Monday, January 3, 2011

Technical Resumes: Part 4 (Cover Letter)

In the previous post I completed the description of the advice I typically give when I'm asked to review a resume.  In this post, I cover a related topic: the cover letter.  I was going to cover LinkedIn as well but that's a larger topic that deserves it's own space.

Cover Letter

Some people spend considerable effort writing their cover letter.  Having read thousands of resumes (many with cover letters attached) I'm less convinced of their value.  If you've done your homework writing a concise resume with relevant content and a good Overview then a long cover letter is unnecessary.  Many resume reviewers don't even open the cover letter or they shuffle it behind the resume.  That said, there can be some value in a cover letter but just don't agonize over it.  Spend your time on your resume and customizing the Overview.

Like the resume itself, the format of your cover letter is a matter of personal style.  As always, I'm a fan of "less is more" and prefer a simple, traditional business letter layout.  Let your word processing package help you with a format that appeals to you.  I often use a separate font and colour for my name and contact information but everything else is in a simple, sans serif font in black "ink".

I stick to a three paragraph format.  The first and last paragraphs are extremely short.  The first simply states that position or positions I am applying for.  The last paragraph thanks the reader for taking the time to review my qualifications and offers to meet with them to explore the possibility of a mutual fit (don't forget that you're looking for a good employer as much as they are looking for a good employee).

The middle paragraph is a little longer but I still try to keep it to maybe three sentences.  I use this paragraph to draw links between the advertised position(s) and the my experience.  My goal is to peak interest in my experience and maybe offer a hint at my personality.  Unlike the resume, the cover letter gives you an opportunity to put on a personal face.  Address the reader by name (if you know the name of the hiring manager).  Use pronouns like "I".  Express your excitement at the opportunity.

Finally, if you are sending a paper cover letter then always sign the paper with your signature.  I prefer blue ink to set the signature apart from the black text.


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