The Evil Secret of the Cover Letter

A cover letter coexists in the three sections of linear time: past, present and future. (Sorry, I forgot to take my medication this morning. I’ll be right back.)

OK. I’m better now. But the sad truth is that some consultants actually talk that way. They want to give the impression that they are scientists (This was even before Covid!) and not simply oracles who some believe should sit on the top of Delphi while others think they should be buried under it! What job seeker has time for this nonsense? None with whom I have ever worked.

Yes, a cover letter deals with the past, present and future (the aforementioned nonsense about linear time), but the purpose of the cover letter is simple: To get the recipient to look at the resume. That’s it. Period. End of discussion. But it can be more than that.

Sorry, but now we have to do some math:

For sake of argument, let’s say that when someone posts an ad for a job, they get 50 applications. (This can actually be a very conservative number.) That’s 50 cover letters to read. Figure an average of at least a minute per cover letter since some (the really bad ones) are well over a page in length, that’s an hour’s worth of reading. And that’s why, based on my unscientific surveys of recruiters and hiring managers, most simply throw them away and go straight for the resume. Which is a shame, because a cover letter can help differentiate a candidate from their competition and complement the resume, getting them the interview. That is why it is so important to write a cover letter that will actually be read. Mine are read!

There are basically two formats for a cover letter. As you will read, I prefer the traditional. The other is a “T-Bar” where the candidate lists the responsibilities/qualifications for the job on the left side of the chart, and their experiences/qualifications on the right. The logic is obvious: You are looking for X, I have done X. Clean. Neat. Simple.

The problem I have with it is that the employer already knows the responsibilities and qualifications for the job. It’s called “the job description” and they wrote it. So why waste time telling them what they already know? If you list them all, then you are sending the message that you cannot prioritize and don’t know what is their key demand or need.

Think of the cover letter as a “tease” or a “movie trailer.” You are trying to entice them to see the movie, i.e., your resume. If the cover letter tells your entire story, why should they read the resume? That is why I prefer a more traditional approach:

First, the cover letter must be short. You, the candidate, want the recipient to know that you can get to the point. You also want them to know that you understand their workload. So you want to make things easy for them. You want them to know that you care about getting the job (you don’t send a form letter) and, given that it is so rare today, that you can actually write a professional letter in English. (If I see one more “u” for “you” or “ur” for “you are” or “you’re,”…)

Second, there is no need in the cover letter to summarize your resume. If you need to summarize your resume because it is not clear, you need a new resume. If you need to summarize your resume so there will be content in your cover letter, you need to continue reading this article because you do no know what you are doing.

Allow me to sort of digress. If they don’t ask for one, should you provide a cover letter? I think the benefits outweigh any negatives. Yes, the recipient might think that you do unnecessary work. (If I wanted a cover letter, I would have asked for a cover letter!) But the fact that you know how to write an effective cover letter says enough positive things about you that it is worth the risk which, I believe is, at best, minimal. And this is why I believe employers should demand receipt of a cover letter. A short, to the point cover letter is a pretty good indication (not perfect, but pretty good) that the candidate won’t talk too much in meetings and will not digress from the topic.

So how do you write a cover letter?

In the first paragraph simply state “I wish to apply for the XYZ position you advertised on 123.” Now you have told the recipient that you appreciate the fact that they may be working on a number of searches at the same time and you want them to know which job you want (granted it should be in the subject line of the email along with any code) and, perhaps more importantly, that you get to the point. So many people start their cover letters by introducing themselves, telling the recipient about their career goals, and some even mention their hobbies, so, assuming the recipient will read the letter, they only know why the person has written them when they get to the bottom of the first page (if they are that lucky!). You appreciate the stress they are under. Again, you know how to get to the point. You know what is appropriate to be included in the cover letter and what can wait for the interview. That is why you keep it simple, just one informative line. So far, you are doing great! You have their attention. They are reading the letter and since they see, basically, that there is only one more real paragraph left, they continue reading.

