It’s odd, but one of the most common searches that pulls people here is the term “cover letter”.  Not exactly the sexiest of searches (I have yet to see “hot recruiter” show up – sigh…).  That said, got me thinking that this is probably an area I should touch on again – if nothing else, a quick do/ don’t list.

First off – length & format:

No more than one page – to quote Pascal (Twain stole it from him): “The present letter is a very long one, simply because I had no leisure to make it shorter.”  Show people you know how to get to the heart of the matter – this matters in business.

3 paragraphs.  Remember the old essay advice from grammar school on up?  Say what you’re going to say, say it, and then tell them what you just said. 

First paragraph: “I’m applying for this job.  I’m a great fit for it, because I did XYZ job, (OR) I’m not an obvious fit but am actually great, because I did/ do XYZ.”

Second: “Here’s what I do so well at what I do, which makes me a great fit for this job.  Here’s a couple of concrete examples of successes that I know are gonna make you droll over me in regards to this little ole’ job you have open. (OR)  While I’m not an obvious fit for XYZ, consider that my hobby/ passion is X, the part of my job that I really kick-tail at is Y, and Z is part of my nature – I can do the work, and also bring a valuable outside the box approach to this role – hiring me will make you look like you’re able to find unique solutions to problems (this open job everyone needs you to fill), and will be a brag story for you as I kick tail at the role.”

Third: “So, that’s why it makes sense to bring me in – I can do the work, I’m a nice person, and hey look at that, I know how to write a conise, effective communication.”

Next: Overall tone.

There’s a fine line between cheeky & cheesy.  If you don’t know how to dance right on it, I’d just keep in moderately informal

It’s okay to use the first person in a cover letter

Never, ever, ever, write a cover letter in “IM speak” (a la, “i am ritin to apply 4 the job U posted”).  That’s a true, sad story – don’t let it be yours

Read through the company’s Web site, and try to get a feel for their overall “voice”.  If it’s a hip, cutting edge, “god I wanna work there”, software company, then don’t get too stuffy.

Just don’t get too scary when you get informal – be conversational, but not just-had-a-few-beers conversational.

Make sure you address it to the right person. Usually, if the firm’s recruiter is any good,they’ll have made their contact info easy to find.  Nothing I hate worse than a cover letter that starts off “Dear Sir/ Madam” (okay, that last one’s a lie – there are lots of things I hate worse than that, but I do still hate it).

Don’t rely on spell-check. 

Check your spelling with it, and then by hand.  Check it again by hand.  Read the thing backwards (well, word by word) so that you don’t get caught up in the flow of reading it and miss something.  Have someone you know proof it if at all possible.

As an example, when someone writes me and says that they’re “Martial” status is married, I know several things: they get way too personal & don’t know where to draw the line in business communications; they rely on spell-check; their marriage is in trouble.

Email beats snailmail.  It’s just weird getting a resume & cover letter mailed to you.

Some words to keep out of the letter altogether

Vast: no one, and not you either, has “vast” understanding of Word.  That’s just weird

Liaison: In part because “to liaise” is defined by me as “to avoid doing real work.  to scurry like a crab scuttling backwards between people who are actually doing work”  Also in part because I bet you misspell it in the cover letter.  Just saying

 That’s all I got – good luck to us all.