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Cover Letter Questions

Find answers to four of the most common questions about resume cover letters.

Cover Letter Questions

by Kevin Donlin

Are you struggling to write a cover letter?

If so, you've got company. I get dozens of questions about writing cover letters every week from people like you.

Here are four of the most common cover letter questions, with answers to guide you!

Q. I don't know the recipient's name -- how should I start my cover letter?

A. Whatever you do, avoid such cliches as "Dear Sir or Madam" or "To whom it may concern."

If possible, call the target employer and get an actual name of an actual recipient. This will set you apart from most applicants.

If that fails, try writing: "Dear employer." It has a confident ring about it, without sounding pretentious.

Q. How long should my cover letter be?

A. Confine yourself to one page. Anything longer says to the reader: "Hello. I have no idea how to prioritize my thoughts. Care to hear my life story?" Not effective.

Q. The classified ad asks me to include my expected salary. What should I say?

A. Nothing.

This may sound controversial, but I advise you NOT to answer questions of salary.


Employers ask about salary to screen out candidates who are over-qualified or under-qualified (in their minds). But how can they judge you accurately before they've ever spoken to you? Instead, I recommend you say this: "My salary requirements are negotiable."

Q. What's the purpose of a cover letter, anyway? Do I really need to send one?

A. Yes and no.

While it may not be necessary if you plan to hand deliver your resume or apply for an internal position, a cover letter is essential if you're applying for jobs in the newspaper or on the Internet.

According to an article in the Wall Street Journal's National Business Employment Weekly, "Your cover letter can make or break whether your resume goes into the 'yes' pile or the 'no' pile. A really terrific cover letter can change the reader's mind."

Use your cover letter to show off your knowledge of the company and the industry. And be sure to convey your enthusiasm for the job -- enthusiasm sells.

Think of your cover letter as vermouth and your resume as gin. Separately, each has its own merits, but when combined with care, they create something special.

Best of luck to you!

Kevin Donlin owns and operates Guaranteed Resumes. Since 1995, he has provided resumes, cover letters and online job-search assistance to clients. This article and hundreds like it on topics ranging from networking to resume writing to finding internships also appear in The Last Job Search Guide You'll Ever Need, a self-help job guide.