Your cover letter makes your first impression and advertises or previews your resume.

Whether responding to an advertised job listing or sending your resume to a business that could use your skills, a cover letter serves as your introduction. Employers often scan a cover letter to a resume, while an unsolicited resume alone may be put aside or tossed.

Your cover letter should summarize your unique skills and experiences and make the point that you are the right person for the job. Your accompanying resume should then prove your case. To get your resume read, and to get that job interview, your cover letter must do the following six things:

  • 1. Focus on the needs of the employer – Each employer has a specific need. Try to determine that need. Did the previous employee leave unexpectedly? Is the employer in a hurry to hire? If there is a particular skill the employer is looking for? Highlight your experience and training that relates to the employer’s need. Your cover letter should convey the message that you have the specific skills the employer is seeking.
  • 2. Show your knowledge about the company – With the help of the Internet, you should be able to drop a fact or a name into your cover letter to show you’ve done your homework. If you have spoken to someone at the company about the opening, mention them by name in your cover letter. Try something like: “In reviewing the requirements of the position with your Assistant Manager Mary Smith, I believe my skills and experience in Microsoft Access can help solve your data processing needs.” If you offer well-researched suggestions that will work right away for a company, they WILL call you.
  • 3. Briefly state your best qualifications and achievements – Don’t rehash your resume. Simply highlight one or two areas where your skills are a good match to the open position. By mentioning a skill you know the employer needs, you’ll generate interest and help convince them to review your resume and ultimately offer you an interview.
  • 4. Show your enthusiasm for the job – Avoid sounding like 90% of job applicants, who essentially say, “I want a job where I can advance and make more money.” Instead, include something like: “I’m excited about discussing my six years of training and work experience and how I can put those skills to work for ABC Corporation.”
  • 5. State that you will follow up to schedule an interview – If you politely inform the reader that you’ll be calling within a few days (or better yet, a specific date) to answer any questions, you set yourself apart from the crowd with your determination and confidence. Try a phrase such as: “I will call next Wednesday to answer any questions you may have and to explore the possibility of meeting with you in person.” If you’re that specific about a date, make sure you calendar and make the call.
  • 6. Keep your letter short and focused. Many cover letters ramble on in detail for one or even two full pages. Remember that the purpose of the cover letter is to interest the reader enough to look at your resume, not to serve as the resume itself. Show respect for the limited time your reader has, and limit yourself to anywhere between two and four short paragraphs. After you compose your letter, re-read it to see what you can take out. The rule here is: The shorter, the better.

A well thought-out, brief, and to the point cover letter makes a positive impression and heightens the chances your resume will be read – resulting in more interviews.