nswain76-12-0001Editor’s Note: A national expert on career transition and outplacement, Nancy Swain is a regular contributor to SelfPerspective. She lives and works in Dallas. If you have questions for Ms. Swain, her email address is Nancy@JohnGSelf.Com.


A cover letter is still requested when applying for many on-line opportunities. This is yet another way to screen the applicant, both with a scanner if being used, or by the posting advertiser.

In my experience, cover letters are poorly written but with the best intentions. They are too long and usually, without coaching, the writer starts with “I”. It is typical for someone to just sit down at the computer and start writing a cover letter with the best of intentions, but with scattered and disconnected results for the potential reader.

If the job is posted on an internet site chances are there is a scanner involved. This cover-letter-illustrationmeans you must try to match as many words as possible within the body of the letter to get past the scanner. This is an opportunity to show your search savvy and to demonstrate that you understand their needs and requirements as stated in the job description. It is not a time for you to begin the letter with “I’ have done this, “I” can do that, and ramble on. Less is more and having a structure is imperative. It’s still always about “them” and solving their needs, presenting yourself as a “product” or “brand” relevant to their stated key objectives, responsibilities or requirements. The job description gives you the basic info needed to write a customized, connecting cover letter.

Here are the seven basic elements of a cover letter that I teach as a part of career coaching.

THE HEADING: Use the same heading as your resume for consistency

THE DATE: The date you are submitting the letter

THE SALUTATION: Dear Advertiser if a name is not available

OPENING: This should be written in descending order. Meaning, state the purpose of the letter and identify the job number or title early on, not at the end of the letter. Example: This letter is written in response to your search for a TITLE OF THE JOB which appeared on indeed.com.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT/ VALUE BRIDGE:   After the opening sentence, it is wise to spend a couple of sentences acknowledging something about the company or the person you are writing to. Example: Since Company ABC ( name of the company) just received a Malcolm Baldrige Award, this is a good fit for my commitment to quality and excellence as demonstrated in my attached resume.

VALUE EVIDENCE AGAINST STATED REQUIREMENTS: Next you would set up 2 columns. My Qualifications and Your Requirements. Then you pick 4 or 5 of the most closely matched capabilities against their stated requirements in the job description. Use their words exactly. For instance: If the stated requirements is 7 years, put 7 years even though you may have more. Remember the scanner is looking for exact words. Most cover letters are simply to get past the scanner. Less is more. Do not pick attributes, stick to hard-line requirements.

CLOSING:   This is usually where writers say how nice it is to be considered and they look forward to talking soon. DO NOT DO THIS. Never give the reader homework if you have any idea how to follow up on your letter. A better closing would be: Thank you for your consideration and review of my attached resume. Learning more about your requirements and how my value proposition could contribute to the ongoing success of COMPANY ABC is of great interest. Please expect a follow-up contact from me within the next 10 business days.

Keep a record of your submitted cover letter. Use the same approach for each company, just change the internal customized information. This is one approach that has proven to work, simplifies the task, and keeps the writer on target.

A comment from John Self:

I normally do not look at cover letters unless I am serious about advancing an individual’s candidacy.  Most are redundant and not that useful  HOWEVER, this recommended format from Nancy Swain is a home run because it adds value to the candidate’s package.  If you want to differentiate yourself, Nancy’s cover letter would be one good way to accomplish that objective. 

Thanks Nancy for some great advice.

JGS 09/08/2016, Dallas