Cover Letter 101

By Lisa Carroll

As a recruiter in the private club industry, I’m amazed by the number of cover letters I receive that are poorly written and not compelling. The cover letter is the only way to truly “connect” with the potential employer, explain your interest in the position, and show that you’ve done your homework. It’s time to put more effort into your job search by writing a well-crafted and compelling cover letter if you want to increase your chances for an interview.

Use a Proper Cover Letter Format
Cover letters are formatted with the date at the top, then the name and address of the reader, then a salutation (Dear Mr. Smith), and finally the body of the letter followed by “Sincerely” and then your name. If you aren’t sure how a proper cover letter looks, search online.

Don’t address your letter to “Dear Sirs,” “Dear Madam or Sir,” or, worse yet, “To Whom it May Concern.” Find out who will be reading your letter and address the letter to them. If you don’t know their name, list their title such as “Dear Search Committee” or “Dear Human Resources Director.”

Don’t Send a Form Letter
Applicants often use the same letter for multiple applications, just changing the name of the club or worse, not even including the name of the club!

If you want to stand out from the crowd, you need to target your reader. The reader is thinking WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?). Do your homework and answer their question right from the beginning. Find out the needs and priorities of the club and customize the cover letter to address them. List your accomplishments and how they translate into benefits for that club based on the needs and priorities you discovered. Connect the dots for the reader.

But don’t stop there. Wrap the letter up by adding a paragraph about why you want to work for that club in that position. What is it about that particular club that is of interest to you? Why are you drawn to it? If it would be moving to a new city, why are you interested in moving to that location? Do you have family and friends in the area? Does it offer extra-curricular activities that you enjoy? Is it the draw of good schools for your children? Add this information to the letter as well.

Also, make sure that all the text in the letter uses the same font. When a letter is made up of multiple types of fonts, it is a sure giveaway that it’s a form letter that has been “cut and pasted.” Be sure that all the text is the same font and the same size.

Edit and Proofread the Letter
Editing and proofreading are two different steps. Editing the letter means re-reading it and shortening thoughts and sentences so your words have more impact and it is easier for the reader to read.

French mathematician Blaise Pascal once said “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.” Take the time to shorten your sentences to give your words more impact. Too many words just dilute the message and take more time out of the reader’s schedule.

Once you’ve edited the letter go back and proofread it again. That doesn’t just mean run your word processor’s spell check feature! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen the word “manager” misspelled as “manger.” Spell check will not catch this error. If you are not the best proofreader, ask someone else to proofread your cover letter for you.

If you’ve made changes during the proofreading process you need to start back at the beginning and proofread again. Any time you make a change to a document you’ve written, you enter the “editing zone.” Editing the document is great but you have to go back and proofread again. You are finished proofreading when you have reviewed the entire letter and have found nothing to change.

Yes, it takes more time and energy to write a customized and correct cover letter based on the research you’ve conducted. The payoff for your hard work will be increased opportunities and a higher probability of landing an interview. That is an excellent ROE (Return on Energy).

Lisa Carroll is a Search Executive with the prestigious Club industry search firm of Kopplin & Kuebler. She is also a consultant and speaker, providing speaking, training, and consulting services on career development, effective writing, time management, project management and technology training to private clubs, professional associations, and companies nationwide.

More Resources
Visit Corporate Gray’s Online Transition Guide for sample cover letters and resumes.
Get Your References in a Row
Tips for Boosting Your Job Search & Earning Potential
Silence the Bird, and Other Video Interviewing Tips
Identifying Your Skills and Strengths in the Workplace


6 thoughts on “Cover Letter 101

  1. Thank you for your very nice article and your kind recommendations.
    Nonetheless, as a candidate trying to always go by the book and always writing ‘personalized’ proof read cover letters, I ‘d like to make one small comment.

    It is just horrible to receive -from potential recruiters- ‘BS’ letters of rejection – when and if they bother sending one.
    In this crual world of job hunting, a tiny effort on part of ‘the firm’ would be most welcome… just to be treated as a human being and not a number !!!
    It is great to told what to do to get a chance to be interviewed but recruiting firms should also be given a few pieces of advice as to how to treat candidates… Looking for a job is a terribly destabilyzing experience so some kindness and consideration (like sending a nice, ‘personalized’ note to turn the person down as opposed to leaving him/her in the dark or sending out a standardized, cold, heartless rejection letter) would be wonderful and help greatly.
    Most sincerely,


    • Corinne – Thanks for your comment. Agree that the job search process can be humbling and frustrating. Persistence pays. Good luck in your search!
      — Karin

    • Corrine, I agree that the job search is a humbling experience. When a potential candidate takes the time to write a well-researched and customized letter, I respond in a more personalized way – either way. If someone sends me an obvious form letter, they get a form email back. I enjoy providing feedback when someone puts effort into the search process – even if the candidate isn’t right for our position.I like to give feedback to help them in their next search if they make an effort in our search.

  2. Pingback: Cover letter 101 | 40plus DC Blog | Job Search | Networking Events | Fairs | Seminars

  3. Great advice, particularly the proofreading and editing comments. And thanks for advice on how to address the letter in the absence of a name.

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