The New Cover Letter

I detest cover letters. They arrive as an e­mail attachment and require me to open a second file that rarely tells me anything interesting or useful to my decision­making about the sender. I always recommend that people use their actual message to include the information that they would in a cover letter.

A well­-written cover e­mail will engage the reader and encourage them to read your resume. Before you start off writing your cover e­mail, write down what you want to say because, in three or four paragraphs, someone will decide whether to open up the resume with interest or indifference.

Here’s some simple advice:

Use your cover e­mail to highlight elements of your experience that fit the job description you are responding to. Generic cover notes waste an opportunity to cause someone to be interested and excited in your background. Your cover e­mail should make it obvious to a 6­year­old reader that you are fit for the job by showing that you have the experience and skills that are wanted.

Keep your sentences short. Avoid using long sentences. Don’t make someone read something twice to understand what you’re trying to say.

Keep your language simple. Although in some cultures it is proper to use a sentence like, “I take immense pleasure in applying for this esteemed position in this esteemed organization,” in U.S. culture it is not. Write in a manner that is appropriate for the business culture you are communicating in.

Organize your cover letter into small paragraphs or bulleted points, not exceeding three paragraphs.

Spell and grammar check your e­mail! Visually re­read what you wrote because some words may be spelled correctly when misspelled. For example, for years, people who used the technology “Novell” would send resumes that used the word “Novel.” “Novel” would be accepted by a spell checker but needed to be seen to be recognized as used incorrectly.


Use the subject line of your e­mail to tell what job you are applying for. If the ad included a job code, include it. People are often trying to fill many jobs and this will focus them on the one you are applying for.

Explain why you think your skills are a good match for the position. Include a reference to a particular achievement in your current or previous job (the current job is preferable).

Of course, do not lie.

Sign your cover e­mail with “Sincerely,” “Yours truly”, or “Best regards” and use an Italic font to “sign” your name under it.

Doing a few of these simple things will give you more and better opportunities to win the job you want. Don’t be lazy and send the same e­mail over and over again. Tailor your cover e­mail, like you do your resume, and you will get superior results.

The message area of an e­mail is space that will be immediately seen. It is the perfect place to promote yourself in the context of the specific job that you are applying for.

There are two basic ways to do this:

  1. The narrative is like the traditional cover letter.

I am forwarding my resume to you for the position of ______ that I saw advertised on ________.

I believe my experience with ________, coupled with my knowledge of ___________, would make me qualified for the position you have available.

I look forward to speaking with you and discussing my qualifications in detail.


  1. Point by point. This is the new cover letter. This style uses the space in the e­mail to provide specifically targeted information about your qualifications.

For example:

I am replying to the ad that I saw on ________ looking for a J2EE developer. Below is a summary of my qualifications as compared to the requirements listed in your job description: J2EE 5 years current Websphere 3 years current Weblogic 2 years until July 2004 JMS 1-year current Insurance 6 years current

I look forward to meeting with you and discussing my experience in greater detail.


Using this approach is a quick efficient use of the space in an e­mail and puts important information in front of the reader. It makes decision-making much easier and will result in more interviews for you.


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Jeff Altman, The Big Game HunterJeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a coach who worked as a recruiter for what seems like one hundred years. His work involves career coaching, all as well as executive job search coaching, job coaching, and interview coaching. He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with more than 1900 episodes, and is a member of The Forbes Coaches Council.

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