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Judge a Resume by Its Cover (Letter)

Kate Traynor

Packaging really does count. If you send a potential employer your resume but don’t include a well-written cover letter, you’re not likely to get a job interview.

A good cover letter tells a potential employer who you are and why you are the right person for the position.

If you state in your cover letter that you’re looking for a position "in a pharmacy," you don’t distinguish yourself from other job applicants. Be specific. State that you want to work in a home infusion pharmacy, for example.

Although you may apply for several jobs, it’s important to write a personalized cover letter for each position. To do this, you’ll have to do some research on the potential employer. Since many employers have Web sites, you may be able to find out most of what you need to know over the Internet.

With a little Web browsing, you might learn that the potential employer is the largest pediatric hospital in the Midwest, for example, or has a new coronary care unit and a fully automated ambulatory care pharmacy. With this kind of knowledge, you can easily craft a couple of sentences about why you’re excited about the work and what specific skills you can bring to the organization.

While you’re researching the potential employer, find out the name and title of the person who will read your cover letter and resume. Address your documents to that person. To obtain this information, you may need to call the organization’s main telephone number and ask to speak with someone in the human resources department.

When you’re ready to write your cover letter, purchase plain white or off-white stationery, preferably the same color that you used for your resume.

Select your typeface with care. Some employers scan cover letters and resumes into a database, so avoid fancy type styles in favor of easy-to-read ones.

If you send your material by e-mail, you don’t have to worry about paper type, but you still need to write a cover letter.

There’s no rule that says your cover letter has to follow a specific format, but it’s a good idea to use a standard, businesslike style. Inc.,  a general-interest Web site with irreverent but sensible advice about writing cover letters, recommends the following format:

  • Put your contact information—name, address, telephone number, and e-mail address—in the upper right-hand corner of the cover letter, with the date underneath. A bit below the date, at the left margin, type in the recipient’s name and address. Make absolutely certain that everything in this section is spelled correctly.
  • Strive for a professional tone. Don’t overdo the friendly touch. The person reading your letter doesn’t want to know about your hobbies unless they relate directly to the job. And don’t include your photograph with the cover letter.
  • State in the first paragraph the reason you’ve written the letter. Tell the employer which position you want and where you saw the job advertised. State why this particular job interests you.
  • Use the second paragraph to state the skills you would bring to the job and your qualifications for the position. Be careful not to rehash your resume. For example, your resume might say that you interned at an anticoagulation clinic. Your cover letter should briefly discuss what you learned at the clinic and how the new organization could benefit from your skills.
  • Show in the third paragraph that you did your research. Paint a clear picture of how well you would fit into that specific organization. But be concise, since the entire cover letter should not exceed one page.
  • Close the letter with a brief paragraph thanking the letter recipient for considering you for the job, and respectfully state your interest in scheduling an interview.
  • Before you send your cover letter, check it carefully for typographical and grammatical errors. Better yet, have someone else proofread it for you. It’s very easy to miss errors when you check your own writing. If you use an old cover letter as a template, make sure you update all of the information that needs to be changed.

If you want to know what not to do when you write a cover letter, offers real-life examples of mistakes, excerpted from The Adams Cover Letter Almanac.