The Secret to a Great Cover Letter

Know the company before you pitch them.

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GL Hoffman

Yesterday, over at 37Signals, David gave some good advice about the importance of cover letters in a job search. He cites new hire Jason’s digital cover letter as the gold standard in cover letters.

There is no doubt that Jason did a good job. He largely reformats the traditional cover letter for his online version, and he used language that would appeal to hiring managers at 37 Signals. (Seriously, “rockstar” is the way to describe yourself? What’s next, “work stud?” Oh, those crazy IT guys ...)

Here is the larger point: Fine-tune your resume and your cover letter to fit the company and the position. This means that you might have to rewrite and re-format both, depending on what information you have discovered about the company and the hiring manager. And yes, I know it is extra work.

Consider it a school assignment if that helps. Your “assignment” is to spend two hours in research on each company that interests you as a candidate. Spend two hours going through the company's Web site, executive LinkedIn profiles, blogs and industry articles--before you even touch your resume or cover letter. Only then can you do a decent job with both.

Preparation is key.

First, it helps you create the best possible written presentation of exactly how you can help the company. Next, it prepares you mentally for the company and job. You may find you don’t really want to work for this firm. Lastly, your "insider" knowledge will serve you well during the phone screen interview, just as it will during the actual interview.

G.L. Hoffman is a serial entrepreneur and venture investor/operator/incubator/mentor. Two of his companies have traveled the entire success path from the garage to IPO. Currently, he is chairman of JobDig, and his blog can be found at or at


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