Writing Effective Cover Letters
A cover letter is the first thing a potential employer sees, even before they look at your resume. Without a strong cover letter, they may not even get that far.
Cover letters are more often sent by email these days, with your resume sent as an attachment. But, whether print or paper, the anatomy of a cover letter is essentially the same. You open with a greeting, state the position you’re applying for, outline your qualifications, and sign off.
It may sound like a lot, but your cover letter should only be about one page long.
Start it as you would a letter, “Dear So-and-So.” Using “Hi” or “Hello” in place of “Dear” may come across as too casual.
If possible, your letter should be addressed to the specific person doing the hiring, and lead “Dear First Name Surname.” You can find this out from the ad, through a contact who already works there, or by calling up the human resources department and asking. But if not, “Dear Hiring Manager” works in a pinch. However, going the extra step will help your cover letter stand out.
In the past, you’d preface the name with Ms or Mr, but these days it seems a little fussy and can quickly become confusing for gender neutral names.
Position You’re Applying For
Following the greeting should be a short statement about the position you’re applying for – “Please consider my application for [position title] at [company].” You may want to include a note about how you heard about the position. If a friend or family member who already works for the company recommended that you apply, the hiring manager will take a closer look at what you have to offer.
This is the most important part. It’s what gets them to flip to your resume and call to arrange an interview. Depending on your level of experience, this section may be one to three paragraphs long.
The focus should be on showing how your skills meet the employer’s needs. Highlight the work, volunteer, or personal experience you have that demonstrates you’re a perfect fit for the position. Don’t just give a bald work history – they can read that in your resume. Instead list your professional skills, soft skills or interests, how you won employee of the month, or had the highest sales during the holidays. If you’ve taken any certified courses relevant to the position, be sure to include them here.
Close with something courteous like, “Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.” On another line, your valediction, “Sincerely,” or “Regards,” another line break, your name, phone number, and email address.
Look It Over
Once it’s finished, look it over and make sure it flows. Don’t solely rely on spell check to catch spelling and grammar errors. “Deer” may be spelled correctly, but if you write “Deer Jane Smith,” you’re going to look pretty silly – and even sillier if it’s actually “Jayne Smyth.” Triple check the spelling – there’s nothing more embarrassing than getting someone’s name wrong.
It’s a good idea to have another pair of eyes go over it. Have a friend or family member who may be able to offer suggestions or catch any typos or omitted words you might have missed.