5 Tips for Mastering the Project Manager’s Cover Letter

Make sure that your cover letter is working for you — not against you.

This excerpt was originally published in the October 2011 issue of PM Network®.

A cover letter is more than pretty packaging for your résumé. It’s a potential employer’s first indication of who you are and what you can do. Plus, it can make the difference between an employer calling you in for an interview…or filing your résumé away with a sea of others that didn’t make the cut. 

How can you ensure your cover letter is working for — and not against — you?

  1. Write for the right audience.
    Are you applying to manage software delivery projects or to work for an international engineering firm? The first step is “deciding who the cover letter is intended for,” advises Dhana Kothari, president of D2i Consulting, a project management consultancy in Unionville, Ontario, Canada. “Focus on the organization you want to work for rather than create a mass mailing.”

  2. Dare to be different.
    Distinguish yourself from other applicants by describing how your unique project management skill set can contribute directly to a particular project or organization.

    “To stand out from the crowd, your cover letter should refer directly to the project management position and relate aspects of your work history to the role,” says Corinne Hutchinson, marketing manager at the recruitment website TipTopJob.com in Maidenhead, Berkshire, England.

  3. Do your homework.
    For many employers, having the right education and credentials are seen as prerequisites—but these accomplishments shouldn’t be the focus of your cover letter. Instead, you need to show that you’ve made an effort to understand the organization, its objectives and even some of its challenges.

    “Learn a company’s pain points, find out the issues it’s facing and how you can help,” Ms. Kothari says. 

    Gain an understanding of the organization’s challenges regarding growth, product strategies, customer service, etc. This information is usually available from annual reports and the official website.

    Then think in terms of how your skills and experience can be made relevant to the organization’s needs. For example: “One of the challenges of the telecom industry is to innovate and implement new solutions quickly and be ahead of the competition. This requires agility, experience and flexibility for managing successful projects. I have the necessary skills and experience, as listed on my résumé, and I am confident that I can make a successful contribution to your organization in these areas.”

  4. Be a name-dropper.
    When writing a cover letter, “it’s a good idea to illustrate examples of projects you have managed in the past, including names of employers, industry and dates to add credit and make it eye-catching,” Ms. Hutchinson advises.  “Include resources (people, materials, equipment), scope (project size, objectives, goals), time (task duration) and money (costs, budgets, profits).”

  5. Worry about looks.
    No matter how much research you do or how much experience you have, a poorly designed cover letter can kill your chances.

    “A cover letter should contain clear sections, including an introduction, work history and a paragraph on your interest in the position,” Ms. Hutchinson says.