In the second paragraph you tell them about the one accomplishment that you have had that speaks to the position for which you are applying and will convince them that they want to consider you before you reach out to their competition. You are showing them that you know what they want to hear and can refrain from wasting their time telling them the subjective things that you want them to know. No one wants to hear how great you think you are, they want to know what you can do for them. So: “Having successfully done such-and-such, saving my current employer X dollars, I am not only confident that I can fulfill the requirements of the position, but exceed them.” The unspoken questions are: You want me to save you hundreds of thousands/millions of dollars or your competitor? You want me to raise your client retention rate or your competitor’s? You want me to lower your employee turnover rate or your competitor’s? That’s the message of the second paragraph: I did it for someone else and I can do it for you! The unspoken message is: I am not a big risk to interview nor to hire.

The rest is simple:

Attached is a copy of my resume for your review. (Self explanatory.)

Thank you in advance for your consideration. (Always be polite.)

I look forward to hearing from you. (Self explanatory and not pushy. HR does not want you to call them. Imagine if all candidates called; they would not be able to do any work. You emailed them; they got your email. Now move on!)

Sincerely, (That’s how professionals end their letters.)

Your Name (And that’s why you don’t have to start your cover letter with, “My name is Joe Jones.” They know your name because it’s either on your email address, at the top of the letter, or your signature. When I get one of those I almost expect the next sentences to be: “I am five years old. When I grow up I want to be a fireman.”)

This letter can be read in about 10 seconds which is all the time you have. And that’s the primary evil secret of the cover letter: No one is going to spend more than 10 seconds reading a cover letter!


The 21st Century Job Search

New cover shot for articles

People seem to believe that entering a new century means that there is a new way to do just about everything, or at least there should be. That’s silly. At least as regards conducting an effective job search, the only thing different in this, the second decade of the twenty-first century, from previous centuries, is technology – you can literally find networking events at the push of a button, and apply for hundreds of jobs a week, if you already have a computer and Internet access, virtually for free!

There are two other differences, but I am afraid you will have to read my new book, The 21st Century Job Search, to find out what they are!

I have never been afraid of controversy, nor am I hesitant to admit when I am wrong. Accordingly, in the book I revisit my previous comments on such things as wearing large engagement rings to job interviews, my short-lived position as a career coach at a New York university, and coping with discrimination, topics which raised some eyebrows when I originally wrote about them on LinkedIn.

In the book you will learn:

  • How to prepare for an effective job search;
  • How to research prospective employers;
  • How to handle your Internet presence;
  • How to utilize LinkedIn to build your brand and attract employers;
  • How to effectively network – especially if you are shy;
  • How to prepare for surprises;
  • How to correctly read job descriptions to avoid frustration;
  • What really happens to, and how to write, effective cover letters;
  • What really happens to, and how to write, effective resumes;
  • How to properly prepare for phone, video and in-person interviews;
  • What questions to ask, and how to answers questions you will be asked, in interviews;
  • How to follow-up after an interview;
  • About legal and illegal discrimination; and
  • About negotiating, offer letters, and resigning.

I also tackle the “tough” questions of dealing with a “resume gap,” raising health issues, having been fired, and how to turn having been a stay-at-home parent or caregiver into an attraction for employers.

But I do not simply tell you what to do, when possible, I show you. There is a script, especially for those of you who are shy, for effective networking and follow up. Additionally, you will find sample letters for networking, expressing interest in a company, applying for jobs, thanking interviewers and, my personal favorite, the rejection letter.

While in the book I give particular advice to veterans, college students, “older” candidates, the long-term unemployed, stay-at-home parents, and caregivers about how to effectively cope with the different stages of a job search, the book is for any job seeker regardless of their circumstances.

The official launch date for the book is March 1. You may pre-order the book and receive significant savings through February 28. The paperback edition will only cost you $9.95 (a $10 savings), and the Kindle edition will only be $2.99 (a $6.96 savings; FREE for Kindle Unlimited subscribers.) To make your purchase, click on the links or the book cover.

Links to LinkedIn Posts You May Find of Interest

Ten Things for Veterans to Keep in Mind When Conducting a Job Search

10 Things to Do to Get over the Holiday Job Seeking Blues

Why I Believe I am Correct in Accepting Connect Requests from Everyone

The 5-Second Resume Skim

Two Jobs to Think Thrice About Before Taking

How I Got a Former Prostitute Hired

5 Steps to Successful Career Change

Closing the Salary Gap

9 Questions Every Candidate Should Ask in an Interview and Why

Before hiring, meet the wife!

