Exposing Cover Letter Myths

Your cover letter is a first impression to potential employers. If you expect to be a successful job seeker, you'll want to know how to attract positive attention with your cover letter, while avoiding common mistakes.

Believing the myths that follow can kill your cover letter before it has a chance to sell your skills.

It's okay to send your resume without a cover letter

False! Unless you like to send your resume into other people's trashcans, make sure that a cover letter accompanies your resume.

Your cover letter summarizes your resume

False! Your cover letter should put your resume in context — it should draw attention to your strengths and present nonresume material that can make the difference between you and you're your next closest competitor when the interviewing decision is made.

A cover letter merely introduces your resume

False! Your cover letter is much more than a routing slip for your resume. Your letter is also ultimately a silent force, enticing the reader to scour your resume. Some employers believe cover letters are more important than resumes when choosing candidates to interview. If your cover letter doesn't flesh out the person presented in your resume, you may never get to meet the reader.

You can routinely use a generic greeting — "Dear Employer"

False! Research your target organization until you have the name and gender of the person who will review your resume. Double-check for correct spelling and proper job titles. When you can't uncover the correct name and must rely on a generic greeting, Dear Employer is as good as anything. Don't assume gender and use Gentlemen for your salutation.

Keep your cover letter really, really short — like a paragraph

False! The length of your cover letter depends not upon absolute rules of measurement, but upon the amount of content you have to convey. When the letter escorts a resume, it should be one page in length, with one to six paragraphs; when your letter substitutes for a resume, two to three pages is the max.

A handwritten cover letter is best — it's personal

False! Employers may assume you are way behind the times if you don't use a computer's word processor, or they may be unable to read your penmanship. If an employer wants a sample of your handwriting, the employer will request one. Your only handwriting should be your signature at the end, written in black or blue ink.

Resumes and networking are infinitely more important than cover letters in a job search

False! You need the tools of marketing materials — cover letters and resumes — in your quest for job leads, which include recruitment advertising response, networking, and direct application among the most productive techniques. No one component is provably more important than the others.

Anyone can find a job — if your cover letter isn't working, the letter is at fault

False! Your marketing materials — a cover letter or resume — can become an easy focus for your anxieties about a job search; therefore blaming the marketing materials is convenient. Consequently, job seekers often think if they can only whip their marketing materials into perfect shape, the other parts of the search will turn out favorably. The truth is, all parts of your search must be up and running.

Your cover letter gets you a job

False! To succeed in your job search, you need a strategy for finding job leads and a first rate resume supported by a red hot cover letter. In addition, you need marketable skills, appropriate personal qualities, interviewing strengths, and the right references. It's the total package that determines who wins the job.

The cover letter is your chance to talk about your personal life and feelings

False! Your resume talks about you; your cover letter talks about your intended employer — and how your employer can benefit from the splendid assets you offer. Describe special benefits that set you above other applicants.

Include salary history and expectations in your cover letter

False! Save the salary discussion for the interview. You can be eliminated at this stage if your salary history is considered too high, too low, or too static. Don't get into it. If an ad requests such information, write that your salary is negotiable and that you'd be happy to discuss the issue during an interview.

After you send a letter, the employer carries the ball

False! No matter how terrific you are, most employers have no time for hunting you down unless they need you right this very second. If you don't get an acknowledgment (probably an automated reply) that your cover note or letter arrived, call or e-mail to confirm.

Sending your letter by courier is an attention-getter

False! Unless time is of the essence, save your money. Anyone who cares how your letter arrives usually doesn't have the power to hire you. Mail usually filters through office staffers before reaching hiring managers. Even a courier envelope that costs you a meal is likely to be opened by nonhiring hands. E-mail and faxes may get the hiring manager's attention, because they often route straight to your target.

When mailing, use a standard business envelope

False! Now that your documents face a good chance of being scanned and stored by job computers, inserting your letter and resume flat and unfolded into a 10" x 13" envelope is safer. Creases from folding may damage your document's text in scanning systems. By using a larger envelope, you have a huge edge over thousands of other job seekers who don't know that their marketing materials should arrive scanner-ready.

Paper quality always has a great effect on your image

False! And True! Both humans and computers read cover letters and resumes. For a finger-friendly read, paper quality counts.

For a computer-friendly read, the quality of paper doesn't matter at all — the finest paper becomes just another pretty electronic face. Your cover letter and resume paper should match and should be white or off-white smooth paper, sized 8.5" x 11". Avoid glossy or coarse textures that can cause scanners to misread. Don't use colored paper — especially blue, green, or gray, which may scan in as shades of gray that obscure your letter's text.

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