Cover Letter Fashions: What's Hot, What's Not!

Is your Cover Letter unfashionable?  Does the thought of writing a cover letter – put dread in your heart? Would you rather get a root canal, sort your socks, clean the drain?

If this sounds like you, read on to learn the Psychology behind cover-letters…
These days, with the advent of social media, texting and tweeting – writing is a lost art. Some predict that the ability to spell and write in full-sentences may soon be as extinct as the long, lost Dodo bird. Meanwhile, we will have super-sized thumbs and carpal-tunnel syndrome, from all the texting...

However, in this economy, the level of competition for jobs is fierce! Competition is as fierce as on a Paris fashion runway or on America's Top Model!

Writing a cover letter is both an art and a science. The purpose of the cover letter is to get the employer to notice your resume.  You want to be top of the heap, on a short list of less than 10 promising finalists. Remember, a resume is usually a recycled document and is only minimally tailored to a particular position. A cover letter is what shows “fit” for a particular industry, sector, functional role and company. This is about the employer’s needs, not yours.

Submitting a cover letter, is like paying a compliment to an employer. It shows that you care enough, to take the time and understand them.

What’s hot! Include a cover letter 100% of the time! As an MBA Career Counselor at GSU, I mediate between employers and candidates. Recently, we conducted a search for a  Graduate Research Assistant, to help in the Career Management Center. Close to one hundred people applied, only 8 included cover letters! Guess who was on the short list?

What’s not! Do not just submit random applications to jobs, which you are not qualified for. Pay attention to what the employer wants; only apply to jobs where you meet 7/10 of the criteria. In this GRA job posting – I said that candidates needed either a degree or experience in Human Resources, Counseling, Recruitment, or Career Services. 80 of the applicant had none of these qualifications at all? We received "random" applications from people who didn't have any of the necessary qualifications; from Real Estate professionals, Risk Managers, Accountants and Engineers. What a waste of their time and ours…

What’s Hot – Personal branding, differentiating yourself from the pack of job-seekers. Don’t just apply when a job is advertised. Where do you want to work? Why? Target these employers with an introductory letter, as a lead in. Understand the depth and breadth of the competition you are up against. If you can write a decent cover letter, you can and will be noticed.

What’s not! Avoid general salutations: To Whom It May Concern – was out of fashion in 1989! Seeing this phrase is like grating nails on a chalk-board, for Human Resource Managers. This implies that you are not interested enough to research the company and department and find out who the hiring manager is. Cover letter response-efficacy is less than 20%, if there isn’t an addressee. Show initiative, just like you would on the job. Do your research. As a last resort, you can write Attn: Hiring Committee

Hot! Keep the letter brief, but interesting. The first sentence is the most important one on the entire page. Do not write: "looking for a challenging position." Say why you are applying, write something original that you learned about the company. For beginning cover letter writers, stick to a basic 3 or 5 paragraph Style. 1 page in length.

Tips to help you create your Cover Letter
  • Use the common, Business Letter conventions, formats and styles. Use correct margins, salutations, closings etc.
  • Mention 1 or 2 specific accomplishments, to address the employer’s top needs. Show your expertise and make the reader want to meet you, want to learn more. Refer the reader to your resume for additional information.
  • Be honest and back up what you say with evidence and examples from you experience. Think like an attorney, everything must have proof. Good communication, team work – prove it.
  • Use a positive tone, choice of words, and list positive expectations. You are being fully honest, and marketing your key strengths and attributes.
  • Display your self confidence, enthusiasm, professionalism, and convey your desire for the position
  • Produce an error-free letter using same font and pitch as in your resume
  • Print on high quality stationery and envelopes that match your resume paper. Paper with a 'water-mark' is ideal, if you can afford it.
  • Close with a statement of what action you will take to follow-up the letter
  • Use 4 spaces between your closing and your typed name (enough space to sign)
  • Sign your letter using your full name as typed in black ink
Smoking Hot Bonus tips – if you read this far. 

 Do not say, in the last paragraph “I look forward to hearing from you.” This is passive, weak and sounds lazy. This may also lead to an immediate discard. Instead use active verbs, state how you will follow up and when. Give a date and time range – then follow up!

 Anyone heard of the “I’s” game, which many HR proof-readers play? Those of us who review resumes, are often told by employers that they want candidates with ”excellent communication skills.” If you have more than x7 “I’s” in your cover letter then A) you don’t have good enough command of the English language, to vary your sentence structure, B) you are careless/not paying attention to the job qualifications. The most “I’s I have ever seen on one letter was an astounding 28! Every sentence began with “I.”

 Advanced Cover Letter templates (not for the faint of heart): use a modern bulleted template style or 2 column style. I like to use the:”you want” and “I have” titles for the 2 column style. Recognize that you are taking a risk using this style, though it can be highly effective. Don’t use the bulleted style, to avoid writing paragraphs with topic sentences and proper flow. If the employer or industry is conservative, stick to traditional, paragraph-style cover letters,

Writing a cover letter is both an art and a science.

Every job seeker should have at least 3 cover letter templates – same as you would have at least 3 dress-shirts and suits for interviews. The last thing you need is to write a cover letter, from scratch, under deadline-duress.

A skilled Career Counselor can teach you the Psychology behind writing a cover letter, and even get you started.
Author: © 2013 - All Rights Reserved - Sharon B. Cohen, MA,Dip.Educ, CPRP, Career Counselor and Career Transition Specialist. Read all my Blog postings at


  1. Sharon C. 3 months ago

    The job search system has changed dramatically due to indistry shifts, technology and social media. It will never be the same again. The job boards, only contain 10-15% of the actual jobs. Employers tell us that they want candidates who will go the extra mile and employers are calling the shots.
    Susie Sharp 3 months ago

    Linked In is an often overlooked resource when researching names at a company. And people need to remember to build out their Linked In profiles and contacts while they're still employed. They might also get recommendations for the places they worked.

    Learn how to utilize Linked In when you're employed, and it will be a wonderful tool in helping you procure a job when you become unemployed.
    S. Cohen (author) 2 weeks ago

    I concur. LinkedIn can be an excellent research tool and is useful for making the initial connections. Networking is a lifelong process and should continue whether you are employed or in transition.

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