Brief Guide to Cover Letters
Job seekers often don’t give enough attention to their cover letters. This is a way for employers to weed people out, so you should make sure this document is well‐written and not generic. The purpose of a cover letter is to convince an employer to call you for an interview. It should not simply repeat what is on your resume. A cover letter should address your qualifications specific to this job and show you know something about the company.
|Letterhead:||Your resume and cover letter should match. This includes your name, email, and phone.|
|Date, Company Name, & Address:||Do some research if you don’t have this information. You should be able to find the company’s address on the internet or by calling them.|
|Greeting:||Personalize the greeting with a name or use “Dear Recruiter”, “Dear Hiring Manager”, “Dear Search Committee”, or “Dear Sir/Madam.” Try to avoid “To Whom It May Concern.” If you know the person’s name, always use “Mr.” or “Ms.” (Never use “Mrs.” unless you know the person is married.)|
|Paragraph #1:||Tell why you’re writing, the name of the position (and job number if applicable), and where you heard about position so that your reader knows where to direct your resume and letter. This is a good place to state (or restate) your objective. Since you know the specific job being offered, you can tailor your objective to suit the position. Drop names in the first paragraph if you know someone in the company. Hiring managers take unsolicited resumes more seriously when they assume you were referred by one of their employees or customers.|
|Paragraph #2:||Briefly explain why you’re interested in this employer and this job, what your career objectives are, and your experience/skills/knowledge. Describe how your education, experiences and other personal qualifications will support your capacity to succeed in the work you are targeting. Emphasize your skills or abilities that relate to the job for which you are applying. If you mention the company and its needs, it becomes immediately obvious that your cover letter is not generic. This section can be two paragraphs if needed, but don’t make this section too long or you will quickly lose the reader’s interest. Here is where you sell yourself, so be sure to write this in a confident manner. Entice the reader to find out more about you by reading your resume. And remember that the reader will view your cover letter as an example of your writing skills.|
|Paragraph #3:||The closing should be concise. Briefly restate your interest (in one sentence), let the reader know what you want (an application, an interview, an opportunity to call), and close your letter with something like: “I look forward to hearing from you soon.” and “Thank you for your consideration.”|
|Closing:||Always use “Sincerely,” and if you are emailing your documents, you can use a font signature if you like. If you really want to stand out, scan your signature and insert it as an image!|
- Avoid starting every sentence with “I” – turn the focus to what you can do for them. For example, change “I have expert knowledge of Photoshop” to “Your marketing department would benefit from my expert knowledge of Photoshop.”
- Prove that you have soft skills (like communication) by saying what you did that necessitated that skill.
- Use industry buzzwords. Because your cover letter may be filed into a database, using critical keywords will enhance the likelihood that your cover letter and resume will be retrieved in a search for qualified candidates.
- Address any weak spots in your resume, but remember – don’t get too personal.
- We don’t recommend that you say you’ll call them in a week, especially if it’s a large company. They most likely don’t want you to call, unless it’s a really aggressive sales position.
- Read the letter out loud to help you catch mistakes and/or identify any awkward sentences. Have a friend or family member (or Career Specialist) proofread it for you. There is no excuse for spelling errors!
- If sending your documents as an attachment, name the documents appropriately, such as “Jane Doe Cover Letter.doc” ‐ Make sure they can identify the document on their computer without having to open the document.
Ask Yourself These Questions
- Knowing only what is on your resume and cover letter, would you hire you?
- Do you clearly qualify for the position?
- Is it obvious that you value this job and this company?
- Do you stand out in a stack of 100 cover letters?
- Is everything perfect? This is a test of your writing skills, as well as your ability to pay attention to details.
Don’t Disqualify Yourself
Read and re‐read the application instructions, and make sure you’ve done everything they requested. The number one way people disqualify themselves is by not following instructions.