This article provides a basic checklist for use in evaluating cover letters you have written, before they are finalized and mailed. It provides a basic list of “do’s” and “don’ts” that can be used as a last minute check to ensure maximum cover-letter effectiveness and impact.
COVER LETTER “DO’S”
1. Keep all cover letters to a single page, no exceptions!
2. Be brief and concise.
3. Eliminate any unnecessary words that add nothing to clarity or meaning.
4. Proofread for poor grammar, spelling, and typos; they can be deadly!
5. Always address letters to a specific individual, never to a general function. 6. Unless responding to an ad where instructions specify differently, always send letters directly to functional managers rather than the human resources or employment department.
7. Even where ads specify you are to send your response to human resources, do the necessary research and send a second copy directly to the manager of your target function.
8. Keep job descriptions brief and pithy.
9. Focus your letter on relevant results and achievements, not just job responsibilities. 10. Highlight significant accomplishments with bullet points; make sure they are seen!
11. Include compensation requirements, but only if you are certain they won’t screen you out from an otherwise attractive opportunity.
12. Include geographical preferences or restrictions, but not if they are likely to screen you out from an otherwise highly desirable opportunity.
13. Except when using the resume letter, be sure to include a well-written resume as an attachment to the cover letter.
14. Stick to standard business letter formats; avoid the creative or exotic.
15. Use only commonly recommended type styles.
16. Make effective use of “white space,” making your letter easy to read.
17. Use standard business paper, 20- or 24-pound bond, either white or buff in color.
COVER LETTER “DON’TS”
1. Never use a cover letter that is more than a single page in length.
2. Don’t be verbose and ramble on-and-on.
3. Don’t use unnecessary words that add little or no meaning to the core message.
4. Avoid allowing poor grammar, bad spelling, or typos to eliminate your employment chances.
5. Never address correspondence to a general function; always use a specific person’s name.
6. Never send your cover letter to human resources or the employment function (unless required by an employment ad).
7. When sending your response to an ad, don’t send it only to the human resources department. Always send a second copy directly to the management of the hiring function.
8. Avoid lengthy job descriptions in the cover letter. These can be boring and waste important space that can otherwise be used to market your value and key accomplishments.
9. Don’t focus your cover letter on job responsibilities; instead focus the reader’s attention on your key achievements and accomplishments (that is, your value).
10. Don’t hide key accomplishments down in the bowels of the letter’s text. Instead, highlight them using bullets and appropriate spacing to make them stand out.
11. Avoid highlighting mundane achievements.
12. Don’t overcrowd text, making your cover letter difficult to read.
13. Don’t include compensation requirements if this may possibly screen you out from a highly desirable opportunity in which you have a strong interest. Keep your options open!
14. Avoid including restrictive language that suggests you are geographically inflexible, especially when applying for that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity you’ve always wanted. You can always say no later.
15. Unless using the resume letter, don’t send just a cover letter. Always include a well-written resume as an attachment.
16. Don’t use strange or uncommon letter formatting; use conventional business formatting only.
17. Avoid using fancy or decorative type styles. Stick to conventional business styles only.
18. Don’t use unusually lightweight or heavyweight papers; stick to either 20- or 24-pound bond (no exotic colors).
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