I talk to a lot of people about how to job search and usually spend a great deal of time discussing résumés. But only rarely do we end up talking about cover letters. When we discuss using them in class, the comment is often, “Do I have to use a cover letter? I hear that no one ever reads them.”

I hate that phrase, “Do I have to…?” That reminds me of a kid trying to get out of a chore or a school project. When I hear it from an adult, it makes me think that you are looking for the easiest way, “What can I do that will require the least amount of effort?” And that is not the mindset I think is best when we are speaking of your career and your livelihood. “What can I do to be more effective, even if it means more effort?”

“What is a cover letter for? When should I use one?” The cover letter allows you to introduce yourself. There are two main times when I would recommend sending it: when you are answering a job ad and when you send your résumé before the position is announced.

I like to send a cover letter when I send in my résumé. It insures that the recipient knows which position I am applying for and lets me point out why I will be a good candidate. I can use it to match my skills with the skills they have in the job ad.

I will also use a cover letter if I decide to broadcast my résumé to several companies that I am targeting. Let’s say that I have recently graduated from college. I can get a list of companies that fit what I am seeking in an employer, then send my résumé and a cover letter stating why I want that type of position and why I feel qualified.

Some tips for your cover letter:

  1. Keep it to one page
  2. Address it to a person by name. If you are unable to find a name, after considerable effort, address it to Hiring Manager.
  3. Don’t send it to just Human Resources.
  4. Make it a professional format.
  5. Proofread, proofread, proofread. Spelling and grammar are at least as important here as in your résumé.
  6. Match your paper with your résumé.
  7. Double check the person’s name and company. There is nothing like sending a cover letter to Michelin telling how much you would love to work for them, but sending it to GE.
  8. Don’t just repeat your résumé; bring out what is important for THIS position or company.

Just sending out a bunch of unsolicited cover letters and résumés is not job searching. You have to complement it with networking and following up. A résumé works better if the recipient is expecting or knows the person who delivers it. Your main job is making a connection that will cause your résumé to better received.

Pairing a cover letter with your résumé makes your inquiry look more professional. It is also a good place to address other important information: why are you relocating, why are you changing careers, that volunteer experience that applies here, why this company’s environmentalism matches your love for the environment.

With the more intense competition for jobs today, I must make use of any tool to help me make myself the most attractive applicant I can be.

For examples of cover letters and more information, go to quintcareers.com. This is a great source of information for job seekers. Please post how you are using cover letters in your search and any tips you may have.