10 Rules of cover letter writing

By Sharon Graham.

Although there are no rules per se when creating your résumé and cover letter, there are certain things you can do to make sure your cover letter catches the attention of your prospective employer in a positive way.

  1. Personalize your cover letter whenever possible. Your cover letter should be addressed to a specific person whenever that information is available. “To whom it may concern” form letters are likely to indicate that the writer is indiscriminately sending their resume to everyone.
  2. Customize your cover letter to suit the industry, company, and position that you are applying for. Make sure to tell the reader that you are interested in this specific position and explain why. Highlight the aspects of your background that will be most relevant to the company.
  3. Convey focused career goals. Even if you would be willing to take any job they would offer you, don’t say so.
  4. Be original. Give your prospective employer a taste of what is to come, not by simply summarizing the résumé. Make sure that you back up your claims with unique examples.
  5. Do not say anything negative about your employment situation or your life in general. This is not the place to explain why you left or are leaving an employer. Negatives are best delivered in person so that your personality and humanity can counter them.
  6. Cut to the chase. A cover letter is not an autobiography. It should be short and sweet, brief and to the point. It should demonstrate that you meet or exceed the requirements listed in the job description and that you are interested in the position. Any superfluous information will limit the chances of having all your marketing material read.
  7. Your cover letter should be easy to scan. It should have a logical progression. Bunched up text and long paragraphs frustrate recruiters, who have to review many cover letters and resumes on an ongoing basis.
  8. Talk more about what you can do for the prospective employer than about what they can do for you. Most employers hire people because they need to accomplish a task. Your cover letter should be centered on their needs, not your wants. Keep “I” and “me” to a minimum.
  9. Avoid providing a salary history. This kind of information is more likely to cost you a job than not. If the job ad says that resumes without a salary history will not be considered, give a historical salary range and state that your salary requirements are flexible.
  10. Check and recheck your cover letter for typos and other errors. Make sure to get other people’s opinions of your letter before you send it.