Just as important a resume is to helping a job seeker secure opportunities, so is the cover letter. A cover letter helps you hone in on important messages – to create a “conversation” – and gives the employer a sense of your personality that is not always captured through a resume alone.

Yes, there are employers who may completely ignore cover letters, but you put your chances for a response at greater risk when you don’t include one.

For the many employers who do care for the cover letter, seeing no cover letter or one that lacks any concrete anecdotes can imply you are not as interested as other candidates who have taken the time to personalize a letter to clearly highlight personal talents and offerings. A cover letter is another marketing tool in your arsenal, so take advantage of the opportunity to help you better sell yourself.

Here are some cover letter guidelines:

1. Do not make your cover letter an attachment.
This particular tip applies to applicants who are sending information via e-mail to an employer. While the cover letter and resume stand as two separate documents, your email message should be your cover letter.

Your email message will be the first point of communication with an employer, so it should provide information to entice an employer to read on. If you aren’t captivating an employer’s attention immediately, it is unlikely they will move on to opening your attachments.

2. Address a specific contact in your cover letter.
A reader’s attention is captured when you address him or her personally. Just think about when you receive communication from someone you are unfamiliar with. It’s more likely that you will dismiss the communication when it is addressed in general with: “To Whom It May Concern” or Dear Sir/Madam.”

Carefully review the job posting or conduct research online in LinkedIn or the company’s website for the appropriate contact you should have your letter addressed to.

3. Create a captivating opening.
An effective resume offers a captivating opening that summarizes your experiences, skills and strengths. A cover letter also needs to have a captivating opening.

Avoid boring openings such as: “I am writing to respond to your ad…” or “I am interested in…” These statements are obvious to the employer and it also comes off as self-centered when you start with “I.” Utilize the beginning of your cover letter as a way to highlight information that sells. It should immediately present information that indicates what you have to offer and why it is a terrific fit.

For instance, you may want to start by indicating how your event planning and management experience in the pharmaceutical industry can directly relate to the company’s need for a candidate with a well-established network of contacts in the pharmaceutical industry for business development purposes. Your experience may have allowed you to establish relationships with top experts in the field who are also contacts the potential employer is seeking a way to connect with.

4. Don’t rehash information or tell your life story.
A cover letter is not meant to be redundant in information and does not benefit in being a long-winded life story. Customize your cover letter to directly address information the employer desires and seeks without repeating anything directly from your resume. Keep information succinct. You’re not writing to a pen pal, so maintain focus and keep it to no more than a page and no more than 3 to 4 paragraphs. There should be a captivating opening, a body to flush out more information that helps you make a point and a closing.

5. Make sure you address everything that is asked for.
Many employers indicate specific instructions in the job posting for applicants. It may be a request to address specific questions or salary requirement information. It is important to address what is asked by the employer or you will come off as a candidate that does not follow instructions well. It is an easy reason for any employer to dismiss your application.

A cover letter is meant to be another marketing tool you can utilize to sell. It is an opportunity for you to present information that may not be suitable in a resume. Maintain focus and personalize information to directly inform an employer what you have to offer and why you make a good fit.

Author's Bio: 

Don Goodman, President of About Jobs (www.GotTheJob.com) is a nationally recognized Expert Resume Writer, Certified Career Management Coach and Job Search Strategist. A graduate of the Wharton School of Business and Stanford University's Executive Program, Don has helped thousands of people secure their next job. Get a Free Resume Evaluation, read his blog at www.GotTheJob.com/blog/ or contact him at 800-909-0109 or by e-mail at DGoodman@GotTheJob.com.