Use your cover letter as an advertisement for, not just a summary of, your résumé.

Share story

Do you feel that a cover letter is an old-fashioned, outmoded, unnecessarily formal document no one ever looks at? Like something mandatory and just a bit boring?

Well, then you are missing out on all the goodness a great cover letter can do for your job hunt.

Here are some tips to get you on the right path:

Know that the purpose of a cover letter is to convince its recipient that you’re exactly the person he or she is looking for. Don’t just summarize your résumé; make them want to read your résumé.

Keep in mind that a winning cover letter is less about you than it is about the person/company you’re writing. So demonstrate that you know something about the company’s products/services, challenges and goals.

Cite examples, using facts and figures from your résumé, showing you have the skills to help this company. It’s nice to use bullet points here. By the way, this is why you need to write a unique cover letter for each job you apply to.

Make it short. Three paragraphs is a good length. Take a look at the many cover letter samples and templates available on the Internet. Use them for inspiration, but do not just copy one of them. Write your own.

The Seattle Times Jobs columnist Karen Burns
The Seattle Times Jobs columnist Karen Burns

Also, send it as a PDF. Most every computer can open a PDF file. Plus, PDFs give you complete control over how the document appears on the screen.

Say why you want to work for the company. Is it because of its great reputation, its approach to innovation? Saying so will show you’ve put more thought into your application than most people do.

Finally, mention someone you and the recipient of your letter know in common. Yes, we all know the very best way to secure new employment is through a personal contact. But if you don’t have that, you could still mention, for example, how much you enjoyed watching the company’s CEO give a TED talk. This personal touch will help make your cover letter more memorable.

Bottom line: The sooner you stop thinking of a cover letter as something that just “goes with” your résumé, and start thinking of it as a powerful piece of marketing in its own right, the better off you will be.

Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use and of the novel “The Paris Effect.” Email her at