Why reading the classics is important

Check Your References

What is an Informational Meeting and How Should You Conduct One?

The Dangers of Frivolous Accusations of Sexual Harassment

Why Volunteering is so Important for Job Seekers

What is appropriate to share with colleagues and what isn’t?

Is this the Dumbest or Most Brilliant Reason for Working on a Straight Commission?

On Time Management

What will the 2018 Resume Look Like?

Announcing 4th of July Career Counseling Special – Only $150!

Until midnight (ET) July 4, 2017, I am pleased to offer 50% off my full-service unlimited Job Search Planning Career Counseling Package.   The service includes:

  • A 2-hour Skype consultation to create a job search plan, which includes:
    • a discussion on building your own brand
    • a review of your needs/wants
    • researching tips
    • networking (including real world and LinkedIn
    • a critique and editing of your cover letter and resume
    • and interviewing
  • Mock interviews prior to actual interviews
  • Unlimited phone and e-mail follow-up until you get your next job!

This offer ends midnight July 4, 2017, at midnight (ET) and is limited to 10 job seekers.

After you have paid, please email your resume and, if you have one, a sample cover letter, to Bruce Hurwitz at I will call you within 24 hours to setup your Skype interview.

To pay visit:

A Better Cover Letter

I have changed my mind on how to write an effective cover letter. But only in form, not substance.

What has remained the same is that a cover letter has to address only the concerns of the employer – you have to tell them what they want to hear, not what you want to tell them. It has to be so short that it can be read in 10 seconds. And, when responding to an ad, answer any questions asked – usually about salary.

So what has changed?

In the past I have recommended a first sentence that goes like this:

I wish to apply for the controller position which I saw advertised in today’s Post.

That sentence shows that you get straight to the point, tell them for which position you are applying, where you heard about it, and when. No self-praise or resume summary which is the mistake most people make.

Then I suggested a second sentence that goes like this:

Having saved my employers an average of $1 million a year, every year, by uncovering waste and improving procurement activities, I am not only confident that I can fulfill the requirements of the job but exceed them.

In other words, this is why you should hire me. No self-praise; just facts. The message: I have done it for others and I can do it for you. You won’t be taking a risk if you hire me.

I now believe that this is a mistake. The concept is perfect, but the order is wrong. In giving the advice which, by the way, has worked for many job applicants, I committed a rookie journalistic mistake: I buried the lead. So my new first paragraph would go like this:

Having saved my employers an average of $1 million a year, every year, by uncovering waste and improving procurement activities, I am not only confident that I can fulfill the requirements of the controller position which I saw advertised in today’s Post, but exceed them.

Now you are shooting with both barrels right up front. The purpose of the cover letter is to get the recipient to look at your resume. With this cover letter, they will look at your resume.

Then, if and only if they ask, tell them what your salary requirements are. If you don’t it means one of two things: Either you are playing games (Whoever says a number first loses.) or you are sloppy (There was only one question in a one inch ad and you forgot to answer it! What’s going to happen when you have a project which requires you to answer 20 questions? If you can’t handle one, how are you going to handle 20?). That said, you can answer in one of three ways: I was last earning X, not including benefits. I am currently earning X, not including benefits. My salary requirements are X, not including benefits. (The last is if you have been unemployed for a long time, or if your are concerned that you were earning too much in your last job, and is based on your actual budget.) By adding “not including benefits” you are making it clear that you are open to negotiations.

Finally end this way:

Attached please find a copy of my resume for your review.

Thank you in advance for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.


And that’s it. Five paragraphs (including “Sincerely”). Ten seconds to read. And it differentiates you from your competition.

Most job applicants use the cover letter to sing their own praises. “A consummate professional with….” “Are you looking for someone who never disappoints?” No employer cares what you think about yourself. Employers only care about what you can do for them. So by focusing on what you have actually accomplished, you differentiate yourself.

Sadly, you are also going to differentiate yourself in another way. The fact is, including recent college graduates, very few people can write a decent letter. You will show that you can write and employers will be pleasantly surprised, maybe even relieved!

