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Killer Mistake - No Cover Letter

by Susan P. Joyce

Even with e-mailed resumes, you need a cover "letter" to help the recruiter understand what you want. Over the past few weeks, several recruiters and employers have shared with me their frustration with job seekers who mail or e-mail their resume without a cover letter.

And, of course, you know what happened to most of the resumes without cover letters - not considered - even if one of them was from the "best qualified" applicant in the whole group.

Typically, everyone on the employers' side is very busy, and they receive more resumes than they need. Most of them don't have the time or the patience to try to figure out what job an applicant wants when competing applicants have made it easier for them.

A cover letter is not just administrivia (a.k.a."meaningless"), another task/test job seekers must succesfully pass. It's a chance to give the recipient critical information about the job you want and also to create enough interest to get your resume checked out.

** So, what should a cover letter do?

1. Explicitly tell them the job you are applying for. Don't make the recipient try to figure out what job you want.

Assume that they don't have the time. It would take an extraordinarily kind (and exceptionally un-busy) person on the receiving end to make such an effort. The probability is very low that any job seeker will be that lucky.

If there is a job number or other unique identifier, be sure to include it and the job title.

If you are not applying for a specific opportunity, tell them the kind of job you want by job title, if you are sure it's an industry-standard job title, and/or brief description.

2. Highlight your qualifications for the job.

"Hi, here's my resume. Thanks." is a useless excuse for a cover letter.

Use the cover letter to "connect the dots" for the employer/recruiter. They have specified that they need someone who can do x; explicitly state that you have done x, assuming that you really have.

If you are not applying for a specific job, summarize your qualifications and skills for the job you've described for #1, above, in a short, succinct bulleted list (not more than 4 or 5 bullets of 1 or 2 lines each).

Focus on making it as easy as possible for the employer to notice you, even when you are "only" e-mailing the resume. If you are truly interested in the job, take the time to sell yourself to the employer by doing a good cover letter.

About Susan Joyce: In 1995, Susan emerged from a corporate career to found NETability, Inc., a Web site development and consulting company, teach online job-hunting skills and grow, the award-winning job search portal. For more than a decade, she has written and spoken extensively on the subject of online job search to groups ranging from the U.S. Department of Labor to local support groups. Susan is truly a pioneer in this field. She has been quoted in TIME Magazine, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and countless other publications, both online and offline. Susan has an M.B.A. in Information Systems and a B.S. in Education.