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Tips and Advice About Cover Letters for Resumes

Updated on December 22, 2010

The concept of "resume targeting" is the practice of customizing your resume for a specific audience. Targeting with resumes is the same concept as advertisers customizing their message to a particular demographic. Recently, many big brand marketers have started customizing their messages to make their commercials more interesting so people using TiVo don't fast forward past them and so they stand out from other commercials. For example, Mercedes Benz recently started running commercials in New York City where a couple drives first to La Guardia and then to JFK Airport. For the average viewer who sees a few hours of commercials a week, one that mentions two local places they're familiar with will stand out in their mind. The same goes for recruiters and employers who may receive hundreds of resumes a week. If they get one that's customized for their interests, it has a better chance of standing out.

It's a smart idea to have several versions of your resume available for the different types of positions you're applying for. For example, if you're applying for jobs in both the insurance and financial services industries, you could have two different resumes available with two slightly different Objective statements. Further customizing your resume for the specific position you're applying for makes sense if it's a position you're really interested in and you want to stand out from the pack. Keep in mind though that if you're sending out 100 resumes, it may not pay to spend 5-10 minutes customizing each one since landing a job is also partly a numbers game.

Cover letters can be a powerful way to establish a relationship with the potential employer - especially if you haven't met the person yet. They also provide more room for you to discuss the synergies between your goals and theirs than is afforded in a resume. The goal of a cover letter is to establish a personal relationship. To that end, a cover letter needs to at least appear that it was customized for the specific person it's being sent to. A good cover letter will reference the name of the company it is being sent to and the position title. Even if you're sending out a lot of cover letters, this can be accomplished using the Mail Merge function in Microsoft Word.

When you're contacting an employer for the first time by e-mail, the custom is to not include a cover letter but instead to provide an introduction in the body of the e-mail itself. Your resume can be attached in Word format. The introductory text you include in the body of the e-mail has the same goal as a cover letter: to establish a personal relationship. But it is less formal than a cover letter.

WHAT A COVER LETTER SHOULD NOT BE
it is not a summary of your resume and should not look like a form letter (even if it is one). Also, a cover letter should not include information that's not in your resume. Some busy managers and recruiters simply skip cover letters and don't read them. However, sending a resume to an employer without a cover letter will give them the impression you're randomly sending your resume to lots of companies and don't really care in particular about their firm. Unfortunately, you'll create the same impression if you send a cover letter that looks like a form letter and isn't customized at all. Even worse though, the person reading the resumes may have spent an extra 20-30 seconds reading a letter that did not provide them with any additional information than was in your resume and did not take advantage of the opportunity to start a personal relationship with the person.

An exception to all of this is if you're posting your resume on a job board. In this case, the recruiter bears some of the responsibility in starting the relationship. Here's an analogy to explain this: if you're looking for a date and you approach a woman (or a man) at a bar with a canned pick-up line, they'll probably respect you less than if you said something original. On the other hand, if they were to approach you at that same bar, they would be the ones who'd have to come up with a way to introduce themselves.

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