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by Vault Careers | August 01, 2011


Don’t believe the myth - cover letters are still important in your job search.  A good cover letter is your one chance to make an impact when applying for a job opening.  If your cover letter is terrible, then chances are that your resume won’t even be seen.  But writing a cover letter is hard.  There is the possibility that you will write too much or too little.  And the opportunities for mistakes are high.  So, how does one create a cover letter that takes an applicant to the next level?  Here are some questions to ask before completing the task:

Questions to Ask Before Writing a Cover Letter
Who Is Reading Your Application? 

In terms of addressing your letter, find out the name of the person who will receive your application. Nothing indicates a rushed or lazy application more than "To whom it may concern" or “Dear sir/madam.” Do your research.  Recruiters and managers can tell the difference between those that understand the company and the position advertised and those who are sending out as many formulaic cover letters as possible without paying extra attention to details.

What Are You Applying For?

Large companies are receiving up to hundreds of applications a day for sometimes hundreds of jobs. If you don’t tell them what position you are applying for, then how will they know? Always begin your cover letter by stating the title of the position being applied for. This could be done in a reference field (i.e. Re: Trainee Analyst Position).  Here is a hint – most job postings tell you exactly how you should address this matter and if you make a mistake, it shows that you are not good at following the simplest of directions.  A mistake here probably ruins any chance at a job.     

Where Is The Job? 

Today, job seekers need to think outside the box when applying for a job and that sometimes means applying for positions in other parts of the country.  If the job requires a move, it needs to be addressed in the cover letter.  You should express your desire to relocate and explain how you plan to accomplish this task.  You need to find a place to live, move your belongings, settling in, etc.  Will you stay with friends of family until you can find a place?  If you don’t express a plan of action, most companies outside your current destination won’t take your application seriously. 

When Are You Available to Work?

A lot of positions inquire about your availability and most applicants are quick to respond “immediately,” when in truth, that may not indeed be the case.  If you are a student, do you have to wait until you graduate before starting a job?  Can you start immediately after graduation?  If you are currently employed, how much notice would you need to give to your employer? The answers to these questions are important.  Don’t waste people’s time if you are not ready to work within their needs.  You will already start the process on a bad foot.

Why Are You Interested in the Job?  Why Should They Hire You?

This is the most important part of the cover letter.  You shouldn’t apply to positions just because you need a job and one is available.  Your cover letter should express general interest in the job and the company you want to work for.  Explain what you like about the company and how the job is in sync with your own career aspirations. And why are you a perfect fit for this job?  What separates you from the rest of the candidates applying for the position?

How Should Your Cover Letter Look?

Your cover letter should have the name and address of the firm you are applying to, as well as the date, on the top left of the page if you are applying by post or fax. If you are applying by email, which is the norm these days, then simply remember to make sure the vacancy reference number from the job posting is in the subject line, as often large companies request this so that they can sort applications coming in. When ending your letter, always remember to thank the person you are applying to and remember to include details of how and when you can be contacted for more information or to arrange an interview.  Finally, your cover letter should never be more than one page, including addresses and salutations, so keep it short and succinct.


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