Writing an Effective Cover Letter

See if you can solve this little mystery.

You've attended workshops and read books on resume writing and now you have a resume to die for. Even better, with your qualifications, the position you're applying for suits you to a T! You're simply the perfect candidate. So why does your prospective employer throw your application package in the trash?

The answer is simple. "Send Not Thy Resume Naked into the World," one of the chapter titles from Karen Hansen's Dynamic Cover Letters, is a truth to live by. Outstanding resumes need a partner -- in the form of a cover letter -- to introduce both them and you to potential bosses. Therefore, cover letters are equally, if not more important in today's competitive hunt for jobs.

"An effective cover letter can be a mini-advertisement for you," says Lawrence Bliss, director of career services at the University of Southern Maine. "You know you're a good candidate. Your job with the cover letter is to let the employer know that you're a good candidate."

A great letter that details how you're perfect for the job can clinch an interview; an ineffective one often can't even be rescued by a great resume, since the employer probably won't be interested enough to read on. First impressions are everything, especially in the vocational arena. And a cover letter dictates that first impression.

Fear not. Our How To section will cover all the basics when it comes to crafting a cover letter. You'll learn what it takes to write one with both content and layout in mind. We'll also explain some of the key points to consider and understand before you even write your first word.

Learning Goals

At the completion of all of the segments of this Building Skills article, you should be able to:

  • design a winning cover letter that shows off your skills and your unique personality, while paying attention to proper business form and mechanics
  • list and understand the six purposes of a cover letter
  • outline the key ideas of your cover letter by preparing analyses of the company, the position, and the relevance of your own qualifications
  • compose a cover letter with an eye for standards of content, format and presentation
  • apply the suggested tips from the experts to polish your work and avoid common mistakes
  • use the listed resources for further information on the topic of cover letters or other topics related to job hunting