So keep it short. Keep it focused on the employer’s needs. And have a resume that follows the same logic. Even if it takes two or three pages, make certain your resume answers employers’ questions before they ask them! It’s not hard to do.


Bruce Hurwitz is an executive recruiter and career counselor. He has helped scores (thousands if you include attendees at his presentations) of people, including veterans, not only change jobs but, on occasion, change careers. Having successfully transitioned from academia to non-profits to the recruiting industry, he has been there and done that!

Bruce is a recognized authority on job search and career issues, having been quoted in over 700 articles, appearing in some 500 publications, across the United States and in more than 30 foreign countries. His posts on LinkedIn have been read over 300,000 times and have garnered national and international media attention, including television appearances on Fox Business Network and Headline News (CNN).

In addition to serving on the Board of Directors of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, he chairs their Entrepreneurs Network, hosts their weekly podcast – The Voice of Manhattan Business – and serves as an Ambassador.

An advocate for the protection of job seekers, visit the homepage of his website,, to read about questionable offerings of so-called job search assistance companies and to learn about his upcoming speaking engagements.

How to Get a Job in the US AND KEEP IT!

First, let me make this clear.  I am not an attorney and nothing in this post should be interpreted as offering legal advice. 

Second, this post is meant for foreign nationals wanting to move to the US.  Be aware, there is no shortage of charlatans who will try and con you out of your money.  Remember: No one can guarantee you a job.  If someone promises to get you a job if you pay them, even if it is only an “administrative fee,” they are lying. 

The purpose of this post is to help foreign nationals outside the United States to understand what it takes to get and keep a job in this country and to announce the launch of a new service which I am offering to these individuals.

Of course, the simplest way to get a job here is to enter as a student.  Get as many internships as possible.  Do a great job.  Have an employer who hired you for an internship sponsor you.

Alternatively, work for a company in your home country with offices in the US.  Like everything else, you will have a lot of competition.  The key to getting a transfer to the US, once you have proven yourself, is differentiation.  Your employer will want to know that you will be able to “handle” the US.  That’s the service that I now offer:  I will make you different from your competition in the ways that matter: communication and culture.

In addition to being a student or a transferee, foreigners can get work visas either as Temporary (Nonimmigrant) Workers or Permanent Workers, for which there are only 140,000 visas.  To say that this is a complicated labyrinth is to engage in understatement.  That is why it is so important to utilize your local US Consulate and, possibly, to have an immigration attorney.

Regardless of which visa you have, when you arrive you will have to have an employer.  It’s the only way to get the proper visa. Countless people contact employers constantly asking for sponsorships.  They are denied because they don’t know how to ask.  They are not prepared.  My clients will be prepared.

Let me reiterate, my concern is not with the legalities of immigration.  For that there are immigration attorneys and, obviously, the US Consulate.  What I am concerned about is that the immigration be successful.  What could be worse than moving all the way to the US only to be fired because “it is not a good fit?”

Just because you get the visa does not mean you are guaranteed employment for life.  Things don’t always work out.  You may have all the professional skills and credentials, but because of a strange culture and language, things may not work out.  In other words, what is missing are the personal skills.  I want to make certain that does not happen to you.

These are the problems that I want to eliminate for my International Career Counseling clients:

  • Knowledge of conversational English. Professionally, your English may be perfect, but your everyday English may be wanting.  You can describe your latest professional project perfectly, but you can’t order breakfast at a local diner.  You will learn to converse in English.
  • But it is not enough to know the words, pronunciation and articulation are just as important. If no one can understand you, you might as well be speaking your native language.  If necessary, I will introduce you to a speech therapist who will teach you to speak clearly.  (It can be done using a Skype-like system.)
  • You may know the history of the United States better than most Americans, but you may not understand the culture. What is acceptable in your country may not be acceptable here.  This is especially true of workplace behavior.  One mistake, even an innocent mistake, could result in your employer being sued and you losing your job.  You will learn what not to do in the workplace and, for that matter, on the street.
  • Looking for a job in the US, from building your brand to networking to cover letters to resumes to interviewing, will be different for you. You need to understand the process before you start the search for a sponsor (assuming you are not coming to the US as a student or a transferee from a local company).  You will learn the process.
  • Once you get the job, and start work, there is plenty that can still go wrong. You may be uncomfortable speaking with your boss or colleagues about certain topics.  You’ll have me to consult with for the first year that you are in the US.

