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Pair Your Powerful Resume with a Great Cover Letter

Every great resume deserves a great cover letter.

A cover letter is crucial because it's the first thing the hiring manager sees. And you only have seconds to grab his or her attention. So, you have to make sure the cover letter stands out from the dozens--or maybe even hundreds--of others that cross the hiring manager's desk each week.

You might ask, why bother at all with a cover letter? If I only have a few seconds to grab a recruiter's attention, why not do it with a resume? The answer is, that even the best resume is a rather dry listing of accomplishments and abilities. By definition, it's a summary.

But with a cover letter, you have an opportunity to let a little bit of your personality shine through and to talk directly to the hiring manager. Plus, it's your chance to show off a little of what you know about the company and to tell why you're interested in the job.

Use the steps we've outlined here and you'll be well on your way to a dynamite cover letter.


There are 3 basic parts to making a connection:

1. Draft a strong opening paragraph.

2. Show your personality.

3. Research and target your audience.

* Draft a Strong Opening Paragraph.

You must capture the hiring manager's interest immediately. The best way to do this is with a dynamic opening sentence and paragraph. Be sure to refer to the position you're vying for, and state why you are qualified for the job.

Remember to frame your statements in terms of how you can benefit the company, not the other way around.

If you can, mention the name of someone the hiring manager knows and respects. For example, you could say, "Joe Smith recommended that I contact you about your opening for a shift manager." Or, "My associate, Janet Brown, told me such wonderful things about Jones Company that I couldn't wait to send you my resume."

Rhetorical questions that make the hiring manager think can also work well. This should be a question that can lead into some way that you can benefit the company. For example, "Are you struggling with the rising costs of [fill in the blank]? I can cut your costs by 30%. Here's how..."

Beginning with a quote is another good way to grab the reader's attention. Although you must choose your quote wisely. And then you have to make sure you transition into the rest of your letter gracefully.

It's also important to know what tone to set in this opening paragraph. In some cases, this may depend on the industry in which you're trying to get a job. For example, a friendly, informal tone may work well if you're applying to a small, entrepreneurial company. While a more formal, professional tone might work better for a large law firm or corporation. On the other hand, a bold statement might work really well if you're seeking a leadership or sales position.

* Show Your Personality

While your writing style should be matched to your audience to some extent, as explained above, it should also reflect your personality. Start to give your prospective employer a sense of who you are and what you value.

* Research and Target Your Audience

You want to sell the hiring manager on the belief that you're a great fit for the company. The only way to do this is if you know enough about the company to understand what makes it tick. Be sure you've taken the time to learn a bit about their mission, their products, their history, and their goals for the future. This will help you communicate hiring you will benefit them.

Always address the cover letter to a specific person.

Take the time to call the company if necessary to learn the name of the person doing the interviewing. This, in itself, says a lot about your initiative and attention to detail.


Your cover letter should sell you as the product. So, make sure you know what skills the company needs and then describe how you have what they are looking for. Pick one or two of your best accomplishments or abilities, and highlight them in your letter. Sure, they're listed on your resume too, but this tactic makes sure the hiring manager sees them right away.

If it makes sense to list a few accomplishments, then list them as bullets. This will draw the reader's attention to that section of the letter right away. And after all, what you have to offer is the most important part of this letter.


Powerfully Ideally, you want to leave your reader hungering to know more about you. But you also want to be proactive. So, rather than ending your letter with the common statement, "I look forward to your call," say you'll call them in a few days to arrange a time to meet. If you don't have a phone number, and couldn't find on during your research, then try to provide an incentive for them to call you.

Some people say they're going on vacation or out of town after a certain date and ask to meet prior to that. Others say they'll be in an area at a certain date and time and ask for the interview during that period. Be creative, but make it as real--and company- oriented--as you can.


Finally, it's important that your cover letter be easy to read and professional looking.

Kathi MacNaughton, a freelance writer and editor, has years of management and recruitment experience. For tips & advice on writing powerful resumes & cover letters, see Copyright 2004 Kathi MacNaughton. All rights reserved.

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