A Strategically Written Cover Letter is Key To Securing an Interview

By Dr. Howard Gauthier

In last week’s blog we discussed five general types of mistakes to avoid when developing your resume.  This topic received quite a bit of discussion because people generally understand how important an attention-grabbing resume can be.  Just as important, however, is having a strategically written cover letter to compliment your resume.  While the resume is a relatively static document that only changes when you receive more education or gain additional experiences, the cover letter, on the other hand, needs to be adjusted with every new job application.

The constant need to update your cover letter makes this a dynamic document that must be changed, tweaked, adjusted and personalized for every new job application you submit.  You will want to be strategic in your approach if your letter is to be effective.  In particular, you will want to understand the purpose of your cover letter, write the letter so it is specific to the organization and the position, and make sure you follow the IBS format (introduction, body and summary) for creating a strategic cover letter. 


Your cover letter and resume are your marketing materials for your job search.  They should be used to sell you as an applicant for the job in which you are applying.  In particular, the purpose of your cover letter is to sell you and prompt the search committee to take a closer look at your resume.  A quality cover letter can catapult you forward in the job search process.  Conversely, a poorly written cover letter can eliminate you from consideration.


Your cover letter needs to be personalized and written preferably to the hiring manager or to the search committee.  Do not address your letter to “To Whom it May Concern.”  If the job announcement doesn’t specifically identify who the hiring person is or the chair of the search committee, you will need to do your homework and find out whom you should address your cover letter to.  This could include addressing your application materials to the athletic director (or the person who the position reports to), the HR manager, or even the search committee – but never “to whom it may concern.”

Your cover letter should be written in a way that introduces you and your resume to the hiring manager or the search committee.  It should tell them who you are, how you are qualified for the position, any applicable accomplishments you have, and why you are a good fit for the position.  More specifically, you will want to make sure you address how you meet each of the qualifications listed on the job description.


Your cover letter should not be any longer than 1 1/3 pages of 12-point font.  Preferably, you should try to limit your cover letter to one page if at all possible.  But don’t try to squeeze your letter on to one page by using 10-point font.  This font is too small and most people won’t continue to read your letter.  If they stop reading your materials you have just been eliminated from the candidate pool.

Make sure you follow the IBS format for writing a cover letter.  This includes having a minimum of three paragraphs and a maximum of five.  The first paragraph is considered an introduction and it tells the search committee which job you are applying for and what actions you are taking to apply for the job.   

Following the introduction is the body of the letter.  The body will range between one and three paragraphs in length.  It is designed to show the search committee how you meet the qualifications for the position (education and experience); what strengths, abilities, and traits you possess; and what accomplishments you have achieved in a similar position.  The final paragraph is a summary of your interest in the job and explains why you are a good fit for the position. 

A well-crafted cover letter will aid in the sale of you as an applicant.  If properly prepared, the cover letter will prompt the search committee to want to take a closer look at your resume and will get you one step closer to the coveted interview.  Therefore, in order to move your candidacy from the application process to the interview stage, it is extremely important that you have a properly formatted resume that is complimented with a strategically written cover letter.  These are essential elements that are necessary for receiving an interview.

Remember, ultimately the job will go to the candidate who is prepared and who effectively executes the basics of the job interview process. In all you do, you will want to EXECUTE FOR SUCCESS! 


Howard Gauthier is an Associate Professor of Athletic Administration at Idaho State University.  He is a former collegiate athletic director and collegiate basketball coach.  He is also an author of 9 books.  Check out his book, Getting Hired In College Sports – 2nd Edition at www.SportsCareersInstitute.com.



7 thoughts on “A Strategically Written Cover Letter is Key To Securing an Interview

  1. There is a place for cover letters. (Sadly, way too often the circular file.) It entirely depends on what type of job you’re pursuing. Sometimes, a cover letter plays a game- changing role in winning interviews for non-profits and public-facing jobs.

    From experience, I am a big proponent of a marketing letter instead of resume as the opening document when looking for a non-advertised, or currently non-existent job. Such a letter should still not exceed a page and must be followed up with a phone call.

    Small businesses are more apt to read a cover letter. Don’t waste your time writing a letter to a recruiting firm, or to a large manufacturing or high tech firm. The applicant tracking system (ATS) does not read your cover letter. The clerk screening 600 applications does not read your letter. The manager interviewing 6 applicants for one job does not receive your letter to read in the first place (it has been stripped off by HR).

    Two of the best reasons for writing a cover letter – even in the cases where it won’t be read are:
    1. It gets your thought in order – why do you want this job, and why are you qualified? (Of course if all you do is drone on with your complete history, it will not do that.)
    2. ths jist of everything you say in your cover letter can and should be incorporate in your resume profile, the 2-3 narrative paragraphs at the beginning of your resume that present you as a match for the job to which you’re applying.

  2. Pingback: Cover Letters 1: Quick Tips | Gloria's Resumes And Cover Letters

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