Is a Cover Letter Really Necessary?

Yes it is… and I have seen good ones and bad ones. Let’s talk about why a great cover letter is necessary.

1. It anchors the resume; it provides the starting point to consider your resume.

cover letter2. There is a reason why college applications almost always ask for an essay; it provides a way to further evaluate a student. Same for the cover letter – it tells the recruiter “can this person write a brief, articulate and specific business letter”. With very rare exceptions, the ability to communicate in words – to present “word pictures” is important – and your cover letter needs to do just that.

3. If the cover letter properly “mirrors” the exact words and phrases called for in the ad or job requirement – those words and phrases will jump off the page and the recruiter will say to themselves “I may have hit the mother lode on this  one”!

So with it now established that Yes – you do need a cover letter, let’s see what an effective one looks like.

1. First of all – it is reader friendly. One page max – lots of white space. Black ink on white paper. Nice quality paper – 24 lb. ideal (NOT copy machine paper!).  On personal letterhead. If you don’t have personal letterhead – create it in MSWord – and save it as a template. When you need to write a cover letter, open the template – save it as “cover letter – XYZ corp – date” and then write the cover letter.

2.  Have an opening sentence that is to the point – mildly creative – but not overkill. Don’t start off with “I am the superstar you are looking for” or “I’m a one-of-a-kind take charge person”. Too “over the top”! Since you know the job title – the opening sentence might be “I am very interested  in your open position  of staff accountant; I am confident my background and experience will be of interest to you.”

3. The next portion of your cover letter will be literally lifted from your resume. The very first content of your resume should be a “Summary of Experience and Accomplishments”. Let’s assume the following is that section of your resume:

 Summary of Experience and Accomplishments – 12 years of accounting experience, including 5 years of Public Accounting. Account management responsibility for several SEC-reporting clients. Supervise audit teams. Specialize in trade association accounting  procedures and software, including unique tax and foundation issues. Featured speaker at trade association CFO seminars.

The content of your cover letter might look like:

As can be seen on my enclosed resume, I have significant accounting and audit experience with ever increasing responsibilities  including account management for several SEC-reporting  clients. I am particularly proud of leading my audit team to consistently completing our work ahead of target dates.

I have also been part of several successful client development efforts, and I found that to be both very rewarding and fun.

The cover letter goes on to include:

One of my career goals has been to work for a firm such as yours, and I am confident I can make a significant contribution from day one.

I am available for interview immediately.  I will call you in several days to see if it is possible to arrange for a time for a personal interview.

Thank you for your attention.

Sincerely,

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4. Address the cover letter to a specific person if at all possible. In many cases, the person’s name will probably be included in the ad. If it is not, do a Google search and get the name of the director of HR or of the department head for the position (VP of sales for a sales position, VP of finance for an accounting position, etc.).

5. Proofread you letter very, very carefully! Read it aloud to be sure it makes sense and you haven’t forgotten a word, have the wrong tense, etc.

After following these guidelines – you will have a powerful cover letter to pave the way for the recipient to review your resume!

Here is an example of a good cover letter:

(Please excuse the double spacing in the letterhead text as well as the address – this would not be the case in the letter itself – but WordPress won’t let me single space it!):

Susan T. Someone, CPA

1234 King Street, Alexandria, VA 22314

(703) 123-4567 (Home)     (703) 987-6543 (Cell)

susancpa888@gmail.com

Mr. William J Harris                                                              Date

Managing Partner

XYZ National Accounting Firm

1633 M Street, NW Suite 900

Washington, DC 20006

Dear Mr. Harris:

I am writing in regard to your published position for Senior Auditor on your website.

As can be seen on my enclosed resume, I have significant accounting and audit experience with ever increasing responsibilities, included account management for several SEC-reporting clients. I am particularly proud of leading my audit team to consistently completing our work ahead of target dates.

I have also been part of several successful client development efforts, and I found that to be both very rewarding and fun.

One of my career goals has been to work for a firm such as yours, and I am confident I can make a significant contribution from day one.

I am available for interview immediately.  I will call you in several days to see if it is possible to arrange for a time for a personal interview.

Thank you for your attention.

Sincerely,

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