Does Your Cover Letter Pass or Fail?

John Krautzel
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Employers may or may not find value in a cover letter that comes with a resume or application. A short introduction adds a personal touch that could give you an extra edge against a candidate with equal skills, experience and qualifications. Find out if your efforts pass or fail by asking yourself these three questions.

1. Does Your Letter Say How You Help the Company?

A great cover letter gives the employer a reason to want more details about your professional life. List one of your top attributes to start the conversation. Each sentence focuses on establishing your credibility, demonstrating the value the employer gets for its investment or showing your passion for the job.

Bullet points draw the eye by setting text apart from your sentences. List quantifiable statistics from your previous employment to prove what you've done in the past. Send a clear message at the end of the letter saying what happens next, such as contacting you for an interview. Landing the interview is one reason why you write this letter.

2. Does Your Letter Have a Clear Purpose?

Your cover letter creates a first impression for a potential employer, and it lets the company know you're a perfect fit for a particular position. If you initiated this contact from a referral, mention that person's name. Then write a personal anecdote, two to three sentences long, explaining your passion for the company and the position.

If you're writing a cover letter based on a job description, use keywords from the job posting to highlight your major skills and qualifications. Tailor this cover letter to the employer's wants based on what you saw on the job board. This letter can be less creative than a referral-based letter; tout how your experiences fit the top-most qualifications the employer wants for the position. Either type of letter is designed to leave a lasting impression on the person who reads it.

3. Does Your Letter Impress Everyone?

Showing you have the confidence to do the job doesn't mean sprinkling flashy industry jargon, not found in the job description, throughout the cover letter. Relate how you impacted a previous employer directly by your actions. This facet of your story is unique to you, setting you apart from others. No one else can say your $500,000 IT overhaul saved Smith Enterprises $2 million per year in labor costs because your ideas streamlined dozens of processes. The overhaul made staffers more efficient at their jobs, lowered expenses and increased profits.

The idea behind a cover letter is to give a basic sense of your talent; you pass or fail based on whether you get a call back for an interview. A targeted piece of writing can make a difference in whether you hear from HR.

Photo courtesy of Sebastien Wiertz at


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