Wednesday, September 22, 2010 myBiz Blog
Ask the Expert: The Art of a Great Letter by Kelly Cuene

Our Expert, Michelle, is an experienced human resources professional and a UW-Madison alum. In her "Ask an Expert" articles she tackles students' toughest career and recruiting questions, providing an employer's perspective so students can learn what campus recruiters REALLY think. To learn more about Michelle, view her intro post.

Cover letters. Eeesh – I get exhausted just thinking about needing to write one. Some companies require them, some don’t, but the optional letters are what kill me – I, for one, definitely don’t want to spend an hour writing something that won’t actually get me any farther in the hiring process than just submitting a resume.  

Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but cover letters are a necessity. Unless you’re explicitly told that only a resume is required, you should include a cover letter. With that in mind, a few words of wisdom: 

Be specific. I don’t just mean identifying specific qualities that make you amazingly qualified for this perfect position – though those are good to include as well. I’m talking about making sure you write a new cover letter for each company. Sure, you can mix and match points from various cover letters, but don’t get caught forgetting to swap out all the references to company X when you’re now applying to company Y.  

Be concise. Less is always more. The more to-the-point your letter is, the higher chance you have of someone actually reading it in its entirety. State your case and hope they call you for an interview.  

Do your research. Of course this includes researching the company you’re applying to, but also the position for which you’d like to be considered. The more you can tie your cover letter to a specific position and how you’re qualifications match the position duties, the better chance you have of moving forward in the interview process. 

Generic cover letters are easy to pick out and boring to read. They can also send the wrong message – if you’re not willing to spend any time on our first impression of you, how serious are you about this job? So, don’t be one of a million applications – be one in a million.

Do you have questions for our Expert? Leave them in the comments and the Expert will answer them in a future post!