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Can I Bullet Point In A Cover Letter

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by Katharine Hansen Ph.D.

One of the challenges of getting an employer to pay attention to your cover letter is that letters tend to look uninviting with large expanses of gray type broken up only by paragraphs.

One solution of course is to make your letter as concise as possible so that it doesn’t look like a daunting reading project. Be as brief as you can and make sure your letter has a pleasing amount of white space. Keep your paragraphs short and include no more than 4-5 paragraphs. Cover letters sent electronically in the body of an e-mail message should be especially brief. (See our article Tips for a Dynamic Email Cover Letter).

You can also use special formats to make your letter more reader-friendly and enticing. These formats also call attention to your qualifications and enable you to tailor them very sharply to the requirements of the position you’re applying for. This article describes four such formats:

Bullets. Bullet points can break up the text of your cover letter and draw the reader’s eye to your most compelling selling points. Be sure you don’t re-hash your resume’s bullet points. And unlike bullet points on a resume those on a cover letter should either be in complete sentences (instead of clipped “telegraphed” resume language) or should complete the sentence that leads into the bulleted list.

See an example of a bulleted cover-letter section and a full cover letter with bullet points.

Word bullets. Word bullets (which can be used with regular bullets) also break up the text and are excellent for spotlighting words or phrases from the ad or job posting you’re responding to. By pulling these words out of the ad you can focus your letter sharply on how you meet the requirements that relate to those words.

See an example of a letter that uses word bullets.

The Two-Column Letter. A particularly effective way to deploy the specifics of an ad or job posting to your advantage is to use a two-column format (also known as a “T-formation” letter) in which you quote in the left-hand column specific qualifications that come right from the employer’s want ad and in the right-hand column your attributes that meet those qualifications. The two-column format is extremely effective when you possess all the qualifications for a job but it can even sell you when you lack one or more qualification. The format so clearly demonstrates that you are qualified in so many areas that the employer may be willing to overlook the areas in which your exact qualifications are deficient.

One of my former students describes her success in using the two-column format: “Several months ago you referred me to your Web site where there was a sample of a cover letter using a ‘you require/I offer’ table format. Believe it or not I sent in my resume along with a cover letter in this format to a job that was posted on Monster.com and I actually got an interview!! The position is with [name of company] and I can’t even imagine how many applicants they had. When I went in for the interview the person that I met with complimented me on the cover letter and actually said that that’s what got me in the door ahead of so many others!”

You can see three sample letters in a two-column format: Sample 1Sample 2 and Sample 3.

Postscript. Adding a PS to your cover letter — especially one that’s handwritten — is another great way to grab the employer’s attention. Ideally your postscript should encapsulate your Unique Selling Proposition — the one quality that you feel will inspire employers to hire you above all other candidates.

See examples of cover-letter postscripts.

Why not try one of more of these cover-letter formats today to see they improve your response from employers?

Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college career and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.

Go back to the Cover Letter Resources for Job-Seekers section of Quintessential Careers where you will find a collection of the best cover letter tools and resources including articles tutorials and more.

Maximize your career and job-search knowledge and skills! Take advantage of The Quintessential Careers Content Index which enables site visitors to locate articles tutorials quizzes and worksheets in 35 career college job-search topic areas.

The basic format of a good cover letter is:

-- A three-sentence paragraph up top that summarizes your skills and experience that are explicitly related to the job in question.

-- Bulleted list of achievements that are directly related to the job.

-- Summary paragraph that says you really think you'd add to the company's bottom line (say that in a specifically relevant way) and that you'd like to set up a meeting to talk.

Here's a sample cover letter to give you a sense of what you're aiming for.

The cover letter should be pretty straightforward. The problem is that most people think they are an exception to the rules of cover letter writing. Most people, in fact, are not exceptions to any rule. Just statistically speaking. And your career will go much more smoothly if you stop thinking like you're a special case.

For cover letters, I find people are more willing to follow general formatting guidelines if the understand the reasoning behind it.

1. Don't stand out

You do not want to stand out for the format of your cover letter. You want to stand out for your skills and experience. Good resumes follow the rules of good resumes because hiring managers want to compare apples to apples. You should follow a generally accepted format so that if you do have things that are great about you, those things stand out. If you use a totally new, creative, innovative, however-you-describe-it, format, the hiring manager cannot see what makes you different beyond that you don't understand how to make life easy for hiring managers.

2. Use bullets

When people read cover letters, they are in a hiring mindset. That is, they are expecting to scan a page to get a general idea of someone. This is what the resume format is great for - leading the eye to the most information quickly. A good cover letter should be that way, too. This means you need to have a bulleted list. The cover letter is short, so include just one list. Three or five bullets (the brain handles odd numbered lists best). Once the bullets are on the page, you can bet that someone reading will read those first. Make them so strong that they get you the interview before the interviewer gets to the resume.

3. Write from the recruiter's point of view

Address the person by name if possible. They immediately like you better. And use the name of their company. People like reading that, too. Write, in the opening paragraph, what skills and experience you have that will allow you to do a great job in the position you'd like to interview for. So often people want to tell the hiring manger ALL their experience. But the hiring manager only cares about the perfectly relevant experience. Also, lift words from the job description and use them in the cover letter.

4. Show you understand the rules of the workforce

Of course, all hotshots break rules. But you can't break rules if you don't know what they are. Breaking implies knowing. Otherwise it's not rule-breaking; it's just acting out of ignorance. A cover letter is a way to show a hiring manager you have learned the rules. Here are some tips for getting good at thinking outside the box. And, hint: None of the tips involve cover letters.

5. Don't ask too much of a cover letter

Look, a good cover letter does not save your life. It's just sort of the icing on the cake. For example, a great cover letter for a job you'll hate is no good. So before you spend a lot of time on that cover letter, do the most important work of any job hunt: seek out resources for how to find a job you'll love

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