Job-seekers spend a lot of time crafting their resumes, but may underestimate the importance of a good cover letter. Unlike resumes, which have crucial – but dry – information, a cover letter is the way to let the people reading see a peek of the ‘real’ you. An excellent cover letter can be what gets your resume pulled from the pile and you into the first round of interviews.
The best way to craft your cover letter is to remember the basic rules of grade school essay writing. Your first paragraph should state your theme. Your middle paragraphs should each expand on a point that supports that theme. Your conclusion should be a very short summary of the main points. And it should be no more than one page long.
Start strong. The first paragraph is where most of your reader’s attention is going to be and should be an outline of the points you’re going to make in the body of the letter. Be sure to include all the relevant information you want them to have so that you insure they keep reading. Start with a few sentences letting them know why you are excited for the job and why you’re a good fit. Be sure to include what job you’re applying for as the company may have more than one open position. If you have a personal connection at the company or someone recommended you for the job, put that in this paragraph as well.
Don’t be modest. This may sound like strange advice when it comes to letter writing, but it will help your letter be both clear and concise. We’ve all learned to talk around our accomplishments rather than just lay them out, but a cover letter needs to be short – a page at most – and easy to understand.
Since this letter is an extension of your resume, not a restating of it, make clear parallels between what the company is looking for in a candidate and what skills and qualifications you have that are a match. When deciding which of your qualifications to highlight, go beyond the job description and do some research on the company. Let’s say you’re applying for an account manager position at an advertising agency. The job description says they’re looking for someone who has 5 years of sales experience, good organizational skills and can manage a team. When you go to their website, you can see that one the values they hold for themselves is creativity. Rather than just saying that you’ve have experience in team management, using a short narrative example of how you value and use creativity when managing people.
Closing & Tips:
Be brief. In one or two sentences, sum up the main points of your letter and then end by saying that you look forward to speaking with them.
The main thing you should do after writing the letter is to re-write it. Assume your first draft will need a little tweaking. You may realize that your first draft, while clear, is a very formal. It’s okay to sound conversational as it will give your reader a sense of you and will make it easier to convey your enthusiasm. After you’ve re-written, proof read. And proof read again. Worry less about the send off (“sincerely” is a classic for a reason), instead make sure you final all the typos and that the sentences are easy to understand.
Once you’ve done all that, review and follow the instructions for submission. If you’re emailing your resume directly to someone and it doesn’t specify what to do with the cover letter, it can be the body of the email. If you’re submitting on-line and are asked to attach it, send it as a PDF so that the formatting doesn’t change and so it doesn’t depend on having compatible software.
Taking some extra time on your cover letter may just give you the leg up you need in your job search.