Wednesday, June 8, 2011

How to Write a Cover Letter

Write a Cover Letter
You could write the best resume in the world and be highly qualified for a job, but if your cover letter is poorly written, generic, or misguided, you can pretty much throw your chances out the window. The cover letter is your first, and sometimes your only opportunity to grab an employer's attention and let them know why your resume is worth reading. Since there are many different ways to write a cover letter, depending on the employer and the method of transmission, for example, here are some ways to make yours stand out along with some examples you can tweak to your liking.


Before Writing the Letter

  1. 1
    Update your resume. If you don't already have a resume, then write one -- the experiences and skills you list on your resume should be tailored to the particular position you're applying for, reflecting strengths that will be desirable to your potential employer.
  2. 2
    Research the target organization or business so you can include information or facts relating to your desired job or industry. This will not only help you in writing a relevant cover letter but it will also be useful if you get an interview. Some key items you should become familiar with:
    • What is the employer's mission? What do they promote as setting themselves apart from competitors?
    • What kind of customer base does the employer cater to? What kinds of people are in their target market?
    • What are the company or organization's values? Innovation? Service? Diversity? Sustainability?
    • What is the history of the employer? Who was the founder? How has the business or organization evolved?
  3. 3
    Analyze the job. Read the job description carefully. Check for the noted and assumed needs and determine the most important skills, qualifications and experience the employer is looking for. Write them down, and put a check mark next to the ones you have.
  4. 4
    Find the name of the manager in charge of the department you want to work in. Use your network. Do you know someone who is in the company or industry? Can they help you? If not, call the HR department.

While Writing the Letter

  1. 1
    Format the heading elements correctly. Line spacing and address conventions mainly apply for a paper cover letter. For an online version that is not likely to be printed out, the date alone may be sufficient, or not even required.
    • Include your address at the top (in the left-hand corner - approximately 1 inch down from the top of the page).
    • Skip down 4 lines and enter the date.
    • Skip down 4 more lines and enter the Contact Person, then the name and address of the company. Write to a specific person, not "To whom it may concern", or "Dear Sir/Madam", whenever possible.
  2. 2
    Write the body of your letter with three or four paragraphs.
    • In the first paragraph, tell the employer why you're writing to them in two or three sentences. State the position you are applying for. Avoid the standard openings like "I wish to apply for the position of ___ advertised in ___". Design your opening to get the reader to sit up and pay attention to what you can do. It's unnecessary to specify how you became aware of the position unless it's through a mutual contact or recruiting program. If you're writing a letter of interest (also known as a prospecting or inquiry letter), in which you're asking about positions that might be available, specify why you are interested in working for the employer.
    • In the next one or two paragraphs, outline your qualifications and match them to the requirements of the position. Show enthusiasm and a desire to help the companyreach its goals. Show the employer what you can contribute to their bottom line, not what you want to get out of the deal. Use what you've researched about the employer's background and history. Try to make two or three solid points, backed up by specific examples. Relate some relevant details about the company so the employer knows you did some research ahead of time.
    • In the final paragraph, include a positive statement or question that will cause the employer to want to take action. Make this closing paragraph between 2-4 sentences. Direct the employer to the enclosed resume, make your availability known for an interview, and if you want to be assertive, state when you will contact them to set up a meeting time to discuss the opportunity in further detail. Provide your own contact information (phone number, e-mail address) and welcome them to get in touch. It's very important to finish off by thanking the employer for their time and consideration.
  3. 3
    Conclude with "Yours sincerely," (if you have addressed the letter to a named person), "Yours faithfully," (if you have used a "Dear Sir" approach) or "Regards." Leave four blank lines to sign your name in blue ink. If you use black ink, they may think it is a copy. If this is online, leave only one or two blank lines.
  4. 4
    Proofread. This is essential. Some things to look out for are:
    • Be sure you have spelled everything correctly.
    • Own what you've accomplished, grammatically speaking (e.g. avoid "this experience gave me the opportunity to..." or worse, "these goals were met by me."). You don't want to sound like everything happened to you or was done by some other entity. Make yourself the active subject of every sentence (e.g. In this experience, I developed/reinforced/learned/etc."). But that doesn't mean every single sentence should start with "I..." so vary your syntax accordingly.
    • Break down any contractions (e.g. "I've" to "I have").
    • Avoid colloquial (informal) writing. You want to sound professional, objective, and educated.
    • Check the punctuation use carefully.
    • Keep the letter to one page -- the purpose of the cover letter is to get the hiring manager to read your resume! If the letter is spilling onto a second page, it's time to tighten your points and edit the fluff.
    • Your tone should be upbeat, professional and informative. The employer wants to know what you can do for them, so sell yourself and your skills in a positive way. Keep that in mind as you write and proofread each paragraph.

