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Cover Letters: True or False

Q: Ask ten different experts about cover letters and they will give you to different answers. I’m so confused I have no idea what works and what doesn’t.  Here are four statements that produce a variety of opinions:

1.   T     F         Every cover letter should have three main thoughts.

2.   T     F         One good cover letter will work for every employer.

3.   T     F         A cover letter should convey your personality, style, and taste.

4.   T     F         Employers don't expect perfection. A typo in your cover letter isn't                         a sufficient reason to reject your resume.

Please tell me what you think.

A: Here are my thoughts to add to the other 10 experts.

1. Every cover letter should have three main thoughts. True

Did the word "every" bamboozle you, because you thought that every, always, and never are dead giveaways to a false statement? This question is a good example of how the exception proves the rule.

All good cover letters should include:

    * Why you are specifically interested in the potential employer

    * Why the employer should be particularly interested in you

    * When and how you will be contacting your addressee to follow up on your       letter and schedule an appointment.

This approach sets you apart from your competition, states exactly why an employer needs to talk to you, and makes clear your intention to proactively pursue this opportunity.

Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world where you always know the name of the company, the individual you are contacting and the specific qualifications required for the job. If you are replying to a blind ad, which only gives a box number or provides a hazy or nonexistent job description, you can't compose an ideal cover letter. Consequently, you should carefully consider the likelihood of a semi-generic letter yielding positive results. If you decide the opening is worth pursuing, go for it, but don't waste your time on marginal possibilities.

2. One good cover letter will work for every employer. False

Your cover letter and resume should be targeted sales tools, not generic bits of prose, which attempt to be all things to all people. Consider how a salesperson approaches a customer who might be interested in a product or service. First, she determines the client's specific needs. Then she prepares a verbal/written proposal highlighting how she will fulfill them. She knows that discussing extraneous products is a waste of everyone's valuable time.

Cover letters that go to companies unsolicited or in response to an ad generally have a very poor track record for getting their writers jobs, because they fail to address the potential employer's needs and expectations. If you want your cover letter and resume to result in an interview, do some research and tailor it to grab the recruiter's attention.

3. A cover letter should convey your personality, style and taste. True

Cover letters written by professional cover letter writers can be deadly, especially if they are developed with little or no input from you. All of us have pet phrases and formats when we write. If you give a resume consultant a free hand in composing your letter, you may not recognize yourself.

To assure that your letter represents you personally, write it yourself, or if you are consumed by writer's block, collaborate with a savvy professional. Your ideas and phraseology should play a pivotal role in helping your letter stand out from the crowd and giving the recruiter a tantalizing glimpse of your potential contribution.

4. Employers don't expect perfection. A typo in your cover letter isn't a sufficient reason to reject an application. False

Even the most understanding employer will be very critical of typos in your cover letter and resume. She assumes you are exhibiting your very best effort in these two documents. If she sees a mistake in one of them, it is only natural for her to question your attention to detail and concern for quality.

Before you give or send a cover letter to anyone, ask a friend to review it. Because you have written it yourself, you may automatically read what you intend to say, rather than what is actually there. Your friend, on the other hand, has no preconceived notions and is more likely to catch a missing "and" or a misspelled word.

If you decide to use a service to send out a number of resumes, always check each document before it is mailed. Like the taxpayer whose income tax return is audited because his accountant made a mistake, the buck stops with you. Your cover letter preparer may feel just terrible about his unfortunate glitch, but it's your career that's on the line.

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