Tips for Planning & Writing a Winning Cover Letter

By: R.J. Ruppenthal, JD


Most people don't take the time to plan or write a winning cover letter. So why should you? Because "most people" are your competition, and their loss can be your gain. A good cover letter can help you "stand out" as a great candidate. It can grab the employer's attention, give you the edge you need, and help you get the job you want.

The cover letter introduces you to a potential employer. It allows you to highlight the skills and background on your resume, and gives you a chance to show the employer that you can be a good fit for his/her needs. Moreover, a good letter can prove that you are intelligent, well organized, thoughtful, and literate. This alone may put you well ahead of the pack. Worst case scenario? You spend a couple of hours writing a great cover letter, but the employer never reads it. Time wasted? Absolutely not. Once you've spent all that energy describing your skills and how they'll benefit the employer, you won't easily forget it.and you'll sound really smart at the interview! Also, you can use the same framework for your letter again, and revise it to suit other job opportunities that come up in the future. Planning and writing a good cover letter is never a waste.

So where should you start? Begin by imagining your audience and thinking about who will be reading your letter. You need to use the letter as a quick introduction to yourself and the skills/experience you bring to the position. Ultimately, your goal is to convince the person reading your letter that you are a good fit for the employer's needs. Ideally, your resume and cover letter will help you 'stand out' and make the employer take notice of you. But at this stage, you'll probably just be happy if they move you on to the next level, so keep that short-term goal in mind also. Don't take any chances on style; you should write in a formal and respectful tone at all times.

Find out all you can about the employing company or institution before you begin. If you know the actual name of the person who will be reading your resume and cover letter, you can sometimes learn more about his or her background, and perhaps fine-tune your letter to include any additional information you find. Most importantly, understand the requirements and responsibilities of the position for which you are applying and address these in your letter. Highlight your strengths and match them as closely as possible with the employer's needs. If there is no actual description of the position in a website posting or want ad, you can either call the employer to find out more or take a good guess as to their needs based on what you do know.

Finally, keep your winning cover letter simple and well organized in a basic paragraph form. Your audience is always pressed for time and you'll score important points with a letter that is concise and easy to follow. Don't forget to proofread your letter once it's finished or have someone else look it over; little mistakes can kill your application in a hurry, and you'll make a much better impression if you spend the time to brush it up. I see a lot of resumes and cover letters every day, and very few are well planned and written. If you follow the simple tips I've explained above to plan and write your cover letter, you will be well on your way to more interviews. Best of luck in your job search, and please feel free to e-mail me (address on website) if you have questions or want more info.

R.J. Ruppenthal, 2003