In an age when most applicants apply for jobs through the web, many public relations professionals are tempted to skip the introductory cover letter. Don’t: Eighty-six percent of executives surveyed by our company said cover letters are valuable in evaluating job candidates.

A thoughtfully written letter is another tool that can distinguish you from the crowd of applicants, allowing you to detail the unique skills and qualifications that make you ideal for the role. Here are some tips for crafting an impactful cover letter:

  • Avoid a generic salutation. Don’t start your note with “To whom it may concern” or “Dear sir or madam.” Instead, be proactive and call the company to ask the hiring manager’s name (and correct spelling), title and the person’s gender if it’s not obvious. Addressing your letter to a specific individual will demonstrate both motivation and resourcefulness.
  • Keep it focused. Hiring managers don’t want to read a novel, so limit your note to a few well-crafted paragraphs. Explain why the job interests you and what qualities you can bring to the position. Also show some personality; just make sure you stick to information that is relevant to your fit for the position. Your interest in skydiving won’t fall into that category unless you are, in fact, applying to a public relations firm that represents extreme sporting companies.
  • Customize the content. It’s important to target each letter to the organization you contact. You can discern what professional accomplishments to focus on by looking at the job posting. For example, if you are applying for a position that involves managing a small team, play up your interpersonal skills and previous experience overseeing other employees. Expand upon one or two key points from your resume — perhaps how you kept your team motivated when faced with a tight deadline — to better key in to the potential employer’s needs.
  • Showcase your top attributes. There’s a fine line between confidence and cockiness. Saying you are the “best PR specialist east of L.A.” is less effective than explaining how your targeted pitching increased media coverage by 25 percent.
  • Address any concerns. Your cover letter also is the place to address any issues that may give a hiring manager pause, such as gaps in employment. Briefly explain why you were out of work and what you have been doing since then to remain professionally engaged.
  • Don’t make demands. Avoid asking for a specific salary or including other demands (“I prefer working from home every Friday.”). The purpose of your letter is to demonstrate how you can contribute to the company’s goals, not vice versa.
  • Check for errors. A sure way to take yourself out of the running for a job is having a typo or grammatical mistake in your cover letter. Have a trusted friend or family member review the document before you send it out. Along the same lines, don’t stretch the truth about your accomplishments. Even seemingly minor misrepresentations can come back to haunt you during the reference or background check process.

When targeted to the opportunity, a cover letter can give you an edge over the competition. Don’t miss the chance to make a strong first impression and set yourself apart from other PR candidates.

The Creative Group is a specialized staffing service placing interactive, design, marketing, advertising and public relations professionals with a variety of firms. More information, including online job-hunting services, candidate portfolios and TCG’s award-winning career magazine, can be found at