Thursday, June 3, 2010

How to: Compose a cover letter

When you apply for a job, most employers request a copy of your resume and a cover letter. A cover letter is a statement of introduction that accompanies, but does not summarize, your resume. A good cover letter addresses your interest in the position and explains why you think you'd be a good fit. It should be no longer than a page long.

Keep in mind that a cover letter is, more often than not, grounds for an employer's first impression of you. And we all know how important first impressions are! It's crucial that your cover letter is free of grammatical and spelling errors, and it should not be a generic letter that you send to all employers. Rather, it should be tailored to a specific employer and the position to which you are applying.

An effective cover letter engages the reader and encourages him or her to invite you in for an interview. Here are some general tips for writing cover letters:
  • Avoid overusing "I" throughout the letter.
  • Print your cover letter on nice paper that matches the resume (if possible)
  • Write a separate cover letter for each job you apply to.
  • Research the company before you begin writing, and be sure to include some key words from their mission statement, website, and/or job posting.
  • Use the spell check and grammar check!
  • Remember that these checks will not catch everything, so it's a good idea to re-read your cover letter over and over again, and have someone else take a look at it.
Now that we've covered the basics, let's get into the details. What should a cover letter look like?

Cover letters should follow standard business letter format. This includes: the sender's address and contact info, the recipient's address, and the date. In most word programs, there are templates for business letters that you can follow. After listing the contact info, begin your letter. If you know the contact's name, use it. If not, you can write, "Dear Sir or Madam," or "Dear Hiring Manager." Since it's better to address a specific person, you may want to make a phone call to the organization to see who your letter should be addressed to.

Next, skip a line and begin your introduction. Briefly tell the reader about yourself and mention the title of the position you're applying for. Skip another line and begin the body of your document. This section should highlight material in your resume (but in an exciting way!), explain why you are interested in the job, and show why you would be valuable to the employer. This section should also include your strongest, most relevant skills and experiences.

Skip a line and write your conclusion. Indicate the next step you will take. State that you look forward to hearing from the employer, and/or that you will contact the reader at a certain date.

After the closing paragraph, skip a line and sign your letter. You may want to sign it, "Sincerely," or "Best."

To get started, take a look at this cover letter template.

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