The Cover Letter Gets You Hired

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Sometimes the resume nails your application—and sometimes your cover letter gets you in the door:

  • If sending an application through to a recruiter or into an automated human-resources system with on-line forms—and probably if sending it straight to HR in general, via whatever method—your application is all about the resume.

  • If applying directly to the hiring manager, or if you believe that the decision maker for the hire will get your entire application—a likelihood in smaller companies, where all submissions get vetted in full by the hiring manager, even if the original send-to address or instructions appears generic—your application is all about the cover letter.

Let’s talk about the latter scenario, the one about the cover letter. Yeah, you know: The requested item you shrug off with two sentences or something canned.

Bad move.

When appealing directly to a hiring manager, your resume serves simply to back up what you’ve said in your cover letter. Consider your resume supporting evidence—the footnotes and appendix to your main argument. If you really want the job, you’d better slave over the cover letter.


Learn how to format an honest-to-goodness business letter.

Further, do everything you can to get the hiring manager’s name. Do not write a cover letter to “Sir/Madame.” (People last used those terms for the general population two centuries ago). Do not send the letter “To Whom It May Concern.” (If the company has decided to hire, the hiring manager has passed the state of “maybe” caring.)

Besides, these phrases look lazy.

Make Your Case

Your cover letter is your first impression. Without a good one, you may never get a call or meeting. Don’t miss your chance to plead your case.

Realize that no job is exactly like any other job—even if they have the same title in the same industry. Companies differ. Managers and departments differ. Nuances of job descriptions differ. People don’t create roles with cookie cutters, so your cover letter shouldn’t take template form, either. Nothing turns off a hiring manager more than a canned cover letter. (And yes, we can tell.)

For each position, start fresh. Research the company, the department or division, the job, and the hiring manager. Show what you know of the company, its work, and the open role and illustrate how your experience and immediate and long-term professional goals align with the position. Show that you understand the role’s needs and the company’s expectations. Show your personality and your approach to the work.

Doing anything less appears apathetic and careless.

And no one looks to hire lazy, sloppy people.


I don’t know a single hiring manager who would say she doesn’t want a high level of detail orientation. She expects it, even if she doesn’t specifically request it in the job description.

So get the company’s name and the job title correct—especially the spelling. Ensure the consistency of the letter’s font style and size. Ensure you’ve made all the text black.

For pete’s sake.

And don’t rely on spell check—read, reread, and have someone else read and reread your letter. Consider leaving it for a bit and returning with fresh eyes. A few hours or overnight won’t kill your chances—especially when you have a zinging cover letter.

What impresses you most when reviewing applications?