When vetting job applicants, most employers read the cover letter first. If it doesn’t grab their attention, they may not go on to the résumé. Think of your cover letter as a commercial for yourself.
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Your goal is to spark employers’ interest so that they want to know more about you. A well crafted cover letter shows what you would bring to the company and why you are a good match for the job.
- Unless the job posting specifically says otherwise, always include a cover letter.
- The letter should be no more than one page.
- Address your letter to a specific person, not just to a title or department.
- Refer to the exact job you are applying for, including a reference code if there is one.
- Use active, not passive, voice. For example, “I won an award,” not, "I was awarded."
- Spelling and grammar are crucial. Proofread your letter several times and ask someone else to review it, too.
Composing Your Cover Letter
- Divide the letter into three sections: a brief introduction (1-2 sentences); a middle paragraph with several sentences or bullets; and a brief closing.
- In the first paragraph, tell the employer what job you are applying for, and (if applicable) who referred you.
- In the middle section, briefly describe your skills, show how you’d use your experience in the new job, and say why you’re applying. This is your chance to sell yourself! Describe a major achievement, use concrete details, and cite examples.
- Repeat some of the keywords you see in the job posting in your cover letter (and in your résumé, of course).
- In the last paragraph, thank the employer and give your contact information.
- Use online tutorials and sample cover letters to get you started. QuintCareers.com and The Riley Guide offer some good examples, or read about cover letters for career changers.
Cover Letter Mistakes
- Don't send out a generic cover letter, whatever the position. Instead, tailor each letter (and résumé) to the job you want.
- Don't waste space on phrases like “I am writing to…,” “Let me introduce myself,” etc. Get to the point or your letter will not be read.
- Don't repeat what is in your résumé. Instead, call attention to your qualifications by highlighting your special skills and achievements. Find fresh ways to get your message across.
- Don't call attention to your age by citing your 20, 30, or 40 years of experience. Rather, choose words like “extensive” or “significant” to describe your experience.
- Don't include your salary requirements. Instead, save the salary discussion until you are close to being offered the job.
- Take time to describe your “personal brand”—the unique skills and strengths that make you attractive to an employer. Convey your brand in your letter.
- If you don’t have an elevator speech, try writing one. It’s a pithy, 30-second summary of who you are and what you'd like to do professionally. Not only will this make you feel more confident, but you can also use elements of your elevator speech in your cover letter.
- Share your cover letter with friends who will give you their frank reactions. Does your letter feel intriguing? Does it make the reader want to know more about you? If not, go back and revise it, pointing up the things that make you the best candidate for this job.
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