How to write a good cover letter
This article was written by Gary, a personal finance blogger and freelance writer who focuses on investing, budgeting, credit and debt, education and career advice, real estate and mortgages, saving, and car and life insurance at Gajizmo.com.
In today’s highly competitive job market, it is vital that you stand out. While a good resume is necessary, a prospective employer may not even look at the resume if the accompanying cover letter is not perfect. A succinct, well written cover letter can grab an employer’s attention and give you the best chance at getting an interview for the job you want.
I’ll be honest – anytime I used to receive an email, resume, cover letter, presentation, or any type of document, and the grammar and spelling wasn’t at least near perfect, I would just assume the person probably wasn’t well-educated. It is unfortunate, but when I worked in private equity and would interview candidates for positions on my team, subpar cover letters got thrown to the bottom of the deck, regardless of qualifications. Simply put, if you can’t write, don’t take the time to make sure your application is perfect, or won’t find someone to proofread your work, how can I trust you to produce quality work without errors. After all, I have to be able to trust my own colleagues, their abilities, and judgment.
Write A New Cover Letter For Each Job
Some people use a form letter that only requires they change the company name and address, but this type of letter will not get your resume noticed, especially if you are applying within a range of industries. While it is okay to use a formula when writing cover letters, each letter should have information that is specific to the particular job, internship or employer. Try to find out the name of the person who will be receiving your resume and send the letter to that person’s attention and use their name in the salutation. Avoid using “To Whom it May Concern” as a salutation if possible, and if you are not sure of the gender based on the name, look it up online to find if “Mr.” or “Ms.” is most appropriate.
If you are applying to an internship, the process of writing a new letter will give you the chance to tweak and send different combinations of cover letters and resumes to see which gets you the best response rate. This way, when you are ready to apply for actual jobs, you won’t miss out on opportunities.
Keep It Brief
A cover letter should be no more than three or four paragraphs written in a standard business letter format. In the first paragraph, you should talk about the position you are applying for and where you heard about the position. The next one or two paragraphs should discuss your education, experience and accomplishments and how they will benefit a new employer. In the last paragraph, tell the employer you look forward to discussing the job opportunity with them and the best way to get in contact with you. Close the letter by thanking the employer for their time and consideration.
Make Your Case
Your cover letter should put your education and experience in context so it shows why you are the right fit for the job. Put some personality into the letter and make it interesting to the reader, otherwise it, and your resume, may end up in the circular file. Avoid using humor unless it is appropriate for the job for which you have applied. If you applied for a sales job but do not have experience with the company’s products, keep the emphasis on your sales ability that makes you perfect for the job. Never boast unless you do it subtly, backed by quantitative evidence, and be honest about your abilities since trained HR people can spot a phony right away.
Check Out The Job and The Company
Before writing a cover letter, find out as much as you can about the duties and responsibilities of the job or internship. You will also need information about the company including their leadership, mission statement, if they are a subsidiary of a larger company, what services or products they offer, innovation within the field, and any recent contracts awarded. This information is important when you are writing a good cover letter and even more important if you manage to get an interview and need to research how to answer interview questions pertaining to the company. Knowing about the company and the job helps you tailor your experience to meet the employer’s requirements.
Make Reference To Your Resume
This can be done in a number of ways, especially for certain types of jobs. You can mention continuing education courses that are outlined in your resume or a similar job with specific information in your resume. This encourages the person reading the letter to look at your resume for more information.
Explain Holes in Employment History or Short Stays at Previous Jobs
Whether you were laid off and did not find another job right away, or took a sabbatical to care for a child or an elderly parent, it is important that you explain the gaps in your resume in the cover letter. If you were at your previous job for two years or less, provide an explanation for why you left so quickly. Training new employees is expensive, and no employer wants to hire someone they think may leave after a short time.
Mention Mutual Acquaintances
If a person you know told you about the job or you learned about it through a contact on a social media site, be sure to mention the person’s name in the cover letter. This is especially important if your contact works at the company where you are applying. Mentioning someone who the reader knows will help establish you as a good job candidate. If your application is submitted electronically, you may be able to also reference your LinkedIn profile; otherwise, add the link to the top of your resume near your contact information.
Take Keywords From The Job Posting
If you have any experience with internet marketing, you know the value of keywords. When you write a cover letter, take keywords or phrases from the original job posting and use them in your letter. Only include information about salary or benefit requirements if the posting asks for this information, and then include your requirements in the final paragraph. The importance of using similar wording is somewhat psychological – you are essentially communicating that you understand the expectations of your job and what the interviewer is looking for.
No matter how badly you need a job, no one will hire you if you sound desperate. Describe your skills and abilities with confidence and tell the company why you believe you will be an asset to their operation. Stay away from negative aspects of your career, like downsizing or the fact that you are looking for an easy job that pays well. Stay focused on how your skill set relates to the needs of the employer. Never use slang or unprofessional language in a cover letter and never mention how y
You Letter Should Be Perfect
There is no excuse for errors in spelling or grammar when you use a PC to write a cover letter or resume. Most word processing programs have built in grammar and spell check programs, so use them. Be sure to proofread for typos or errors that the program may have missed. If possible, have a friend or family member proofread your letter to make sure it is interesting and flows smoothly.
Avoid Fancy Fonts
Cover letters are business letters so it is best to use good quality, plain business stock in white or ivory. Use a 12 point font like Calibri, Arial or Times New Roman, but you can bump up the font size to 12.5 or 13 if you need to fill up the page a bit. If you prefer a border, make sure it is very simple, like a plain, linear frame. If you do not know the proper format for a standard business letter, search the web. You will find tons of sites that show examples.
While the economy is improving, there is still a great deal of competition for jobs, particularly desirable jobs or ones that do not require a degree. The best way to get a foot in the door is to write a great cover letter that draws attention to your qualifications and resume. Lastly, if you are currently unemployed and looking for an entry level job, make sure to apply before the new wave of graduates get out in the summer. This will lessen competition and offer you some negotiating power.