Job Search: Part 2—Cover Letters

When I wrote the post about writing a resume, I did not intend to create a series. That post has become the most popular I’ve written. Part of the popularity, of course, came about because the post was part of a group writing project and was Stumbled several times. However, there does seem to be a strong interest in job search advice, so I decided to make that post the first in a series of three about the job search process.

Today, we’ll talk about cover letters. The resume is a sales tool to get an interview; the cover letter is a sales tool to get your resume read. These tips will help ensure that your cover letter gets the right attention from the hiring manager.

  • Address the letter to the right person. You may need to dig a little to find the right person, but your letter will more effective if it is addressed to a specific person—the person who will be reviewing your resume.
  • Customize the letter for every job. Several commenters on the resume-writing post recommended that the resume be customized for different jobs. While this may be helpful, it is more important to customize the cover letter. After all, the cover letter is what the hiring manager sees first and what will determine whether the resume is reviewed or not. If your resume doesn’t include relevant experience and qualifications, revise your resume for this position. If your resume includes the information, highlight the most important elements (experience, skills, education, certifications) in the cover letter.
  • Use letterhead stationery with your complete contact information. If you don’t have stationery, you can create it on the computer. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it should look professional. If you sending the cover letter by e-mail, format it like a letter in the body of the message.
  • Keep the cover letter to one page. Include the important information in a short, concise document.
  • Capture the reader’s attention at the beginning by explaining why you are applying at this company. If you’re not familiar with the company, do some research so you can address why you are a good match for the company and/or the position.
  • Emphasize how you will contribute to the company. Stating you want to work for the company because they have the best benefit package of any company won’t make a favorable impression. Telling the employer your experience in quality control will contribute to the company’s new department will impress.
  • Show how your qualification match the employer’s requirements. If you’re responding to an ad or job posting, mention specific requirements (such as x number of years of experience, license, degree, knowledge of particular equipment) and demonstrate how you meet or exceed those requirements. If you not responding to a specific job listing, mention your strongest qualifications for a job in the industry or type of job.
  • Conclude with a strong close. Let the employer know you are eager to meet her to discuss the needs of the company (or how you can contribute to the company’s goals). Repeat your contact information for your preferred method of contact as well as when you are available.
  • Proofread carefully. If possible, ask someone else to read the letter both to catch grammar and spelling errors and to be sure the letter makes sense and flows smoothly.

You can read examples of the various elements of the cover letter at How to Avoid the Four Most Common Cover Letter Blunders.

Next, we’ll discuss interviews.

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