So remember, just because you have that prized piece of paper – the visa – in your hands, guarantees you nothing more than the opportunity to be successful in the United States.  Your success will be dependent on your ability to communicate in English and to understand American culture.  That’s where I come in.

Ironically, after proofreading this post, I stepped away from my desk.  Someone called and left me a message.  I could barely understand him.  It sounded like he said he was from Kenya and that I had gotten a job for one of his friends.  He asked me to call him back.  First problem, I did not understand his name.  Second problem, he did not leave a number.  Third problem, when I phoned the number that appeared on my telephone I.D., I received a message that voice mail had yet to be set up.  This is exactly what I mean by “personal skills.”  This man may be very accomplished in his field, but because he does not understand how things are done in the US, and probably no one has told him about his communication problems, he may not find employment.  Learn from his mistakes; don’t repeat them!


Bruce Hurwitz is an executive recruiter, career counselor and business advisor.  In addition to serving on the Board of Directors of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, he chairs their Entrepreneurs Network, hosts their weekly podcast – The Voice of Manhattan Business – and serves as an Ambassador.  Visit the homepage of his website,, to read about the latest questionable offerings of so-called job search assistance companies.

Creativity Should Sometimes be Avoided in a Cover Letter (and Resume)

I admCadburyit it.  As far as I am concerned, with all do respect to Mr. Hershey, Cadbury chocolate is my favorite.  But what I especially like about them today is that, at least according to the post I found on my LinkedIn feed, and assuming this is authentic, they actually respond to some job applicants whom they reject.

Here’s what the letter states:

Dear Mr. Jones:

We regret to inform you that your application for the position of Global Quality Manager has been unsuccessful.  We don’t normally respond to unsuccessful applicants but in your case we’ve made an exception in order to return the £5 note you attached to the references section of your application under the line “Elizabeth *wink wink.*”

Some notes regarding your application:

  • Listing “Super secret spy work I can’t legally talk about” as your previous work experience won’t fool anyone.
  • In future you might want to refrain from using sentences like “C’mon, let me be a part of this great gig you’ve got going on.”
  • eBay feedback isn’t a relevant reference.
  • Your attached sketch of an “everlasting chocolate bar” was unwarranted, absurd and quite frankly it scared us a little.

We wish you all the best in your future endeavours,


Alan Carle

I do not know if this letter is for real.  (Given the spelling of “endevours,” it might be!) But for the sake of argument, let’s say it is.

What we have here is someone who thinks that being smart, being a wise guy, will differentiate him from his competition, get him noticed and get a response.

Well he was right.  Except that he was noticed for being a fool and he only got a response because of the five quid bribe.

Yes, in your cover letter  and resume you want to differentiate yourself.  Sadly, today it is easy to do by just writing a well-written letter.  As I have written previously, all you have to do, all you should do, is to keep it short, sweet and to the point.  No self-praise and, most certainly, no nonsense.  The same is true for resumes.  After all, no one hires a fool!


Bruce Hurwitz is an executive recruiter and career counselor.  He is the author of Success! As Employee or Entrepreneur and A Hooker’s Guide to Getting a Job: Parables from the Real World of Career Counseling and Executive Recruiting.  To take advantage of his December Career Counseling Special click here.

Five Steps to Career Change

If there has been one question I have received more than any other during the past few weeks it’s, How do I change careers? My answer: You don’t. Someone else has to do it for you! Why? Because changing careers requires networking. You need help.

Here are my five steps to career change.

First, don’t quit your day job. As difficult as it is to get a new job while unemployed, it is exponentially more difficult to change careers if not presently employed. It’s possible, just more difficult.

Second, research. Find out everything you can about your chosen new career. That way, when you start networking, the people in your chosen career will be impressed with your knowledge.

Third, look at the LinkedIn profiles of the people who have careers similar to the one you want. Pay special attention to their education. If they have a degree or certification that you will require, get it. When choosing the school or program you plan to attend, base the decision not so much on the quality of their classes but on the quality of their job placement services. Then, once you graduate, use them to find internships and, ultimately, jobs.

