The Perils of the Cover Letter

In the business world, no aspect of the job search process sparks more debate than the venerable cover letter.

The arguments generally go like this: In the world of application tracking software, the bogeyman to job applicants everywhere, no real human being may ever see your application.  But, many of those robotic systems require the cover letter field to be completed. Some even argue against including a cover letter at all.

On the other hand, if a job-seeker is applying to a smaller company, or to a job that uses the search committee process, it’s likely that a real human being will review application materials right away.

Higher education (particularly for Faculty searches) fits more closely to the latter example. While it’s possible to encounter an applicant tracking system somewhere along the way, it’s also true that ALL of the materials that a candidate submits will be reviewed - and shared - by numerous people.

Bear in mind that the cover letter should sound like YOU, and gives a brief overview of who you are and why you could do the job. These real-life examples (submitted through are NOT appropriate cover letters:

Please accept all documents as an interested candidate with your university


Innovative Finance Professional who possesses a keen insight into identifying and leveraging company strengths and opportunities while proactively identifying areas of opportunity through proven financial and data analysis techniques.


In the place of you personally describing your qualifications and that elusive quality of “fit”, a cover letter is you. Here are a few general rules to make a cover letter sing your praises when you can’t:

1)    Keep it brief - it should be clear, but no longer than a page (yet, not the first example)

2)    Tie everything together - it should not repeat verbatim the information in your vitae, it should tell your story

3)    Speak in a human voice - you are a real person talking to other real people

4)    Reference the title of the position - communicate that you know what the role is

5)    Scrupulously proofread - errors at the very least reflect badly on you, and at the worst can get you tossed out of the search.

Kimberley Sirk is a North Carolina-based writer and editor with government, higher education and big-brand healthcare public relations and marketing experience.

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