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What Employers Really Want in a Cover Letter

What do employers want to see in a cover letter? The following statistics reflect feedback from companies that responded to a survey sent to employers listed in the book The 100 Best Companies to Work For (Plume, 1994).

Although not statistically significant, responses are generally consistent with and support accepted job search protocol. This information is intended as a guide for resume preparation; use common sense and good judgment in applying survey results to your situation.


A well-written cover letter can improve the odds of a less-qualified applicant obtaining an interview.

75 percent agree, 25 percent disagree

An applicant who has done research on your company or the position they're applying for will receive greater consideration than those who send a generic cover letter.

91 percent agree, 9 percent disagree

Addressing a letter to the appropriate individual will improve an applicant's chance of getting an interview.

70 percent agree, 30 percent disagree

A cover letter with resume is welcomed even when no job openings are available.

88 percent agree, 12 percent disagree

Applicants should ask for an interview in the cover letter.

53 percent agree, 47 percent disagree

Applicants who follow up with a phone call will improve their chances of getting an interview.

37 percent agree, 63 percent disagree

Sending a duplicate copy of the resume to the departmental manager will help the applicant's chances of getting an interview.

29 percent agree, 71 percent disagree

Resumes with cover letters receive preference over resumes without cover letters.

53 percent agree, 47 percent disagree

The tone of a cover letter should be:

18 percent bold and creative
82 percent assertive yet polite
0 percent passive and understated
Excerpted from "Resume Magic: Trade Secrets of a Professional Resume Writer" (JIST Publishing, 2007) by Susan Britton Whitcomb. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company