Cover letters can be hard. Whether it is the difficulty of talking about yourself, the insecurity of asking for the job, or the general confusion around how to write this difficult, but crucial piece of writing, many people put off the cover letter or try to avoid it altogether. There is a lot of information out there and I have put together my best suggestions based on my own experience and research to craft a great letter that gets noticed.
Why Do I Need One?
The cover letter is often the only personal introduction your hiring manager will have to get a feel for who you are and why you are a better fit than all the other applicants. It is your opportunity to shine and to connect the dots between your resume and the job description.
Before you begin, be sure to pick a proper format. There are lots of examples out there, but the most important factor is to make sure your cover letter matches the style of your resume. If you don’t have an updated style for your resume, well, that’s another post, but there are a lot of free or very reasonable templates out there to choose from to make your letter look professional and updated. In researching this post, I came across a very nice explanation on the blog, Career Contessa which gives some ideas for templates.
Step 1 – Answer the following questions:
- What is the specific job title listed in the job description? If you are inquiring about job availability, research and list the different job titles you may want. Write down the one which is the closest match to what you want to do.
- What is the name of the company?
- Where did you find out about the job? If it was a personal referral, ask if you can use their name in your cover letter.
- What are your current job duties? Do any of these match those in the job description?
- What is your educational background? What specific areas will help you succeed in this position?
- List two or three items in the job description which directly or most closely match skills listed in your current resume.
- What makes you a good fit for this position?
- Why do you want to work for this company?
- When are you available for interviews?
- List your contact information.
Step 2 –Create the Letter
If you answered the questions above, you are ready to compose the cover letter. The answers will help you create the basic structure of your letter.
Use a professional opening, such as “Dear Sir or Madam:” or, even better, find the contact name or hiring manager name and open with “Dear First Name Last Name:” I rarely use titles (such as Mr. or Mrs.) unless I am certain of gender and title preference.
The Opening Paragraph
Clearly state why you are writing the cover letter. Keep in mind hiring managers get many applications, often for a large number of different job postings, so be clear about the job you are applying for or inquiring about.
Use questions 1, 2 and 3 to create one or two sentences which state why you are writing this letter. For example, “I am applying for XYZ position at THISCOMPANY. Based on the job description published in SOME PUBLICATION, I believe my skills would be a benefit to your organization.“ If you have a personal referral, and you have permission to use their name, include it here in a short sentence, such as “I was referred to your organization by PERSON, who thought I would be a good fit for this position.” Always get permission to use a person’s name and let them know who you sent the letter to and when you sent it, because it is very likely the hiring manager will follow up. It is also a good idea to send this person a copy of your resume and cover letter.
The Skills and Experience Paragraph
The second paragraph must clearly connect your skill set with the job you want. Don’t assume the hiring manager will review your resume and make these connections.
Use questions 4, 5, 6 , 7, and 8 to create a paragraph which clearly demonstrates why you are a good candidate for the position. The first sentence should include your general skill set and education, the next two or three sentences should directly compare your skills to the job description. As an example, you might state, “My experience includes business to business sales, consulting, and software product sales. While working as a direct sales consultant for XZ Corporation, I increased sales by 25% over a one year period…”
Asking for the Job
In the last paragraph, ask for the job and then make sure you provide at least two methods for the hiring manager to contact you. If you are using email, make sure you have a professional email address – if not, get one, it will make your job search much easier.
Use questions 8, 9, and 10 to complete the final paragraph. You will want to begin with a sentence stating you want the job and then a sentence providing specific details on how to contact you. For example,
“XYZ Corporation has an excellent reputation in business consulting and I believe my direct sales experience will be an asset in achieving your goals. Please contact me by phone at (555)555-5555 after 5:00 PM on weekdays or by email at PROFESSIONAL EMAIL ADDRESS anytime. I look forward to speaking with you soon.”
In your conclusion, use a professional closing, such as “Sincerely,” or “Thank you,” and list your name and contact information. Always sign the letter by hand, in ink, if you are providing a paper copy.
Once you are done, reread, and have a friend you trust proofread it again, just to be sure you have everything perfect. Happy job hunting!
What are your favorite techniques for writing a cover letter? Join the conversation and leave a comment below and let me know your best tips on how to make this process easier.