Cover LetterThere are no two ways about it: Writing a targeted, compelling cover letter takes time, but doing so has a higher pay-off than otherwise. Hiring managers need to be convinced that you are the stronger bet for the job than all the other applicants positioning for it. A well-written cover letter can accomplish that better than a resume. In fact, when asked which they would rather read—a resume or cover letter, if only given the opportunity to read one—most employers opt for the cover letter.

About Powerful Cover Letters

  • They provide a narrative opportunity to emphasize your grasp of the job’s requirements and how your particular skills and accomplishments map to the job.
  • Your cover letter is a necessary introduction for a face-to-face interview. You’re alerting decision makers of your presence and that you recognize their specific needs for the role they wish to fill, which a resume cannot do.
  • Cover letters are a great way to illustrate your chops as a business writer; one who understands the art of persuasion.
  • Hiring managers notice when you put a little elbow grease into your cover letter. Since most job seekers don’t, you can make everyone else’s laziness work to your advantage!
  • Some employers only read cover letters. If they see that you can write well and that you truly understand their needs, they may not even bother with your resume. They may rather proceed to contact you straightaway.


The Ugly

Here’s what 90% of job seekers think is a passable cover letter (it’s not), alongside what’s going through your target employer’s mind as they’re reading it:


To Whom It May Concern: I know these letters are often boilerplate, but come on! Couldn’t you have written my name?

My name is John Smith. Nice to meet you, John. I am writing to express interest in the Senior Project Manager position at your company. At what company? Mine? And how/where did you hear about the position? I have worked in project management for 12 years and am therefore a good fit for this position. Why? Do you think that everyone with 12 years of PM experience is a good fit for this position? If so, it doesn’t sound like you read the job description very carefully.

I am diligent, ethical and work well either alone or with a team. You and everyone else. Am I to take you on your word? Listen. If you want me to believe that you work well in teams then tell me about a project you’ve worked on that involved extensive teamwork: What was your role? What did you accomplish? What was the reporting structure? What processes did you introduce that facilitated the team’s success? What data can you share to prove your success? Given the opportunity I will bring these same qualities to your company. Please don’t.


A cover letter is not a Facebook or Twitter post intended for a wide audience. It needs to be a targeted and individualized communication with a single, highly-selective reader. Come on. You know the difference between receiving a personalized letter vs. a mass communiqué. The former makes you feel special and respected; the latter like a faceless, nameless number among many. Think about the friend who sends you their annual family update newsletter right around the holidays: This was a busy year for the Jackson Family. Trish began violin lessons (I hope she sticks with it this time!) and Charlie took his first steps—he’s gonna be a football player like his dad! Received adjacent to a holiday card with insights and humor directed specifically at you, which friend are you more likely to call on New Year’s?

When you write a thoughtful, targeted cover letter that addresses the specific needs of an employer, he or she will better appreciate the fact that you identify with their industry, their company and the challenges they face. They will get the idea that you mean business: that you don’t want to work just anywhere…you want to work with them at their firm.