Imagine that you are meeting someone for the first time. You extend your hand in greeting, and you are met with the limp fish; a handshake that is disinterested, weak, or lacking in confidence.
As an interviewer, I have also met with the bone crushers and arm rattlers who have left much stronger impressions than required. In a sense, cover letters are similar to handshakes—they are your opportunity to make a good first impression.
Karin Reynolds is the Deputy Superintendent for Academy School District 20 in Colorado Springs and regularly leads training sessions for student teachers to help them prepare for their professional careers. Her main recommendation is to research the organization so that applicants can demonstrate that they understand what the employer is looking for.
She also recommends finding a balance between humility and ego. “Even though the job search process requires some ego,” Ms. Reynolds said, “stating ‘I’m the best person for the job’ just shows too much ego.”
Her advice includes:
- Provide a cover letter whenever it is requested“If we don’t get the cover letter, that indicates that they cannot follow directions,” Ms. Reynolds said.
- Briefly address gaps in your work history if needed, or if there is anything that might be questioned.
- The cover letter should be a brief summary of what follows in the application—not too long and not too short.
- Grammatical errors are red flags to the reader.
- Avoid using form letters and tailor the cover letter for the organization you send it to.
- Address the person rather than using “To whom it may concern.”
Finally, Ms. Reynolds advises job seekers not to be too informal when applying via email. Cover letters can be included in the body of the email or they can be sent as an attachment with the resume.
As with handshakes, the idea of a cover letter is to connect, not to be overbearing, and to leave a memorable impression.