your credentials. A good cover letter partners nicely with your resume and a strong networking process. Following is a list of the first six best practices that your cover letter must and/or in some cases must not reflect.

Address the letter to specific person whenever possible. The personal touch is a subtle way of showing that you care and took extra effort to find out who and where to send the letter.

Ensure all comments are in good taste. Your cover letter is a semi-formal introduction of you, and should contain only comments and information presenting you in the best possible light. Even if you know the reader, such things as humor, politically-oriented allusions, etc., are very ill-advised to be included in cover letters as well as Professional Resumes. You likely do not know its recipients well enough to include comments which potentially could be misinterpreted at best or be offensive at worst.

Personalize the letter with a comment about the recipient organization through use of contractions such as “you” and “I.” By personalizing letter with aforementioned name/address, when you put it in first person format, it can communicate something of a sense that you are talking directly to the reader.

Keep sentences/paragraphs simple and short. Presume the reader is very busy and short on time. This presumption is likely not far from the truth, and writing your letter with this in mind will show consideration for the reader that can only help your reception by them.

State a problem the organization has that you can solve. Some would argue this is an old-fashioned approach, but organizations are looking for people with solutions to problems, and to the extent you demonstrate perceptive sensitivity to problems they are facing and a sense of what to do about them will likely call positive attention to you.

Use a conversational, direct style. Personally, I am not drawn to candidate’s cover letters that are rambling or “cute.” Yes, let something of your personality shine through, but get to it and communicate effectively.

In my next post, I’ll look at the second six best practices for a quality cover letter.


Gordon Walter is a professional resume maker / Resume writer with Reliable Resumes. Reliable Resumes is an Resume Service providing resume writing services for Professional Resumes and Executive Resumes. He also provides interview training and articles and information about how to make a resume on his website at

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