The resume is your workhorse. It pulls your career wagon and plows new fields of opportunity. Yet even the strongest workhorses need “show pony” cover letters to flank the competition.

“Let’s face it: There’s only so much your résumé can do,” explains Selena Dehne of JIST Publishing in “In fact, it can be jam-packed with impressive stats, industry lingo and design elements that rival those showcased in job-search books and still end up in an employer’s stack of rejections.“

Dehne stresses the importance of showing hiring managers that your value is more than the data points and punchy phrases on your resume.

“You’ve got a personality, passions, goals and career experiences that make you unlike any other candidate for the job,” she adds. “It’s up to you to share this information in your cover letter in a way that dazzles employers and strengthens your resume.”

Do More than Cut-And-Paste From Your Resume

The cover letter needs verse, sparkle and finesse. A cut-and-paste retread from your resume is redundant and squanders a prime opportunity to stand out from the crowd.

“A lot of people write cover letters as if they were paragraph-form resumes,” notes writer Seth Porges in Forbes magazine. “Instead, use your cover letter to show personality, curiosity, and an interest in the field you are applying to work in.”

Porges suggests using Google to troll for interesting facts about the job, industry, or company to sprinkle into the cover letter. He also recommends the shorter-is-sweeter approach using no more than three paragraphs.

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Personal, Polished and Professional

A cover letter is basically a sales letter to motivate the invitation for an interview, explains In addition to highlighting skills and experience, the cover letter can help you “differentiate yourself from other job seekers and demonstrate your individual personality.”

“Your tone should be confident without being arrogant,” says “Avoid attempts to be ‘cute’ or ‘catchy’ in your opening. Gimmicky attempts to gain attention can appear insincere. It is best to keep your letter polished and professional as well as interesting and visually appealing. Mention only positive things and be formal, yet friendly and open.”

Should you write like you talk in a cover letter? Some experts believe that an authentically personal, conversational tone is more effective than formal business writing style. The safest approach is to be clear, concise, and businesslike without being stilted. Be yourself, but avoid colloquialisms and clichés.

However, you can be safe but sorry when you fail to grab the attention of a busy employer, suggests David Hansson, creator of the Ruby on Rails web applications platform. He believes the conventional ‘If you like my resume, give me a call’ doesn’t always cut it for smaller firms with intimate cultures.

“I need more romance and originality than that to pick up the phone,” the 37signals partner says. “When you’re looking to get hired by managers who actually have to work with you, personality is almost all that matters to get to the interview. So beef up your cover letter and let your personality shine.”

Tell a Story to Engage Interest

Cover letters provide ways that resumes cannot to convey your unique personality, notes Katharine Hansen, Ph.D., author of Tell Me About Yourself: Storytelling to Get Jobs and Propel Your Career. “You can engage the employer, make an emotional connection, show results, and become instantly memorable by writing at least one paragraph in the form of a powerful story,” Hansen says.

Hansen thinks job seekers can enrich their cover letters by crafting a narrative about their career passions, successes and accomplishments. Don’t write an autobiography nor neglect the ‘storyline’ in the rest of the letter, she emphasizes. Tell relevant stories and use some of the employer’s messages, language, buzzwords and phrases.

More Personalization Tips For Cover Letters

  • POSTSCRIPT: A personal touch that conveys enthusiasm or a relevant detail can help.
  • MUTUAL CONTACTS: If applicable, use the name of a mutual contact or referral.
  • RELATE YOUR EXPERIENCE: Explore ways to relate your interest in the job to a life experience.
  • RECIPIENT NAME: Avoid using “To Whom It May Concern” or other generic salutations. Find out the name and title of the hiring manager.
  • GIVE EXAMPLES: Customize the cover letter with specific examples about how your accomplishments could help meet the employer’s goals.

CALL TO ACTION: Conclude with specifics about how and when you will follow up.