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How to Write A Kick-Ass Cover Letter

Posted By Jim On 11/17/2009 @ 8:04 am In Career | 21 Comments

There are two big pieces to the resume puzzle – the resume itself and the well-crafted cover letter. If your resume is the car, then your cover letter are the tires. Most people don’t think about the tires on their car but your tires are the only thing on your car that touches the road. Most people don’t think much about their cover letters, especially with so much job hunting online, but it’s important because it gives you the opportunity to relate your resume to the job. A listing of accomplishments is nice, especially if your accomplishments are many, but sometimes hiring managers need help figuring out why you might be the best fit for a job opening.

After you’ve figured out the template and written a few cover letters, the process will be very easy and you’ll be able to produce a good cover letter in just a few minutes. If the hiring manager never sees it, it’s only a few minutes lost. If the hiring manager does, it’s a great opportunity to present your skills and accomplishments in a way that matches the job opening.

This article is part of Bargaineering Career Week 2009 [3], a week-long series focused on your career – how to find a job, how to tailor your resume, how to find the job opportunities and how to nail the interview. This article is the first article of day two – resume reconstruction.

Research The Company, Industry

Before you do anything, research the company and the industry they are in. It’s important for you to understand the company’s core, such as its mission and it’s values, as well as their history and current state of business. You may not necessarily use this in the cover letter but you want to understand if they emphasize anything in particular, so you can tailor the letter to emphasize those as well (as long as it makes sense). This will also be crucial should you land an interview.

Research The Job Position

The job listing will have a list of qualifications they are looking for and ones that are required. Be sure to take notes on both and ensure that you satisfy the job’s requirements. When you write your cover letter, you’ll want to emphasize some of the skills you posses that match their needs and complement their needs. You will also want to find the name of the hiring manager so that you can write it to a name, rather than a generic opening.

Writing The Cover Letter

The format of the letter should follow the business letter format and no more than one page. You can find various templates online but any one will do. Once you get the general format, it’s the content that will be crucial. Throughout the whole letter writing process, you’ll want to keep in mind that your cover letter is really a sales letter. You are selling yourself. If you’re familiar with copywriting, try to employ copywriting techniques in your cover letter.

An important step that is often missed is addressing the letter to an individual, rather than a generic “HR director” or “To Whom It May Concern.” That’s why it was important for you to research the job position and the hiring manager. When you address a person, you are able to connect with them better than a “Sir or Madam.”

The meat of the cover letter should contain three paragraphs:

  1. First paragraph should tell the employer why you’re writing in no more than two or three sentences. Don’t waste a sentence by telling the employer how you found out about a job because they won’t care, spend your words carefully.
  2. The second paragraph should explain your qualifications and match them to the requirements of the job opening, which you researched before. You want to be enthusiastic and highlight things are separate you from the competition. Emphasize how you would help them reach their goals and use specific examples if you can.
  3. The last paragraph should talk about next steps and entice the employer to call you. Keep things positive, ask for an interview and leave your contact information, and do it in fewer than three or four sentences. Be sure to be courteous and reserve one of those sentences to thank them for their time and consideration.

Then end the letter with a simple “Sincerely” or “Regards” followed by your signature and your name.

Proofread

This is absolutely crucial. You want to go through the letter carefully to review it for spelling and grammatical errors. If it’s your first cover letter, have a friend review it for any errors. When you write something, it’s often difficult to find errors even if you look it over a half dozen times. In addition to grammar and spelling, review the letter for any informal and weak language. Avoid “I thinks” and either remove them entirely or replace them with emphatic qualifiers, like “I am certain.” As for informal language, this isn’t an informal email, it’s a formal business letter. You don’t want to sink your chances by using unprofessional phrases.

Cover letters are very important and all too often overlooked. With these tips, your cover letter will stand out and give you a better chance against the competition when it comes to landing an interview. If you have cover letter tips I’ve missed, please let us know about them in the comments!

(Photo: wwworks [4])


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