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What’s the difference between a cover letter and a resume? And do you need both? Even if the job description doesn’t ask for a cover letter, you should always send one. It is your best opportunity to explain why all the facts in your resume along with your current career interests make you the perfect candidate for this particular job.

Sending a cover letter also shows a potential employer that you respect his/her time and are interested enough to go the extra mile. It’s also where you can explain any job gaps or extraordinary circumstances that aren’t addressed in your resume.

Not only are each of these documents fulfilling a different purpose, but they also have different structures and tones. Think of your resume as a “product” and your cover letter is the “sales pitch” for the resume. Your resume is written in a more formal style, while your cover letter is more conversational. Of course, both are working together to get you an interview and ultimately, a job offer.

A cover letter follows the form of a business letter. In general,

  • The date
  • The full name and address of the recipient as well as the name of the company.
  • A professional salutation using the recruiter’s actual name (you can often find it on LinkedIn, in the job description, or on the company website.)
  • The body of the letter is typically two to three paragraphs
  • A closing (“Sincerely” is always a good choice)

Make sure you keep it specific to the job at hand. You’ll need to tailor each cover letter to the specific job for which you’re applying and you should include the main keywords/phrases from the job listing. Everything in your cover letter should be relevant to this specific job and there shouldn’t be anything in there that isn’t supported by your resume.

What NOT to include:
Feel free to include any personal connections that are relevant to this particular job. For example, if you worked at a “sister company” or had previous experience with this company that has some bearing on this job, you can mention it here. But if it’s not relevant to this job, leave it out. You also don’t want to include any references here. The hiring manager will request those if they’re interested in moving forward. Also, this isn’t the place to mention salary requirements. That will also come up later in the process.

Pro Tips:

Do your research before writing your letter. It pays to know all you can about the company, the culture, and its management. Review the web page to learn about the company goals and if you can, do an information interview with a current employee to find out some additional information. Once you’ve done all you can, you can start crafting your cover letter.

Use your opening paragraph to catch the reader’s interest. Introduce yourself in a way that will make the recruiter keep reading. Tell him/her what your interest is in their company and how you came to know about it.

The body of the letter should only be 2 or 3 paragraphs. Be concise and specific about what qualities make you a great candidate for this job. Explain how you can contribute and be successful.

In the closing paragraph, show your enthusiasm and express your interest and availability.

Don’t forget to check for spelling and grammar errors and have someone you trust to review the letter before you send it. DO NOT skip this step.

Make sure your cover letter complements your resume, adds personality, and gives the hiring manager a cohesive look at the whole package. It should not be a regurgitation of your resume but should simply expand on a few key accomplishments as they relate to this particular job.

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