Cover your Bases

cover your base - baseball baseI can be a broken record when it comes to cover letters, but if I am, it’s only because I want you to know where they fit into the hiring process – particularly at the screening stage. I will probably only read your cover letter if I’ve read your resume and already decided that I’m probably going to interview you.

It’s an important principle, because most people write a cover letter with the mindset that it’s going to convince me to read their resume. It’s not. Your cover letter will do one of two things: reaffirm my decision to interview you, or change my mind and decide not to. This changes how you write them, and I’m writing this to help yours do more of the former than the latter.

Length and readability

A cover letter should almost never be longer than a single page. If it is, you’re repeating information that’s already in your resume. While it’s important and helpful to restate a few key pieces of information (more on this below), your cover letter should usually only be three or four paragraphs long. Blocks and blocks of essay-style text probably won’t get read. If you want to draw my attention to something important, make sure it’s not buried. If you really want to hit me over the head with something, consider sparingly using bullet points.


A cover letter should make it crystal clear to me why you’re responding to a specific posting, or applying to a particular company and role. This is the right time to borrow language from the job posting, using a few of the same words or phrases where they (accurately, of course!) describe your qualifications and experience. If you’re applying where there hasn’t been a specific job posting, refer to something unique to the company that explains why. If you’ve gotten to this point correctly, you’ve done your research. Use it.

Other content

Some job postings will direct you to include specific information – salary expectations, for example – in your cover letter. If so, follow those instructions to the letter. If there’s something the reader should know about your circumstances that doesn’t fit into a resume (for example, that you’re under contract until a certain date and are only available after that time). Your cover letter is also a good place to explain something that might otherwise be confusing about your application. If you’re applying for a job that would represent a career change for you, for example, or you’re currently living in another place but specifically looking to move to where the company is located.


I’ll admit it: some (okay, most) people are not as particular about spelling and grammar as I am. You might be sending your resume and cover letter to one of those more forgiving types. Is this a chance you really want to take? A resume and cover letter are two of the most important documents in the life of a job-seeker. If you haven’t taken the time to make sure there aren’t mistakes in those, what does that tell me about how seriously you’ll take the job you’re applying for? Be honest with yourself; if you’re not very confident in your writing, get a trusted friend (or several) to proofread. Sometimes even excellent writers miss small errors – a fresh pair of eyes is always helpful. And if you’re creating a cover letter starting with the last one you wrote, make sure you’ve updated every instance of the information in it. The name of the company, the contact name, the job title. Everything. (Fun fact: I can’t even count the number of times I’ve gotten a fascinating peek at other jobs that candidates have applied for before they applied to mine, and read how keenly they want to work for my competition. It takes a very compelling resume to make me overlook a mistake like that.)

Cover these bases, and you’ll go a long way to confirming that my decision to invite you for an interview is the right one.



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