Fourth, join groups where you will be able to meet persons in your chosen career. Look for mentors. By “mentor” I mean someone who will help guide you in your new career for free. If they charge, they are consultants and you’ll pay a fortune for limited, if any, results. You want someone who will take you under their wings, so to speak, offer constructive criticism and introduce you to the right people.

And fifth, volunteer. It does not matter what the cause is, as long as you truly believe in it. What is most important is that you serve on a committee, or in a role, where your new skills will be utilized and, most importantly, seen by people in your new career or industry. That way they will be able to help you navigate their networks or, ideally, maybe even offer you a job, once they have personally seen the quality of your work.

In conclusion, career changing is not for the shy or the lazy. It takes help and it takes work.


Bruce Hurwitz is an executive recruiter and career counselor.  He is the author of Success! As Employee or Entrepreneur and A Hooker’s Guide to Getting a Job: Parables from the Real World of Career Counseling and Executive Recruiting

How to Write an Effective Resume

Philosophy: Employers will spend 5 seconds scanning a resume to see if a candidate is qualified for a position. They’ll check location, tenure, and specific qualifications (skills, licenses, degrees, etc.). If you pass the five second test, so to speak, then they will start reading. In order to “stop” them from scanning, and to get them to read, you need to begin the resume with “Selected Accomplishments,” 5-6 bullet points highlighting verifiable achievements that tell the employer that you can do the job because you’ve done the job! NEVER include an “Objective” (your objective is to get the job you’re apply for, so why have an “Objective?”), or a “Professional Summary.” No employer cares how great you think you are! By listing media citations, speaking engagements, and awards/honors, you’ll tell the employer that others think you are great. That is what has value.


City, State of Residence

Phone Number – E-mail Address

Selected Accomplishments

  • 5-6 bullet points that emphasize what you have achieved for others

Work Experience

Name of Employer, Location of Employer, Dates of Employment (Most Recent First), Title, Two-three line summary describing the employer, what they do, the size of the company, etc.

  • Bullet points highlighting the key responsibilities


Degrees from accredited schools.

Continuing Professional Education

List any courses taken from non-accredited schools/programs or accredited schools where degrees were not awarded.

Licenses and Certifications

Skills and Languages

Media Citations

Speaking Engagements

Awards and Honors

Professional Memberships

Volunteerism/Community Service

The length of the resume should be at least one page for every 10 years of employment but content is more important than length. A lousy one-page resume will not be read, while a brilliant 10-page resume will.


Don’t forget to take advantage of my year-end career counseling special. Come January, it will be gone!

How to Write an Effective Cover Letter

Philosophy: Employers will not spend more than ten seconds reading a cover letter. You have to show them that you can get to the point, that you are focused, can prioritize, understand business, know what they are looking for and that you are the person for the job. Here’s how you do it:
• If at all possible personalize the letter. If you cannot get the name of the recipient, “Dear Hiring Manager” will suffice. NEVER use “To Whom It May Concern.” That makes it appear to be a form letter.
• In the first paragraph let them know the job you are applying for, when you heard about it and where you saw it advertised. That way they know you can get to the point, that you do not procrastinate, and that you understand that it is important for them to know where they are getting the best bang for their advertising dollars.
• In the second paragraph give them an example of the one thing that you have done in your career that speaks to the job for which you are applying and will convince them to look at your resume. That’s the purpose of the cover letter, to get them to look at the resume. (See my post, “How to Write an Effective Resume.”)
• In the third paragraph, if they ask in the ad, tell them what your salary requirements are. Include “not including benefits” so they know you are flexible.
• In the fourth paragraph, make reference to your resume.
• End politely and be certain your full name, address and contact information appear at the top.
Dear Ms. Smith,
I wish to apply for the position of warehouse manager that I saw advertised in today’s Post.
With my three years experience in the Army overseeing a warehouse stocking thousands of unique items, valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars, I am certain that I will not only be able to fulfill the requirements of the position but to surpass them.
My salary requirements are $50,000, not including benefits.
Attached please find a copy of my resume for your review.
Thank you in advance for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.
Your Name
Don’t forget to take advantage of my year-end career counseling special. Come January, it will be gone!

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