Food Science Resources - Job Hunt Hints

Letter Perfect 1

Sell Yourself In Your Cover Letter


A well-written résumé is, in just about every case, the most important document in a candidate's professional portfolio. Cover letters, specifically tailored to each query, are the next-most-effective tools.

You must include a cover letter every time you mail, fax, or e-mail your résumé to OPUS International or to a potential employer.

The purpose of the cover letter is to make the reader so interested in you that she will scrutinize your résumé, then call you immediately to learn even more.

Remember that you have but "one shot" at impressing a hiring authority, who may spend as little as nine seconds scanning all the paperwork you have rubbed your fingers to nubbins to create. It's essential that you get every possible bit of mileage from each document you present.

What to say and what to avoid

Mention specifically the title of the position for which you are applying, and note the source of your information. If a mutual colleague recommended that you apply, be sure to mention that colleague's name.

Don't waste time and paper describing yourself in trite generalities, no matter how glowing.

Short-list three or four examples of the training and/or experience that makes you a perfect fit for the position at hand.

Your cover letter is the appropriate place to let your personal self shine through. You may have talents, abilities, or interests that would be inappropriate to mention in the résumé proper, but which a company deciding whom to interview would consider major assets.

For example, if your preferred geographic location is Boston, be sure to note that in letters to Boston-based employers. If you have a burning desire to work in an area outside your realm of direct experience, the cover letter is the place to make a compelling case for your specific knowledge and inherent abilities that will allow you to succeed.

Directed enthusiasm might also be effective in your cover letter. Have you been inspired to create a new use for, or application of, the employer's product? Let the hiring authority know!

Temper that enthusiasm with wisdom and brevity, however. Never forget the nine-second rule.

Finally, it is inappropriate to include some types of personal information in either the cover letter or the résumé. This includes, but is not limited to, age, height, weight, marital/parental status, religion, and hobbies -- unless a hobby is so unusual it will be a true attention-grabber.

Appearances count

Limit your letter to, at most, two or three carefully constructed paragraphs. As in your résumé, be definitely, absolutely sure there are no spelling or grammar errors. Proofread, proofread, proofread, then have another person do the same. Trust your instincts. If you're not sure about the spelling or a word or construction of a phrase, it's probably wrong. Don't gamble that it won't be noticed!

The physical appearance of your cover letter is almost as important as its content. Of course, if you're mailing it to the employer, it should be on the same stationery as your résumé. Be sure to leave attractive margins and to type your name below your signature. When faxing, don't use textured or toned stationery for your source document.

Whom to address and how

If you're answering an ad that calls for you to respond to a company's human resources department, call the company and get the H.R. manager's name. Address your letter to that person, being sure to include his or her title.

If you know a contact's name but not the specific title, ask. That small effort just might set you apart from the rest of the crowd. It certainly will give you a better idea of how to gear your letter and maybe, even, your résumé.

Yet another reason to know your audience is that, armed with the name, you will be able to avoid the Mr. / Ms. dilemma. Be sure to use Dr. wherever appropriate; avoid Mrs. That designation is reserved for social and certain other occasions when a woman is being addressed in her capacity as a wife or widow: Mrs. John Doe.

Your cover letter is your marketing tool, your door opener, your spokes-piece. It's worth time and energy to make sure it represents you in the best possible light.

Whether you're a candidate or a client, we'd love to hear from you!
E-mail:OPUSinfo@foodscience.com.

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