Cover Letter Exercise

Answer the following questions, then use each answer in the corresponding spot of the sample cover letter:
  1. 1
    Name of person you are addressing the contact letter to.
  2. 2
    Your role or current job.
    • "graduate student in environmental science"
    • "customer service professional"
  3. 3
    A general description of your accomplishments/experiences in the field to which you are applying.
    • "fifteen years of customer service"
    • "an outstanding background in scientific research and discovery"
    • "a solid history of dependability in the automotive industry"
  4. 4
    A positive description of the employer.
    • "what many consider to be the most progressive medical institution in the state of Rhode Island"
    • "a well-established company with a long history of gourmet creativity"
  5. 5
    Assets you can offer to the company. List one to three.
    • "extensive experience with start-ups"
    • "demonstrated ability to solve problems"
    • "refined ability to manage teams"
  6. 6
    Key skill/experience/accomplishment, and how it can help the company achieve its mission. List two to three of these. Be specific.
  7. Dear (1):
As a (2) with (3), I am eager to contribute my abilities and experience to (4). Given my (5), I believe I can help (employer name) achieve its mission and goals as a (position).
I would like to continue contributing my abilities and experiences to (employer name) and would be happy to discuss in further detail how I can accomplish this. My resume is enclosed for your convenience. Feel free to contact me at (phone number and/or e-mail address). I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you for your time and consideration.
(In this space sign your name)

(Your name printed after four spaces)



  • A good cover letter should not sound like a re-hash of your resume. It should pull highlights from your resume and tie it gracefully with the job description. Consider it a bridge between your resume and the position you're seeking.
  • Make your cover letter visually appealing and coordinated with your resume. Use the same personal information block in the heading of your cover letter and your resume. A cohesive resume package is a very attractive selling point. If using paper (i.e., not online), use the same high quality paper for the cover letter as for your resume.
  • At the same time, do not overdo the style elements. One type font is never wrong (especially if you are in the arts and applying for a job that requires a resume). Choose a font that is simple but elegant. Avoid uncommon decorative fonts unless you are applying for a job where being quirky is of greater value than being businesslike AND the people who are doing the hiring are on board with this philosophy.
  • Be concise. Never use two words when one will do (avoid verbosity). Always strike the word "very" and eliminate the word "that" as much as you can.
  • The more unconventional the employer, the more leeway for creativity you have in writing a cover letter.
  • You should use a different cover letter for every job application. It must be specific to the exact role that you are applying for.
  • Always request an interview, and be ready for one.
  • Think about how you'll answer the question "tell me about yourself." The interviewer doesn't really want you to go back to grade school and talk about your childhood. This is a specific question with a specific two minutes or so, the interviewer wants to get you to relax and loosen out your vocal cords, understand your background, your accomplishments, why you want to work at XYZ company and what your future goals are.
  • When thinking of accomplishments, describe problems you've encountered in the past and how you handled them. They'll basically want to know how you'll perform when faced with obstacles in the position you're interviewing for. Be able to give honest, detailed examples from your past.
  • When researching the company, don't just do an Internet search, memorize their mission, and be done with it. If it's a retail company, visit a few of their stores, observe the customers, and even strike up a few conversations. Talk to existing employees--ask them what it's like working there, how long the position has been open, and what you can do to increase your chances of getting it. Become familiar with the history of the company. Who started it? Where? Who runs it now? Be creative, and do whatever you think the other candidates don't have the guts to do.


  • This is not your autobiography. Keep it well under a page.
  • Avoid generic, empty language ("I will bring a depth of experience," or, "I believe my qualifications and experience suit the demands of the position"). Be specific and concrete about what you can bring to the position.
  • If you're doing a thorough job search, you will get rejected sometimes. If you're not getting rejected, you're not putting yourself out there enough. And if you don't learn to see rejection as a chance to improve your approach, then you'll have a very difficult time getting a job.

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