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How Cover Letters Can Help Or Hurt Job Seekers


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I have to say that I have been feeling badly lately for the poor cover letter. Actually, I have been feeling badly lately for the poor job seeker who tends to neglect the cover letter, passing it off as just a quick intro to presenting the more important piece, the resume.

I certainly understand how that happens. After all, we are becoming a nation of job seekers successfully sold on the concept that we need a professionally written resume in order to conduct an effective job search. So much emphasis has been placed on the resume that the cover letter is often an afterthought.

As a former hiring manager who reviewed hundreds of resumes AND cover letters, I can tell you that the cover letter should be anything but an afterthought. When I was looking for top-quality candidates, I used to focus my attention first and foremost on cover letters.

In fact, I would use the cover letter as my first screen of candidates. Like most hiring managers in large-scale corporations, HR would send up to me their top picks after reading through the dirge of applicants and conducting phone interviews. My first order of business was to read the cover letter. If the cover letter was fraught with spelling and grammar errors, sounded like it was written for any and all potential employers, and was nothing more than some scripted template, I refused to even read the resume.

Why? Because I saw the cover letter as the job seeker's chance to communicate with me directly. After all, the letter was supposedly written to me or to my company. The resume, I knew, was targeted toward my industry or to someone hiring for a particular position. I figured that someone who lacked an ability to communicate with me, knowing that they were applying for a position in my company, was not the kind of individual I wanted to fill my position.

Listen. I recognize how hard it is for job seekers to put together quality resumes and cover letters, much less to find the time to get them out the door. But, hey, last time I checked, they were looking for work. . . . I don't think it is too much to ask to take a few extra moments and personalize the letter a bit more.

Here is what always impressed me:

1. Why are you choosing to apply here? (Whatever you do, make it sound like you are interested in the company as a whole, not just because you want a job. )
2. What do you know about my company?
3. What do you know about the products/services we provide?
4. What types of clients do we serve?
5. How do you see yourself fitting in to the mission of our organization?

A simple perusal of the company website can certainly help answer these questions. I don't think anyone expects you to have insider knowledge. But it is nice to know that you are considering a candidate who took a few extra minutes to tailor the letter to your company. No one likes to think they are potentially hiring someone who is willing to work anywhere, even if that is true.

So who am I anyway? Why do I think my advice is so valuable?

My name is Stephen Van Vreede. My company is called No Stone Unturned, and I have been in the career consulting business since 2002 with 8 years of hiring experience prior to that.

The short story is that I have an MBA in Marketing from Villanova University and a dual B. in Finance & Logistics from the University of Maryland. I am a certified professional résumé writer (CPRW) and a member of the Professional Association of Résumé Writers and Career Coaches (PARW/CC). As I mentioned, I paid my dues in the corporate world eventually running a large-scale call center for a major truck rental company, and I have spent the past 6 years with No Stone Unturned, assisting job seekers in achieving their goals.

I know that my products will work for you because they are based on common-sense principles leveraged with good, solid expertise and knowledge of the job search process. After working with countless job seekers, I have become more and more convinced that most of them do not properly prepare for a job search and rely way too much on online sites and trendy articles to tell them what to do. Thus, they waste a lot of time, money, and energy.

If you still aren't sure whether our services are right for you, feel free to give me a call toll-free at 1-866-755-9800 or better yet, sign up to receive my free Job Search Advice eGuide today.

In February 2009, I am launching a new group job hunting networking site: Noddle Place. Check it out at


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