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By now most of us are familiar with the contemporary resume and what goes into it. Many of us wonder what goes into a cover letter these days or do you even need one? Do hiring managers like me even read the cover letter these days? The answer is a definite yes – a loud and clear – yes. Yes I read cover letters and I was disappointed if there was none.

In today’s online world, where does the cover letter come in and what should be in it? If you are doing an online resume there is still a place for the cover letter. Perhaps it does not look like the traditional place, but there usually is a space for additional comments or anything else you want to say. This is where you put your electronic version of the cover letter. Believe me, if that information was provided to me along with the electronic resume, I would read it and if it was well thought out and well written, it would carry more weight than the resume.

So what makes a well written and well thought out cover letter? What is in it? Unlike the resume, the cover letter is less about what’s in it and more about the story it tells. Of course you want your skills, experience and education front and center IF it directly matches the job requirements. But the cover letter is about how you present those skills, experience and education. What story do they tell about you? What story do you tell about them? As a hiring manager this has as much relevance for me as your resume does.

Types of Cover Letters

There are really two types of cover letters but your goal with each is the same – to enhance your resume and give more information about your professional career. There is the cover letter that you write to go along with a specific job opening that you are applying for and there is the generic cover letter

What’s in a Cover Letter –Specific Job Opening?

What goes into this type of cover letter is very important. Here you can talk about the skills, experience and education you have and how it relates to the job you are applying for. If you’ve had a break in employment – illness, childcare etc. – this is a great opportunity to present your background in a different light than the resume does.

· Why are you sending this resume? Attach the resume to the job opening with the answer to this question. “I am contacting you in respect to your opening in the IT department.”

· Cover in detail what your experience, skills and education are and relate these directly and specifically to the job you are applying for. This is the most important part of the cover letter and the most critical aspects of it. Spend the most time and energy on this. Relate to the person reading this how you can/will help them or their company improve, make more money, or in some way reach their goals. Use very specific examples of your success in other positions as you relate it to this company.

For instance: “At company C I increased sales by 43% and would like the opportunity to do so at Company A”

· Give the reader of sense of you – your enthusiasm, your work ethic, your energy, your motivation and reason for wanting to work in this company, in this job and your motivation for wanting to succeed in this job. Again this is a critical aspect of this cover letter.

· Close strong by reiterating briefly and succinctly why and how you can help the company through this job. Now ask for the interview. Assume it. Use a statement like “I look forward to the opportunity to discuss in person how my experience can make a difference for Company A.”

Generic Cover Letter

The difference here is you obviously don’t know if there are job openings or what they might be. You are fishing. There is nothing wrong with fishing. If done well you just might make the catch. The differences in your cover letter come in its orientation.

· Why are you sending the resume? Because you admire the company, its values and mission and want to be a part of it. You don’t know if they have any openings but you feel you can make a contribution to their mission.

· Cover in detail what your experience, skills and education are and relate these directly and specifically to the mission of the company.

· Just like in the cover letter for a specific job, in this cover letter Relate to the person reading this how you can/will help them or their company improve, make more money, or in some way reach their goals. Use very specific examples of your success in other positions as you relate it to this company.

For instance: “At company C I increased sales by 43% and would like the opportunity to do so at Company A”.

· Give a brief overview of your values and your mission as it relates to the company’s mission.

· Close by asking to meet to discuss any possibilities within the company or anyone the hiring manager might know otherwise.

Conclusion

All cover letters should be a page or less, never more. Use a font style and size that matches your resume if possible. No matter what type of cover letter you are using be sure to tell your story. This is your chance to be personal in a way that your resume cannot be. Take advantage of that and your cover letter can go a long way toward getting a hiring manager like me to look closely at your resume.