8 Rules for Cover Letters

Regardless of what kind of letter you’re writing, use this advice from recruiters to guide your efforts and maximize your chances for success:

  1. Remember Your Purpose: “Candidates need to ask themselves why they’re writing to the recruiter in the first place,” Anderson says. “Are you answering an ad? Introducing yourself? Or just spamming some generic letter out, which is never going to be very effective.”
  2. Be Brief: “Brevity is extremely important on any cover letter to a recruiter,” says Anderson, who prefers cover letters be a half page or shorter.
  3. Narrow Your Focus: When replying to an advertised opening, your cover letter will focus on a specific opportunity. But when writing a referral or cold cover letter, many candidates are too broad in their job targets. “Don’t try to make yourself all things to all people in your cover letter,” Anderson advises. “As a recruiter, I’m looking for specialists with certain sets of expertise, not generalists.”
  4. Set Realistic Goals: Don’t use the cover letter to try to secure a position several steps above your current level. “Recruiters can only place people into positions that are the next logical step for them,” Anderson explains.
  5. Emphasize Your Main Selling Points: “I like to see cover letters that profile a candidate’s top qualifications,” says Oates. “Whether that’s a high GPA, a unique skill set or a strong record of professional advancement, write it down.”
  6. Explain Unemployment or Gaps in Work History: Otherwise-qualified candidates who don’t articulate good reasons for being out of a job or for a gap in their employment run a high risk of being screened out.
  7. Never Overstate Your Qualifications: Oates advises candidates to avoid exaggerating qualifications in order to be seen as a perfect match to an advertised opening. “Your cover letter, like your resume, should be completely truthful and accurate,” Oates says. “Never falsify or misrepresent your background.”
  8. Follow the Rules of Business Writing: “I like to see coherency, fluid sentences and concise writing,” Anderson says. “Leave out the flowery language and generic descriptions, don’t include personal details like your marital status, don’t forget to include your contact information and of course, make sure you spell-check.” Consult business-writing references for guidance.

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